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Come for the abs, stay for the eats.
But let’s make one thing clear: Tallywackers is no Hooters. There are no street signs, sports pennants, or neon-lit beer signs along the walls of this establishment. I learned that firsthand at the Tallywackers grand opening, which I attended last week.
Sending a single straight man to report on the Tallywackers grand opening hardly seemed fair, so I invited two female friends, Brittany and Myranda. We met with Daily Dot contributor Greg Stevens and his partner Jon at their apartment. After a round of cocktails, we were on our way to check out some man candy.
Nestled on Lemmon and Wycliff Avenue at the periphery of Dallas’ historic “gayborhood,” the restaurant was completely decked out for the event. Men in tight briefs wandered around the comfortably lit room carrying hors d’oeuvres trays. Most of the customers mingled around the oblong bar inside.
“I had a hundred lined up here before we opened the door,” Jeannette Johnsen, a Tallywackers investor, told us as we walked inside.
As we sat on the porch and checked out all the topless men, the first thing we noticed was the wide range in race, height, age, and appearance. Some of the Tallywackers were tattooed, while others had more of a boy-next-door look. All of them made me regret the four slices of pizza I’d devoured at lunchtime.
To my friend Myranda’s bitter disappointment, however, none of the servers were very hairy. “I trim [my chest hair],” one of the servers confided. He added that this was for hygienic reasons, however, so he got a pass.
With more than 150 applicants to choose from, Tallywackers had hired “the cream of the crop,” Johnsen told us.
“We knew that we needed to have gentlemen. We needed for them to have experience,” she said. “We wanted them to have as much above the pecs as they did in the abs.” In other words, they needed something more than just a nice package, both literally and figuratively.
As a Dallas native, I assumed that Tallywackers was a gay bar due to its location, which is at the epicenter of Dallas’ gay and lesbian community. (Later, we’d learn the gay-to-straight employee ratio was about 50/50.)
However, at opening night, we learned that the majority of Tallywackers’ customers were women. When I asked Johnsen what audience Tallywackers was targeting, she said there was a huge demand for venues featuring hot dudes catering to women.
“Seventy-five percent of the wealth in the world is controlled by women,” she said. “Where did they have to go that they could be girls, they could have fun, they could have good food, and they could have great service?”
Our server, Clay, volunteered to be interrogated. At around six feet tall and ripped, he looked a bit like Steve Rogers after being injected with super-soldier serum.
We grilled Clay over Tallywackers’ hiring process. What were his qualifications, Greg asked, “other than the fact that you’re so handsome?”
Experience was key, Clay told us. Being buff was obviously a requirement, but there are plenty of people who could fill those shoes. Tallywackers wanted professionals, and more importantly, someone who could handle the throngs of intoxicated and over eager admirers.
“We have one guy that’s a waiter and he teaches us how to handle it—you know, if someone tries to grab our junk or whatever,” Clay said. The key is to redirect the customer’s focus from his tight shorts to something else. There were, however, a few larger gentlemen at the establishment that could be called on to intervene for the safety of the staff.
Later, we had the chance to talk to a server my friend Brittany called “Daddy,” a married man with children who looked to be in his mid-30s. (His actual name was lost on whatever bar napkin I wrote it down on after my fourth drink.)
Daddy loved working at Tallywackers, he told us: “I get to work in my underwear and I’m 35 years old.” Prior to working at Tallywackers, he’d spent years working as a waiter and bartender. He’d also worked as a male dancer in Dallas for five years at “the most popular male strip club in the world,” La Bare (which is also the focus of a 2014 documentary by the same name).
Based on the success of La Bare, which has been serving up beefcake to Dallas women since 1978, Daddy thinks Tallywackers is also going to be a big hit with a female audience.
“It’s just going to get bigger and bigger,” he said, with a smile that suggested a deliberate attempt at innuendo. “It appeals to all genres. Just because it’s located in the gayborhood area doesn’t make it a gay bar.”
We met with one final waiter, Alex, a 21-year-old who also self-identifies as straight.
“How did you get discovered?” Greg asked him. “Did you have to send in shirtless pictures of yourself?”
Alex laughed. “No. You can see we have a wide variety. There’s no judgement of how you look,” he said.”We have the old to youngest, we have fit to not fit, we have straight and gay, we have everybody here, big boys and small boys.”
Alex also insisted that unlike Hooters, Tallywackers placed more of an emphasis on food and fun, rather than sex appeal. “We’re not strippers,” he said. “This is a restaurant, first and foremost.”
A photo posted by We sell tshirts & you! (@style_of_awesome) on
Sure, Tallywackers is all about the food and fun, but part of the reason why it’s generated so much Internet buzz is because in a conservative state like Texas, a restaurant devoted to the male anatomy is an audacious political statement.
But that’s not to say that Texas isn’t also home to progressive political views. “This is such a conservative state that it’s almost as if the liberal has [more] swing,” said Kris Martin, who’s been involved with gay advocacy for over 15 years and directs Tallywackers’ public relations.
“We have the largest Black Tie Dinner in the world,” she said, referring to the organization that’s been fundraising for the LGBT community in 1982. “We’ve got this culture that is almost like a resistance. It’s as if the gay people were more empowered because of the conservative base.”
But although Martin is interested in the restaurant as a progressive social phenomenon, in the end, the draw of Tallywackers won’t be its politics, or even the novelty of being served by hunky shirtless men.
“I think people look for good entertainment. It’s convenience, it’s good food, it’s a fun time,” she said.
If Tallywackers delivers on that core promise—and it looks like it will—then it looks like the restaurant should be able to turn its niche idea into a big, huge, throbbing success.
Photo via Boss Tweed/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Dell Cameron was a reporter at the Daily Dot who covered security and politics. In 2015, he revealed the existence of an American hacker on the U.S. government's terrorist watchlist. He is a co-author of the Sabu Files, an award-nominated investigation into the FBI's use of cyber-informants. He became a staff writer at Gizmodo in 2017.
Greg Stevens is a data scientist with over 20 years of hands-on experience with machine learning, predictive analytics, and related statistical methods. His research-driven essays tackle issues in pop culture, politics, and science. He also hosts a YouTube channel.