New York's Playboy Club Is Back and More Boring Than Ever

The Playboy Club is back. In our year of the woman 2018, as powerful men left and right are being accused of sexual misdeeds and women are running for office in numbers never before seen, the Playboy enterprise, now helmed by youngest Hugh Hefner offspring Cooper Hefner, age 27, has dusted off the champagne flutes and turned the bunnies loose.

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A safe space for men to ogle women’s bodies (consensually, of course) is not necessarily what we need most in these politically-electric days. But at the opening party on a September Wednesday for the new and improved Playboy Club, now located in Midtown West near the dingey Port Authority bus terminal, it’s what we got. Two and half avenues over, young influencer types with fresh faces mingled with older face-lift-and-artificial-tan types. Photos were snapped along a short red carpet while a light rain fell. The security presence was strong. It could have been the opening of any darkly-lit club in any New York neighborhood but for the young women in black leotards with stiff ribbing and glitter down the sides who greeted guests with wide smiles, false eyelashes, and glasses of bubbly.

Playboy Club New York Grand Opening Party, USA - 12 Sep 2018

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Inside, bunnies manned a coat check. Other bunnies hastened to fill empty hands with drinks. Bunnies lined the walls and guarded doorways. In the main barroom, a bunny dropped her tray of glasses, bumped by an older gentleman looking for the restaurant. Another bunny patted her fluffy white tail in condolence. In the adjacent club space, bunnies stood off to the side of the dance floor where only a few brave souls danced. The bunnies got listless. The unattended bunnies sank lower into their popped right hips. The bunnies were stunning.

Guests stood around with glasses, eating sushi while covertly eyeing other guests, perhaps to see if they were having fun, and if so, how.

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Next to me at the bar, a man in a crispy bronze tan and a grey power suit checked his phone. “Any chicks, any food?” the green text bubbles read. It was an affirmative on both. But then, most bars with attached clubs can lay claim to chicks and food.

A press release the following morning informed me I had left before Martha Stewart, Ice-T, and that standard bearer of women-respecting Robin Thicke showed up.


Playboy Club New York manages to set itself apart from the dime-a-dozen club spaces littering the lower half of Manhattan. The ornate decor, the luxury pricing, and the bunny-eared waitresses are eye-catching. But it’s the name of Playboy, with all its history, that is supposed to draw the young folks in the door.

Playboy Club New York Grand Opening Party, USA - 12 Sep 2018

Cooper Hefner

Carl Timpone/BFA/REX/Shutterstock

In 1952, Hugh Hefner ditched Esquire magazine and started up Playboy magazine the next year, where he freely plastered women across his covers and undressed them for the centerfold. He offered a cocktail of exploitation and empowerment, and got a stuffy country to talk about sex, as well as birth control and female sexuality. In 1975, circulation reached the dizzying level of 5.6 million issues. And then America got even more liberated, and outgrew Hef’s gospel on how sex should be. Playboy made changes. The company-owned clubs were done away with; the New York club, where Gloria Steinem had donned a bunny outfit in disguise and reported the goings on to a morbidly curious outside world in the early ‘60s, closed its doors in 1986. At the time, Hefner Senior declared his bunnies were ”a symbol of the past.” In early 2016, Playboy boldly struck nudity from the print edition. A year later, it was back, with Coop’s admittance that striking it had been a bad idea. Circulation has dropped to less than 500,000 an issue.

Hef Senior died in September 2017, leaving behind a entrepreneurial-minded son (and three other offspring), an array of ex-girlfriends, ex-playmates, and ex-wives, and a brand with an unclear future. In January, the Wall Street Journal reported that Playboy might fold its magazine for good and focus on the “World of Playboy” instead, a catchphrase with theme-park grandeur that essentially seems to mean less journalism and more licensing and partnerships. But so far, the magazine is alive and well, simply trimmed. In 2019, there will only be four issues a year, though possibly with double the amount of pages.

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And the World of Playboy now includes a brand spanking new Playboy Club. But the playing field is different. Millennials did not grow up paging through sweat-crinkled copies of Playboy handed down from big brothers; there’s more porn on the internet than any entrepreneurially minded kiddo can click through. And our appetite for the sexually taboo can no longer be satisfied by a wink from a Bunny waitress at an overpriced Midtown bar; our generation is discussing our interest in all things, openly, online, in-person. Burlesque is a college past time. Our friends are cam girls. Women are defining sex on their own terms.

Playboy Club New York Grand Opening Party, USA - 12 Sep 2018

Carl Timpone/BFA/REX/Shutterstock

In fact, we’re discussing it so much that not only is Hef irrelevant, but his business model feels predatory. His life’s work was convincing women to take their clothes off and then that they felt powerful because of it. He conditioned men to feel they deserved sneak peaks at breasts and tugs of a bunny’s tale. Now, we know when a sexual taboo cannot be justified. We talk not just about sexual liberation but sexual assault and harassment in public places, workplaces, on social media.

So the biggest question for the Playboy Club remains: who is it for?


When Playboy Enterprises put out the press release announcing the club, it was near orgasmic with excitement. Alluring Playboy Bunny hostesses! Style and graciousness! Sexy and sophisticated aesthetic! In advance of the opening, a source told the New York Post that memberships with access to the Playboy jet and a private downstairs lounge cost as much as $ 250,000, and that $ 2.2 million worth had already been sold. The list had to be curated!

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Here’s who was curious about Playboy Club New York the Saturday after its opening party: At midnight, 16 people at the bar or sitting at tables, some of them couples, only some of them millennials, a near even mix of men and women.

Playboy Club New York Grand Opening Party, USA - 12 Sep 2018

Carl Timpone/BFA/REX/Shutterstock

My friend and I, both of us women, ordered a Honey Rider (it’s sweet, like Hi-C orange drink in an Old Fashioned, with two fat orange slices sticking out the top like bunny ears) and a Silhouette (it tastes like purple Gatorade). Each cocktails cost between $ 18 and $ 20. An order of crème brûlée comes out frozen, so we’re sent another that was allowed to fully thaw. It comes with a complementary frozen chocolate mousse bar, with shaved gold on top and apologies for the mishap. I’d never before eaten shaved gold. It was salty.

Surrounding us are framed photos of bunnies through the years. A gold-plated wall is separated into a grid, each square featuring a gold Playboy logo. The club’s color scheme is black, gold, and red. The New York Times reports that the floors are made from herringbone-patterned walnut, and “blends of white Carrara and Nero marquina marble.” The walls are Bendheim glass. The furniture is mid-century, handsome, and made in Portugal. The bunnies are in Roberto Cavalli cummberbunds. Their heels are three-inches high, objectively hard to walk in.

Our server is lovely and nice, with one bunny ear folded over; each bunny wears her ears differently. She calls us each “babe.” There’s a strong AC draft along the bar and through the seating area. “Oh, the wind is blowin’ that off,” she says, adjusting the black cocktail napkin on the table so the gold Playboy bunny printed on it faces me. She twists and bends to do so, whether by regulation or practicality in that getup is unclear. The service is eagerly attentive, since the white-coated bartenders, bunnies, and busboys don’t have much else to do but hover.


Playboy tried to so something spectacularly lush. It tried to tantalize. But despite the red velvet chairs and black leather couches and oh yes, the exotic fish tank with the submerged bunny-head sculpture backlit in hazy periwinkle, the Playboy Club still traffics in female beauty. The bodies of these women are the lures and everyone else is just another mark who can be convinced for the evening that Playboy is still relevant to the culture. When I visited the Playboy Club, it was neither a thriving late night date spot nor packed man cave. Above all, it was dull.

Playboy Club New York Grand Opening Party, USA - 12 Sep 2018

Madison McGaw/BFA/REX/Shutterstock

This is still the Playboy that tried to convince women that beauty was big boobs and a smutty stare. It’s still the Playboy whose logo is spray-tanned on the hips of Midwestern gals before Spring Break. It’s the Playboy of that Donald Trump tape. A new club that offers the old promise of elite treatment from beautiful waitresses in cute little cotton tails isn’t evolution. It amounts to nothing more than scurrying backwards.

Hef Senior once said, “Life is too short to be living someone else’s dream.” His dream is alive and well. We’re just bored to death of it.

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Lifestyle – Esquire

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