The prompt for this week's Wicked Wednesday meme was coffee. My post this week is sourced from
a story by Rebecca Kennedy and published by Thrillist in March 2016. You can read the full story here. ©Thrillist
Bikini barista stands got their start in Seattle in the late '90s and early '00s, and can now be found in a handful of American cities, including, not surprisingly, Las Vegas. But Oregon and Washington are home to the greatest concentration. With names like Twin Perks, Peek A-Brew, Sips Ahoy, Java Jigglers, and Hot Chick a Latte, these coffee-shacks-with-a-view are vying with Starbucks for their share of the grab-and-go coffee business.
Like bikini car washes and bikini landscaping services and bikini sushi joints before them, bikini barista stands are indeed a thing, and they’re all over the Pacific Northwest in the US, with the greatest concentrations in the Seattle, Portland, Tacoma, Spokane, and metro areas. One website, Bikini-Baristas.com, features locations for 56 separate businesses with a combined 123 locations between them.
The appeal of bikini coffee in the Pacific Northwest is perhaps obvious to anyone who has lived through the region's relentlessly gray, SAD-inducing winters. And obvious to anyone who has spent some quality time on the area’s blustery beaches, where bikinis are about as common as sunshine. Which is to say: not very.
"I've had tourists from Southern California come through and I’ve asked them, 'Why do you think bikini coffee shops aren't as common where you’re from?'" Mandy of Hot Bikini Brew explains. "They tell me it's probably because you can see girls in bikinis there every day. Not here, though. It’s just too cold."
It's probably not a coincidence that these stands are popular in a region where strip clubs are also the norm. Portland is the per-capita strip club capital of the United States, with 54 clubs serving 600,000 people. Seattle's not far behind, and the areas between are dotted with enough clubs to make outsiders blush. In a land where free-expression laws are historically lax, people have long been comfortable in their own skin... and gazing at others'.
That is not to say that bikini barista stands and strip clubs are easy bedfellows. The industry was rocked by a scandal in the city of Everett, WA in 2013. Former exotic dancer-turned-madam Carmela Panico made roughly $2 million running Twin Peaks and Java Juggs, brothels that masqueraded as bikini barista shops. An Everett police officer acted as a friend and informant to Panico, trading information on police activity in return for sexual favors.
And even before Java Jugg-Gate blew up, there was Bill Wheeler Sr. and his Washington chain of Grab-N-Go bikini coffee stands, where baristas received large tips for performing erotic acts for customers. Those customers included undercover cops, and soon the public -- and the court system -- was party to taped sex shows that included baristas licking whipped cream off each other.
The scandalous behavior isn’t just limited to inside the booths, either. Given that these stands are operated by nearly naked women, sexual harassment is a hazard of the job. Men have been known to drive up, pants down, mid-masturbation, expecting baristas to serve as live figures for their sexual fantasies. That’s why most kiosks are equipped with live-streaming cameras, and baristas aren't shy about calling the cops on anyone who makes them feel threatened.
"The bad stories are really rare," Holly, from Dream Girls Espresso, insists. "I feel totally safe here."
The bulk of bikini baristas - probably 99.9% - are women. (A notable exception is the Banana Hammock in Port Orchard, WA, where strapping shirtless men in tighty-whities do the steaming.) Many of the kiosks are owned and run by women as well, making such shops an arguably feminist endeavor.
Ladies doing it for themselves, in other words. And the majority of the shacks do above-board and scandal-free business every day. No prostitution, no money laundering, no dirty cops: just cups and cups of coffee with no G-strings attached.
But what about the fact that these stands offer one more venue for the objectification of women in a world already saturated with such opportunities? The debate about whether putting one’s body on display is an act of empowerment or just one more win for the patriarchy will rage forever, but for their part, folks like Mandy and Holly are united in their feeling that what they're doing is good for them and for their gender in general, because they get paid well to love their bodies and promote, employ, and celebrate other women.
Holly fields questions all the time from people worried she's sending the wrong message to young women. While we talked, a female customer in a Prius drove up and ordered a white chocolate mocha. I asked her why she chose to get her coffee at Dream Girl rather than at a "clothed" coffee kiosk down the street.
"It’s a nice halfway point between home and work, and sometimes you just have to treat yourself, you know?" she said. "And I don't see my coming here as weird or anything. No one should be afraid to support a business just because a pretty girl is working there. Solidarity, sister, you know?"
Bikini barista-ing is, at the same time, a young woman’s game. Now that she's pushing 30, Mandy is ready to hang up her bikini and work behind the scenes full time. She says she feels like a mama bear to her employees, both of whom are in their early 20s.
"I'm sort of ancient, really, but I do love the work and when I stop being a barista, I’ll miss it."
PHOTO CREDITS: The top two are by Steven Close for Thrillist ©
The bottom two were taken by Everritt Police officers and released by court order after media outlets argued publication was in the public interest!
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Bikini Baristas serving Hot Coffee ☕️
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