The Calle de Silva is a narrow alley just off Gran Via in Madrid. In the middle of this dark, dingy passage, next to a computer shop and across from a hotel catering to business travelers, there is a doorway lined with incandescent light bulbs and plastered with gaudy 80s porn posters. “Hi sweetie, are you looking for some fun?” the woman at the door asks me. I smile back politely, bashfully, enough for a “yes” to be inferred. “That will be 12 euros then,” she says, looking at me curiously, then lewdly. I hand her the money and enter clumsily through the glass door, staring at my shoes.
Inside, the air is thick with perfume and astringent with bleach. It is also cold, the bite of the air conditioning cutting through the bass of the reggaetón music. Amid the gloom, some fifteen women crowd the small bar, sending forth affected desire and haunted looks. High-heels, shorts skirts, straining cleavage, and mouths like crimson wounds. Their faces flash in and out of the lights and the dry ice, a brume of voluptuous hosts. I pass by and sit on a sofa that smells of too many bodies and of too much spilled champagne. In front of me, a young woman presses her breasts into the chest of a reserved sixty-year-old man, promptly straddling him with practiced confidence. The man stammers and stutters, writhes and twitches, but she pins him to the seat with the force of her hips and the fervor of her flattery.
Behind the slippery onyx surface of the bar, in the shadow of the DJ booth, stands Pedro Calero, the club’s owner. He is short, with the bulk and sag of a man in his mid-sixties. He has neat, medium-length, salt-and-pepper hair parted in the middle, and a bushy moustache. His expression is stern as he grumbles at the waitresses working alongside him. Calero has owned Chelsea, one of Madrid’s oldest erotic clubs, for 34 years. His bar is not what many in Spain call a puticlub, or brothel: large motels-cum-bars where women work legally as prostitutes. Chelsea is a place where “people can come, have a late-night drink, enjoy the company of a hostess and watch sex shows.” Both the puticlub and bars like Chelsea are common in Spain, and they are the environments in which Calero has spent most of his life.
Making a living from the night has taught Calero many things. He knows by a customer’s body language how he or she is likely to behave. He knows the types of people that will break down in tears and the kind of man who will be aggressive with one of his girls. He knows the people that enter to escape and the people that come to study. He knows this business because he owns Chelsea, and because he is one of Spain’s most prolific porn stars.