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  • Nicholas J Johnson

“£5 to get in, £500 to get out.” Clip Joints and hate mail

I got some hate mail today. It happens sometimes. Over the years I’ve raised the heckles of carnies, card cheats, Nigerian 419 swindlers and pedants who insist that it is ‘hackles’ not ‘heckles’.

This particular woman, a ‘luxury property consultant’ in America, took issue with an old article that I wrote about clip joints.

Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote:

The principle behind the clip joint is essentially blackmail. The victim, a tourist, walks into the bar, having been told about it by a con artist further up the street who promises him that the bar had cheap booze, beautiful strippers and great music. The tourist is greeted at the door by a hostess who makes sure the man orders plenty of drinks whilst she provides good company and laughs at his jokes.

At the end of the night, the victim is presented with a bill for several hundred dollars, far more then the cost of the drinks. The drinks are either very expensive or he is being charged for the ladies ‘company’.

It may also be revealed the venue is breaking the law and the victim, by drinking there, is complicit. For example, the strip club may have a book room brothel which breaks the state’s prostitution laws. The victim find himself under a huge amount of pressure to pay. If he still refuses, he is threatened with violence.

The victims usually pay.

The woman took offense at my article writing that she “paid [her] way through college working in private clubs in London, attended by royal princes and chairmen of world banks.” and that “if you walk into a hostess club and not realize what it is or that the people are doing their jobs to earn a living then you are an idiot, not a victim. After all, she insists, “They aren’t stealing or selling sex or pushing drugs or doing porn.”

She closes with “Shame on you. Get an education”

It is clear from her email that she is confusing illegal clip joints with the broader category of hostess clubs.

Hostess clubs are establishments where patrons pay for the company of a young woman. They are a kind of poor man’s geisha and, if they can avoid the unpaid wages and sexual harassment that go with territory, it can be a very lucrative way to make a living. In Japan, hostesses have had to form a union to protect themselves.

But, if all parties consent and deliver their side of the bargain, then good luck to them.

But that’s the issue isn’t it? Consent.

In a clip joint, there is no consent. The patron does not realise that the company he is keeping comes with a price tag. He does not understand that when the woman orders a bottle of champagne that the price tag might be in the thousands. He doesn’t know that he could find himself tied to a chair and beaten until he hands over his wallet if he protests.

That is why, in 2009, London police arrested a couple running a Soho Clip joint after they threatened an undercover cop.

It is also why authorities in Soho send out automatic text messages at night saying: “£5 to get in, £500 to get out. Criminals operate some of the hostess bars in Soho.”

And why after working in the industry making $1600-$2000 per week shaking down men, one ‘hostess’ said that she ‘couldn’t look herself in the mirror.’

Every industry has a dark side, particularly those that deal with desire, loneliness and alcohol. Online dating begats romance scams, casinos begat gambling fraud and hostess clubs begat clip joints.

The key, regardless of whether you are a hostess, a customer or an angry woman on the internet, is knowing the difference.

Nicholas J. Johnson is a Melbourne magician, author, entertainer and collector of scams.


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