Imagine you’re at Hooters.
You try to avoid staring at, you know, but fail miserably and blush. Your server is wearing shorts so short they just barely cover the under curve of her ass. Then, gasp, she takes her shirt off in the middle of the restaurant—a nearby table requests a topless photo and she and a few fellow scantily clad servers oblige because, well, it’s their job. And that’s nothing compared to the ass-slapping, the biting, the kissing they receive while just trying to deliver hot, heavy heaps of American chain restaurant-style food to the horn-gry clientele.
Now, imagine they’re all men. Welcome to Tallywackers.
Tallywackers—a restaurant in the Oak Lawn neighborhood of Dallas, which opened its doors in May 2015—is a batter-dipped and fried guilty pleasure. The décor, not that you’re actually here for the décor, is exactly what you’d expect a guy to think women find sexy: a glittery chandelier, a red and black color palette, studded leather seats. Around the bar, there are eight flat-screen TVs playing Beyoncé and Britney Spears music videos on loop. The menu, not that you’re actually here for that either, is binge-ready American comfort food: fried chicken, burgers, chili dogs, mac and cheese, shrimp and grits, Dr. Pepper braised short ribs—even the vegetables (like brussels sprouts and asparagus) are served cheat day-style (flash-fried and tempura’d, respectively). And the holy grail of holy-shit food: the Bobby Duke Chicken Fried Steak. (For the uninitiated, it’s a flour-battered pan fried steak served with gravy.) It’s the signature dish, explains owner Rodney Duke, for a special reason: “My father always loved chicken fried steak—my father passed away two years ago, and the money that I got from that is what I used to do this—so I honored my father on the menu with the Bobby Duke chicken fried steak.” It’s a touching, sweet story that no one cares about—”No one has ever published that,” Duke says, “I’ve told everyone that story.”
Perhaps that’s because of the candy. “We’re Guy-Candy,” explains Andy Dunlap, 35, one of Tallywacker’s barely clothed servers. “That’s what we’re trademarked as—if someone wants to leave with a cavity because they’ve had too much Guy-Candy that’s fine with me.” Yes, really. What Dunlap—whose deep tan and tribal tattoo are on ample display as he sets down “The Tallywacker” (it’s a one-pound hotdog, obviously)—means is that Tallywackers is the straight woman’s (and gay man’s) answer to so-called “breastaurants.” You know, the kind of place that guys typically go to “for the wings” (code for “boobs”). See: Hooters, Twin Peaks, and the nightmarishly named Bone Daddy’s.
In case you haven’t already guessed, “tallywacker” is Southern slang for penis—”‘Hooters’ is a funny word for a female part,” Duke says, “So we wanted to do something that was funny and people knew what it was.” And Tallywackers, if you can believe it, is the first of its kind. “It’s just kind of leveled the playing level,” says Dalin Ernst, 22, a Tallywackers server and business student at the University of North Texas.
That, and it’s a crazy-smart business idea. (Duke is already planning expansion to Houston and San Antonio.) Just look at its cleavage-clad counterparts: Twin Peaks’ sales grew by 45 percent in 2014—making it the fastest-growing full-service restaurant chain in America. “I don’t know why it’s never been done,” says Duke who previously owned another local bar and worked in the hospitality industry. “It really is something that was missing. I don’t think it’s fair that women or gay men haven’t had the same comparable venue to go to, so we finally have a place now for that to happen.” Oh, it’s happening.
Over the course of one weekend in June, about a month after Tallywackers first opened its doors, the restaurant and bar is as jam-packed as any of the fanciest, celebrity chef-owned, impossible-to-get-a-table restaurants in New York City. Plenty of short-shorts clad male patrons walk into the bright red doors, but it’s mostly women of all ages that make up the clientele—from a little girl in a high chair during lunch to a grandmother who’s been happily dragged out for a birthday party. “We had over 250 five-star reviews on our Facebook page for the restaurant before we were even open,” Duke says. “We were the second-highest trending topic on Facebook worldwide. Caitlyn Jenner number one, Tallywackers number two. You couldn’t ask for this kind of press. You know how much money I spent on marketing? $25.”
Maybe that’s because Tallywackers is the physical, slightly over-salted manifestation of a larger social trend: male objectification. The woof-whistles during Magic Mike XXL, the gawking at Dad Bods, or calling out Drake’s #thirsttrap Instagrams? “It’s nice to not be the one being objectified,” says one twenty-something woman while having dinner with two girlfriends. “They’re the ones objectified now. It’s a different perspective. It’s fun.”
It is different, because there isn’t a robust history of women viewing men strictly as sexual objects. Or a history of women dictating how a man’s body should look. But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves—when asked if he’s a feminist, Duke quickly snaps, “I don’t know.”
Either way, Tallywackers is a break from a much harsher reality that feels gleeful in its unconventionality. See: the Friday afternoon table of four, three teenage-looking girls guzzling generous glasses of soda and one probably very cool aunt, who are all barely speaking to each other. They’re looking up and around, wide-eyed, in the kind of daze you normally see at a planetarium’s Morgan Freeman-narrated space show. Definitely beats going to, say, Applebee’s.
Okay, now let’s talk about the uniform. Actually, let’s let friends Jason Johnson, 29, and Cristal Davenport, 31, happy hour-ing at the bar, explain:
In unison: Oooooohhhh!
Johnson: Oh my goodness. The uniforms are everything.
Davenport: I love that the shorts are not a darker color; they’re a lighter color so you can really…
The shorts are light gray—tight and thin. Oh, yeah, and none of the servers are wearing underwear. So what Davenport was trying to say is: You can see their dicks.
There are matching tight red tank tops too, which the guys mostly wear when serving food in accordance with a confusing health code mandate. “No one has ever done this, so when I go to the health department, I get a different answer every time,” Duke says, “Right now we’re actually working on getting something in writing, actually figuring out for our county, can they serve with shirts off?” Besides normal hygiene requirements (shower, don’t wear too much cologne), there aren’t any special fitness or chest-shaving rules. And there’s something for everyone: “Our oldest server is 44 or 45 and we hire men of all sizes,” Duke says, “Everyone has his or her own type. Me, personally, I like little guys.”
Ernst, who has the Ken doll good looks and hip haircut that’d make him perfect for a boy band, is the All-American type. He never denies a flashing camera (either by request or via photobomb) no matter how busy, keeps his tank top off more than on, and scoots past guests with “excuse me, gorgeous” and “excuse me, baby.” In other words: He’s good. But even he isn’t the most requested server—that honor goes to Cameron Smith. There’s no dignified, writer-ly way to say this: The 26-year-old former military man from nearby Rowlett is hot. Tan and tattooed. Buff and bearded. He’s even humble, or at least trying to be: “I’m not trying to let it get to my head or anything like that—but I’m not going to lie, it feels good and all that. The selfish part of me does like the attention here.”
“You can’t stop getting numbers—even if you try,” says Brandon Begin, 24, one of the Tallywackers permanently shirtless bartenders, about the phone numbers left behind by especially bold customers. (Since the bartenders aren’t serving food they’re free to stay topless.) “You know it’s bad when Cameron comes and he’s like, ‘Dude, I only got 10 numbers tonight, it’s a slow night.'” Of course the tips are great, too, says Begin: “I don’t even have to do anything, like $40 tip on a $10 tab. It’s crazy. You never know what you’re going to get.”
If it’s a Friday or Saturday night, you do know you’ll have to stand around. By around 9 p.m. wait times for a table hit the two- to three-hour mark and everyone, shockingly, actually waits, crowding the foyer and the bar. You have to lean in close and yell to be heard over the Girls’ Night Out sounds: the screaming, the laughing, the slurring. There are bachelorette sashes and tiaras with tiny confetti penises glued to the veil, repeated renditions of “Happy Birthday,” going-out shoes and sequins everywhere. At least one woman passes out at her table. It’s not even 11 p.m.
Even the staff is having fun. Like Cameron, who’s running around with a giant Cheshire cat grin and a newly acquired hot pink, sequined cowboy hat—likely leaving some bachelorette a little less audaciously accessorized.
There are hazards to the job though: “I guess I didn’t really know how wild women were until working here,” explains Renington Fecunda, 21, a server and host, as the Saturday evening rush begins. He’s sweet, soft spoken, and wears adorably nerdy square-shaped glasses. “I’ve been bitten on my neck.” Women feel free enough to act silly because it’s allowed, no, encouraged.
“It can be overwhelming sometimes, but at the same time, what man doesn’t love attention from women?” muses server Justin Grisham, 22. Maybe that explains why it doesn’t feel sleazy or offensive in the way it would if the gender roles were reversed. The food may be less than perfect (Dallas Observer: “No fun is worth beef that has been completely wringed of its very essence,”); the wait times may be annoying (Yelp: “It took 25 minutes to get served and it was just a HOT DOG!”); and my “Tally Finale” (basically a Long Island iced tea) too sweet—but none of it really matters. You’re not going for the food and drinks. You’re going for an alternate reality.
“It’s different when a man walks into Twin Peaks because they don’t really have a shifted mentality—we’re always just thinking about sex,” Begin says. “Men are so used to staring at girls’ asses and looking at cleavage and all these different things. But, I think, for women, it’s so culturally different and they haven’t had places like this in the past, so there’s a total shift in their mentality.”
“Places like this, it’s more accepted to let your female sexuality out,” agrees Ashleigh Horton, 19, an undergrad at the University of Texas. “It’s totally overdue. Why didn’t someone come up with this earlier?”
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