Hugh Hefner at the first Playboy Club in Chicago
The first Playboy magazine hit the shelves in 1953 and in 1960, the late Hugh Hefner opened what would be the very first Playboy Club in Chicago. Other clubs would quickly emerge in more than twenty locations including Boston, Wisconsin, and Los Angeles, as well as more elaborate Playboy Club Resorts which you could visit in Jamaica and Manila. Entrance into the various clubs would run a member $25 a year for which they would receive a special key that when presented to a designated “Door Bunny” would get them inside. The clubs were designed to emulate the “Playboy lifestyle” projected by Hefner, though that’s not what initially ignited the vast existence of Playboy Clubs. The actual inspiration for the clubs began with an article in Playboy published in 1959 that detailed the goings-on at the historic Gaslight Club in Chicago’s River North area. The club was the brainchild of Burton Browne who modeled the club around the “Gay 90s” (aka the “Naughty Nineties” or the decade beginning in 1890) a debaucherous period where creativity and libidos ran wild.
Like Hefner’s future Playboy Clubs, entrance to the Gaslight required a key. Naturally, Hef was already a member of the Gaslight Club as it featured his favorite thing—half-naked women with large breasts everywhere you looked. According to Victor Lownes III, the executive of HMH Publishing Company (which would later become Playboy Enterprises in 1955) he recalled that the article received over 3,000 letters from readers of Playboy inquiring as to how they too could join this exclusive club. This set the wheels in motion for Hefner who knew how to recognize an opportunity, though at the time his vision for his Playboy-themed clubs didn’t include expansion beyond Chicago. When the doors to the fledgling club opened, it employed approximately 30 girls between the ages of 18-23 who were said to be “single, beautiful, charming, and refined.” It also somehow qualifies the old saying that people really did read Playboy articles. At least they read one in 1957. And that’s a fact.
Frank Sinatra at the Las Vegas Club back in the day.
John Lennon at the London Club