Indiana Daily Student

Last call at Joker's Wild

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MUNCIE — Between the 5-foot painting of a naked woman and the half-empty liquor shelf, Jim Harty is pacing.

It’s 6:44 p.m., and Halo’s late. She can’t be late. Not tonight.

He checks his watch. “Come. On. Girls,” he shouts, punctuating each word with a sharp clap.

Eventually — finally — Halo emerges from the dressing room, adjusting her turquoise bikini as she jogs to the stage. “I’m coming!” she says to him. “No you’re not!” he yells back.

She climbs onto the stage and points at the DJ booth in the corner. Twista’s “Overnight Celebrity” comes through the speakers as she starts her routine.

You lookin’ good, girl, you oughta be in pictures, the speakers play. Listen to me, I see your career going sky-high.

The bikini — bought brand-new this week — doesn’t last long. As the music builds, she prances from pole to pole.

We about to do a show tonight, you lookin’ good girl, show you right.

None of the six people in the bar turn to watch.

It’s night No. 10,376 at Joker’s Wild, Muncie’s last strip club. There won’t be another. Business has been hammered by Delaware County’s smoking laws, spoiled dancers and Internet porn.

Jim used to have to replace the bar door’s hinges every six months. The traffic would literally break down his door. Money was quick to come by and even quicker to go.

“In this business, boy, you just thought it was never gonna end,” Harty says. He looks like he doesn’t quite believe it has.

Now, the customers have dried up. He hasn’t replaced the dingy gray door in five years.

Joker’s Wild is a family-operated business. Harty’s parents opened it as a regular bar on Halloween 1986 but quickly realized that model wasn’t bringing in enough money. They turned it into a strip club and tasked Jim with finding the ?dancers.

“We went out, and we hustled up some strippers,” Jim said. “Then as soon as this opened, my dad said, ‘You need to run it.’” Jim took over the bar when he was 22.

Now he’s 51. It’s been 28 years of good times and hand-over-fist money, Harty says. Except for the night a customer drank too much and took a nap in the urinal. Or when the bar’s 420-pound bouncer beat up the entire Ball State rugby team. Or when the same bouncer threw an unruly customer over a car in the parking lot.

Now, it’s coming to an end: 28 years of family-owned nudity. The allure of the American strip club is withering. After tonight, the nearest strip club will be in Anderson, Ind., 35 minutes away.

“I’m not making anything,” Harty says. “It cost me, this last three months, $12,000 to stay in business. It’s eating my pension.”

Harty blames Indiana’s smoking laws. In 2012, the state decreed smokers had to stay outside and at least eight feet from the door.

That doesn’t stop him from lighting a cigarette behind the bar, though. “We’re closing. I don’t give a shit. What are they gonna do?”

His own dancers didn’t help matters either, he says. They’re a far cry from the Vegas-style showgirls that used to work for him.

“These girls, they walk out here on the floor, they go up on the stage, they show their tits, they come down, they say, ‘Give me a dollar,’” he says. “Rudest bitches in the fucking world.”

Throw in an increasingly available supply of Internet debauchery, and it’s all but impossible to make money, Harty says. Why go to a strip club when naked women are on-demand, free and in your pocket?

Joker’s is starting to fill up. For every button-down shirt, there’s a velour sweatsuit and a do-rag. The 2000s haven’t quite made it to Muncie.

Sometime between the second and third playing of Warrant’s “Cherry Pie,” Harty heads to the back porch for another cigarette. He flips through a photo album as he smokes. Pages and pages of the Joker’s history — mostly bar staff posing with naked women — line the inside of the red book.

“There’s Pops,” he says. “He’s my partner. Not on paper, but we’re partners ... There’s me refereeing Foxy Boxing ... There’s Ron ?Jeremy, the porn star.”

Each special guest gets a Polaroid. Most are signed. One reads, “Thanks for all the fun! I’ll miss you. Kisses and blowjobs, Erika Slade.”

Chevy, an eight-year veteran dancer, doesn’t have a Polaroid. She’s tried to leave Joker’s three times but always ends up back on stage. Other jobs fall through. With four kids to feed, money comes however she can get it.

After tonight, Chevy’s jobless. She doesn’t know what she’ll do next. At 31, her prime stripping years are probably over. She’s not worried about it, though — she just bought some ?chickens.

“Next month I should be getting at least 24 eggs a day,” Chevy says. “Selling eggs and selling chickens.”

Jim’s burnt out. He wants to get away from Muncie, to buy a boat and live in the Caribbean for the next decade, but his wife won’t go for it. So he’ll take a couple months off, then get back to work. The plan is to dismantle what’s left of Joker’s and turn the building into a club for 18- to 21-year-olds. If he doesn’t have to buy more alcohol, he doesn’t have to pay sales tax. More money.

But he can’t focus on that right now. He has 300 people in his club, and he’s running out of booze.

They come to pay tribute. Harty says he’s never seen a crowd like tonight’s. They drink the entire reserve of bottled beer and buy every last logoed T-shirt, even the one tacked to the ceiling. Somebody brings roses — one red, one white — and puts them in a Budweiser bottle on a table.

Fifteen minutes before close, the Joker’s DJ — “Chris, but everybody calls me Gomer” — cuts the ?music.

“Raise your drinks,” Gomer says. “A toast to Jim Harty for giving us a place to party these last fucking few years. It’s been a fucking hell of a ride.”

Gomer usually ends each night with the aptly named Skid Row song “Get the Fuck Out.” But tonight is a little different. As the crowd totters out, Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” flows softly through the bar.

It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right. I hope you had the time of your life.

It’s 3:20 a.m., and it’s just Jim and his friends now. The phone rings, but he doesn’t answer it. He doesn’t have to — he doesn’t own a strip club anymore.

“I feel good,” he says. He spends a few minutes chatting with what everybody calls the “bar family,” then it’s time to leave.

When the time comes, Jim doesn’t hesitate. He shakes a few hands, gives a few hugs. Then he’s out.

As he walks out of Joker’s Wild for the last time and steps into darkness, the door closes reluctantly behind him. The hinges don’t make a sound.

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