In recent months, the media has made much of a supposed boomlet in restaurants of this sort, classily dubbed "breastaurants." (ABC News video here.) While the market leader Hooters has sagged a bit (yes, that's ABC's pun), several upstart challengers have appeared -- Tilted Kilt, Canz, and the not-at-all-offensively-named Mugs and Jugs. That they have launched successfully during a major economic downturn is apparently remarkable, although the jury remains out on their ultimate success.
The recipe for success is obvious: men like beer, men like breasts, and men have proven conclusively over hundreds of years that they will fork over a few shekels for the opportunity to enjoy both at once. Throw in some hot sauce and you're golden. It is a sign of America's cultural climate that these restaurants are working hard to present themselves as family eateries, complete with kids' meals.
We've never even seen one of these places, much less eaten at one, so we have nothing to say about, say, the quality of the food. For all we know, they offer the Escoffier of buffalo wings. And although the thoroughgoing sexism (not to say ageism) bothers us, we aren't going to get overly self-righteous about it. Hey, we read comics, go to movies and watch teevee; we've got no claim to any moral high ground.
Food writer Chantal Martineau takes the same line. As she says, she is from Montreal, a city famed for its strip clubs and the activism of sex workers. For her, as for us, the real question is not why these places exist, but why they can't be better:
What’s so tacky about Hooters and its ilk is the same thing that’s tacky about Chili’s and T.G.I. Friday’s. They’re big, sterile chains with no soul and – despite all the kitschy flair – no style. Why must breasts be Disney-fied, neutralized by garish colors, uninspired décor and uniformity? Where is the Hooters for hipsters? Don’t foodies like fun bags, too?
In Chile, you find cafés con piernas (literal translation: “coffee with legs”). These are cafés that offer decent coffee served by long-legged, scantily-clad women. There are chains like this, but also independent ones. You can bet your bottom that the girls here make more money than in a regular café. It’s the same deal in breastaurants: if a girl has the rack to get hired here, she can clean up in tips.
Martineau wants "a breastaurant for the rest of us," and challenges hipster entrepreneurs to come up with one. And in fact, we have a good model from which they might begin: Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Years ago, we lived in this pleasant neighborhood, full of Polish immigrants. We have rarely loved a place so much. It was clean, friendly, and above all loaded with cheap, cheap, cheap Polish food, served at a multitude of mom-n-pop eateries. Our favorite was the closest, a place that could sell you borscht, kielbasa and cabbage pierogies for about $5. Add another buck or two for some beer. We ate there twice a week, minimum.
And yes, the waitresses were young and shapely. They flaunted it, too, in a modest way. Their uniforms consisted of black pants and white t-shirts, both stretchy and tight. No cleavage, but none was needed. No flirting, beyond a smile and an occasional refill -- but what else do you need? We admit it: the cheap food got us in the door, but the pretty waitresses probably helped us pick this restaurant over some of its competitors. Over and over again.
As it happens, Greenpoint is adjacent to the hipster mecca of Williamsburg, which was already a little scary when we were in the area, and is said to have metastatized in the years since. Still, if somebody wants a template for a less factory-farmed restaurant in which cheap eats and pretty women are equal parts of the recipe, they should look at Manhattan Avenue.