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Jack Knox: Monty’s faces the naked truth — the times they are a-changin’

Sometime in the wee hours of this morning, Natasha Wild was to dance the final scene in the brass pole ballet.
Monty's Showroom Pub, the last surviving downtown strip joint, is closed for good as of Sunday.

Sometime in the wee hours of this morning, Natasha Wild was to dance the final scene in the brass pole ballet.

She strode into Monty’s for a one-week booking at Christmas, but stayed in town after learning Saturday night would be the Government Street strip club’s last. She wanted to be the final dancer on what was once the best stage in B.C.

“Basically, if some other girl tried to do it, I’d knock her teeth out,” Wild growled the other day, tossing her long, blond hair over a bare shoulder. She was joking. I think.

Monty’s Showroom Pub, downtown’s last surviving peeler bar, is indeed gone as of today. The thong is over.

Some won’t miss its dark, lurking presence in the Victoria Plaza Hotel, but Wild will. The nomadic life of the stripper circuit can be lonely, but Monty’s — where she appeared roughly one week a month for the past couple of years, staying in a room above the bar — felt a little like home.

“I live out of a suitcase, every week a new city, a new city, a new city. Here, I actually unpack my suitcase and put my clothes in the drawer,” she says.

“I really love that bar and that building. Even the ghosts in the building and I get along.”

Wild says this while perched at a table in the near-empty club late on a weekday afternoon, the reflected light of a disco ball catching the sequins of her barely-there red dancing duds.

A few minutes earlier, she had been laughing familiarly with a handful of front-row regulars, but they drained their glasses and left about 15 seconds after she finished her act, a physics-defying pole routine that ended with her wearing nothing but thigh-high white boots and a small tattoo.

Beside Wild at the table is her booking agent, Wayne Kalnciems. At least, that’s the name on his business card. Everybody calls him Chicken, a nickname earned years ago when he won a throw-a-rubber-chicken-in-a-beer-bucket bar contest 36 times in a row.

He runs his own agency now, but worked at Monty’s for the best part of 16 years. He was anxious to return to his roots as the club’s DJ for what was expected to be an emotional final night.

“Chicken’s going to cry. I know he is,” Wild says.

“No, I’m not,” he replies. Then he pauses, adjusts the ball cap over his ponytail, and admits he might.

He has worked at Monty’s on and off since 1996. That was the year he saw sheets of water drench the stage after a dancer placed her flaming props directly under the sprinklers. “At first I thought ‘Cool, what a great effect.’ ”

No fire shows anymore. Stricter liquor laws don’t allow them. No more Siberian tigers. No Ping-Pong balls or smoke rings à la Mitzi Dupree in the 1980s. Can’t have two dancers on stage at the same time. Definitely no touching the customers; Wild once got yelled at for handing a poster to a patron instead of tossing it to him.

The industry isn’t what it was. The closing of Monty’s leaves Saanich’s Fox Showroom Pub as the only strip club in the city (though Langford’s Svelte Lounge quietly began booking dancers three nights a week a couple of months ago, ducking the fuss that scuttled plans to turn Ma Miller’s pub into a strip joint last year). Just a few other Vancouver Island bars feature exotic dancers, who earn way more in the oil-and-gas towns of Alberta and B.C., where the big tippers dwell.

Tougher drinking-and-driving laws have hurt the business. So did the smoking ban. Turns out you can find naked photos on the Internet, too, and it’s cheaper to drink at home than in a bar where the extra cost of strippers, DJs and bouncers pushes up beer prices.

In cities like Vancouver and Victoria, downtown redevelopment has pushed strip clubs away; tenants in new or refurbished buildings don’t want them as neighbours. Monty’s has been on a death watch for the two years since talk began of a makeover for the hotel, which was built in 1910.

The club has seen better days. The shower on the stage still works, but hasn’t been used for awhile. Ceiling mounts show where the swing used to hang. The hydraulic riser that used to elevate dancers amid pillars of smoke and light is broken. The kitchen closed a while ago. The front doors, which once opened for lunch, stayed closed until 4 in recent years.

It’s nothing like the mid-’90s, when Monty’s packed out big events like the World Duo Championships and Miss Nude Canada competition. The winner of Miss Nude Commonwealth held the stage through the 1994 Commonwealth Games.

Wildest were the days when the U.S. Navy pulled into port. Strippers in bikinis would go to the Inner Harbour, hand sailors water bottles whose labels bore maps to Monty’s. When the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln anchored in 2007, its 3,100 crew were herded in and out in one-hour shifts.

Once, when 150 white-uniformed U.S. sailors piled in unexpectedly, a panicked DJ woke Wild from a nap, pleaded with her to come downstairs and give the boys a show. She did, rubbing the sleep from her eyes, but before she could get into her routine, the sailors took over the stage. “They were dancing, grinding on the poles,” she says. “I grabbed my clothes and backed away.”

Monty’s has seen its share of controversy. Its liquor licence was suspended for 22 days last March after undercover cops witnessed Liquor Act violations and saw a staff member selling cocaine to patrons.

In 2005, a dancer sued actor Matt LeBlanc, Joey on Friends, after the National Enquirer published his version of their encounter at the club in 2005. (“He was here all day, sitting in the front row,” Kalnciems says.)

Still, to the regulars, it had the comfort of a bar where everybody knows your name, just like in Cheers, or at least what Cheers would be like were it set in an Elmore Leonard novel.

“You have a home. You’re part of the family,” Wild says.

No more. Wild — “I don’t think anybody has called me by my real name in years” — wasn’t sure if she would return to Victoria, not with the place that means the most to her gone. She just knew the last dance at Monty’s was hers.