Feeling Stormy Daniels’s breasts against your cheek is like diving head first into a velveteen ball pit. Her breasts are the perfect ratio of soft to firm. When I tell Stormy Daniels about how soft her own breasts feel, in a shout over “Material Girl”, she says “thank you” in a miraculously audible exhale and pillows her lips into a kiss on my right temple. I give her my last $7 and recede into the blue-black shadows.
I did not see the night heading here until about two minutes earlier. I did not augur it when I waited outside the strip club under 800 degrees of God’s golden death rays, I did not know it was coming when I posted up at the Cloakroom bar, my first strip club. I certainly hadn’t known it a week earlier, when I asked my editor if I could expense the $50 ticket to the show, where I imagined watching Stormy from a reasonable distance while chronicling the Washington tableau of journalists and political junkies there to witness this small slice of American history. All I knew was this: The porn star who says she slept with the President was taking off all her clothes a mile from the White House at the same exact moment Donald Trump was scheduled to nominate a new justice to the Supreme Court. Either the last six months of scandal had been leading to this historic confluence—the woman who would bring down the president versus the kind of decision that could cement his legacy—or there’s no such thing as fate and nothing matters.
In fact, the crowd at 5th and K was mostly club security, besuited and pocket-squared, when I arrived early, at 5:30. This was a contravention of strip norms, which call for showing up late and generally not milling about the entrance. Across the street, in this gentrifying neighborhood, children accompanied by parents just home from work were climbing on an enormous yellow sculpture. Other than that, it was mostly other Washington-based reporters, making small talk about Brett Kavanaugh, a judge on Trump’s shortlist. Because regardless of how you feel about Donald Trump, what he does is news. And when there’s not enough Trump to go around, the stripper suing him will have to do. Why do you want to see Stormy Daniels? someone asks from the line of ticket-holders forming behind me. Doesn’t everybody?! another woman shouts into the choking heat.
Inside, it’s nice. Dim, loud, cool. It reminds me of the limo I took to prom. As Ashley G., a bartender who looks like she could be a stripper, hands me a $10 Bud Lite, Cloakroom Cuties collect US dollars and Cloakroom bucks—a proprietary currency value-pegged to the US dollar—from the floor with a dust mop.
I am one of at least five reporters here. I spot someone from the Daily Beast and the AP. From the beginning of the night, the crowd is roughly 50 percent women in the cheap seats, which Ashley G. says is typical even on nights not involving the most Washington-famous porn actress in history. Still, the bar itself isn’t built for ladies—there are no hooks to hang bags. The VIP floor runs a little more male. It’s a big night for the club, even if more than half the audience can’t imagine they’ll ever come again. “I needed something fun tonight,” a woman tells me of her last minute decision to trade 60 US dollars (roughly equivalent to 60 Cloakroom bucks) to see Stormy Daniels, 39, perform her show. “I want to get her into my production,” an older man explains of why he’s decided to take this business meeting, which Stormy doesn’t yet know will be taking place.
Yes, we’re here for Stormy, but for all but fifteen minutes of the three and half hours I spend in the low-lit aquarium that is a strip club, there are two strippers on two poles, performing astonishing feats. They hang on with vinyasa-toned arms and stir their legs through the air slowly, like it’s molasses. Or they grip the pole with their legs and hang upside down, no hands, before flipping and sliding down ten feet to land in a violent split against the cold, black polished stage. Except when someone’s G-string gets awkwardly caught on her 9-inch clear heel, I honestly forget they’re even strippers.
Beyond the Washington-branded clientele—working journalists, young professional women—everyone I think is going to be at the strip club is at this strip club. The old man in the aloha shirt with the wild handlebar mustache. The Bro-Bibler who is so into the stripper that his head tilts to jarring degrees to make sure he never loses sight of her, who keeps telling the on-deck cuties how gorgeous they are. That guy’s girlfriend. The VIP banker-types and the beautiful women I naively assume to be their dates until they start taking their clothes off. There are so many white guys who dress like their name is probably Aaron. There are people who drink champagne, people who drink martinis, Coronas, Fiji water.
And there’s Krisi, a model. She’s covered in body paint that reads love, hate, Stormy, and Trump. “Right there on my pussy,” she says, pointing to the President’s name. She’s the first person I’ve met who says she’s seen Stormy today, at around 3PM when Krisi came in to be painted. “She’s so skinny in person,” Krisi says. Naliya, the painter, saw her even earlier. “She did a walk-through,” says Naliya. I write it all down.
I’m not the only one whose radar is subpar. Liana, the twenty-something government staffer, has only been to a strip club once before. “Do you think this is normal strip club conversation?” she asks me as we ping-pong between people watching and Supreme Court quarterbacking.
The appetite for Stormy surges as people who understand how strip clubs work finally start showing up hours after I did. The appetite for Stormy is stoked, and it is guiltless. It is guiltless because it’s okay to want Stormy. Because Stormy isn’t some sell out, desperately seeking to monetize her affair. And she’s not a victim, fighting to claw back her reputation or pay her legal fees. Stormy Daniels is doing exactly what she’s always done for more money than she’s ever been offered to do it. Stormy has been in the business of being naked for over twenty-years. She is award-winning at being naked. Since when in this country is it shameful to accept a pay raise?
“Do you have singles?” Liana asks me. I tell her I’m not sure and start searching the bottom of my purse. “You need the full experience,” she says as thunder crashes. MC Ian reads off Stormy’s stats in his best imitation of a ring announcer, which is excellent. Everyone knows Stormy was in Knocked Up, but do you know she was also in the 40-Year-Old Virgin? Ian does. And then he lands the words the crowd is primed to hear: “Things are about to get Storrrrmmmmyyyy.”
When Stormy emerges from behind the curtains, wearing pink satin and dripping in fake diamonds, people lose their shit. If the previous three hours were an upscale, laidback take on a gentlemen’s club, this is a saloon show. Stormy works the moat around the stage, lassoing guests with her feather boa and motorboating them. “Big Spender” plays. She chides a worker for not clearing the stage of singles fast enough for her to really be able to work the whole space. “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” plays. Stormy doesn’t wear 9-inch stripper heels, but character shoes. She doesn’t just take off her clothes. She makes you want to watch. She performs spherically, with big kicks and big splits, taking up more space than women tend to. Before Stormy took it, the stage was in the background of most conversations. With her on it, it’s the center of the room. People start to walk up to it. I walk up to it, $7 in hand from the bottom of my bag. “Material Girl” plays. I genuinely don’t know what I think will happen.
When I hesitate, Stormy takes over, laying my face against her breast, which feels like bouncing into the wall of a marshmallow moonbounce. She whispers in my ear. She kisses me good night. She lets me give her my money.
“Are you going to take down Trump?” someone yells from behind me. Stormy doesn’t say no.
And in some small way, she just has. When the house lights come on and her money has been mopped into a laundry basket, it’s 9:20. Kavanaugh has been Trump’s Supreme Court nominee for about fifteen minutes, not that anyone at Cloakroom—not the reporters, the regulars, the Resistance-types—even seems to remember or care.