By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Mar 12, 2009 at 2:34 PM

Milwaukee has developed a national reputation for beer, bratwurst, friendly neighborhood bars, summer festivals and the Fonz -- before and after he was immortalized in bronze -- but it never has been known as a great town for strip clubs.

There are a few, however, and some do very well.

Through first-hand research and interviews with local "experts," we rounded up the "bare facts" on about a dozen clubs in the area. (Save your Talkbacks -- we consciously left off "outstate" places like Beansnappers and Cruisin' Chubbies because we're saving them for a Travel and Visitor's story later in the year).

The toughest thing about trying to write about strip clubs is that the experience varies from customer to customer, night to night, month to month and year to year.

Some people never go to strip clubs under any circumstances. Others may visit during a bachelor party or special occasion, but limit it to a once- or twice-in-a-lifetime event. Some people stop at strip clubs regularly for business meetings or to simply have a drink and relax in the company of semi-nude women.

During the course of our research, a few themes emerged. Here is a sampling of the comments from our panel of experts:

"I generally don't go to strip clubs in Milwaukee because the girls aren't all-nude."

"Once you've been to (insert city here, but Las Vegas, Tampa, Atlanta, Montreal and Toronto were mentioned), it's not worth going to clubs in Milwaukee. In other cities, dancers will initiate a lot of contact with customers. In Milwaukee, the just give "air dances."

"I don't like the 'tip walk' where girls get off stage and walk around asking for dollars."

"I like it when girls walk around and take my dollar bill in their G-string or between their breasts."

"The DJs at most strip clubs are idiots."

"Unless it's a weekend, most clubs just don't have enough dancers working. It's not like bigger cities."

"The strippers in Milwaukee are ugly / have too many tattoos / are unfriendly/ are only out for money."

Since beauty is a subjective thing, it's next to impossible to definitively rate the quality of dancers' looks. One man's perfect "10" may be another man's whatev "3."

The same goes for clubs. You might go to a club and have a great time while surrounded by beautiful women. Your friend could go to the same club the next night, or even later the same day, and find three bored strippers playing games on their cellphones.

You might find the atmosphere at a particular club to be comfortable and inviting. Your friend may think it's a dump.

The strip club experience is a "buyer beware" experience. The phrase "your mileage may vary" applies in just about every circumstance.

Here is a quick look at some local clubs:

Airport Lounge
5881 S. Howell Ave.
(414) 747-1142

This long-time club located near the airport, offers entertainment for men and women (the guys dance in the lower level "Cockpit") and an array of nightly drink specials. The cover is $5 at night. Private dances are $10, with "VIP" dances available for $25. Our spies say there isn't much difference between the two. This bar draws a steady stream of regular customers, but there is friendly and fun-loving vibe that will make first-time visitors feel welcome. Our spies also say that many of the dancers are attractive in a somewhat wholesome way.

Art's Performing Center
144 E. Juneau Ave.
(414) 271-8288

One of the older strip clubs in town, Art's draws a lot of business travelers and curious Water Street revelers. It's a safe bet that many of them don't understand the pun of the establishment's name, which was derived from the nearby Performing Arts Center (now the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts).

Our research showed that the cover charge is $5, with the charge for "private" dances $20. (They aren't particularly private).

Cheetah Club
5048 N. 35th St.
(414) 462-4136‎

We couldn't find anyone who had been to the Cheetah Club in the past three years. One expert called it "the worst of the worst." If you can help us with some information, use the Talkback feature.

101 S. Dana Ct.
(414) 257-0234

Given its proximity to Miller Park, the Encore is a popular stop for guys coming and going from Brewers games. The clientele skews toward blue collar guys, which is reflected in the cover, which ranges from $4 to $6, private dances cost $10 and the dancers and staff generally seem to be in good spirits.

9442 W. National Ave., West Allis
(414) 545-2550

This club, strangely divided into two, has been a staple "where Lincoln meets National" for years and has cultivated a core of regulars. There are no private areas and West Allis has strict regulations concerning contact but VIP dances take place on stool / mini stage set up on the side of the main stage. In the past, the club offered live music on one side and strippers on the other. This club was formerly Heartbreaker's.

Hillside Inn
2724 S. 13th St.
(414) 384-7474

Though off the path for tourists, this South Side club has a blue-collar vibe and a core of regular customers. It's kind of a neighborhood bar with topless women. The cover is $3 and private dances are $10.

On The Border
10741 S. 27th St., Franklin
(414) 761-6440

This is one of the bigger, more popular and more expensive clubs in the area. It is regarded, along with Silk, as a favorite among strip club regulars in the area. The cover is $5 during the day and $12 at night. Private dances are available for between $20 and $35. You can go into a very private area and get three dances for $90 or pay $300 for a half-hour of company. Our "experts" tell us that some dancers in the VIP area can be quite friendly. "If you get the right girl in the right mood, you can have a very good time," one said. It's not unusual to see couples enjoying a night together, particularly on Thursday, when admission for couples is free. The club serves food after 7 p.m.

Ricky's On State
2601 W. State St.
(414) 933-7730

A fixture in Milwaukee for decades, Ricky's outlasted its direct competitor, Hoops, which featured the famous "Tarzana." If you are of a certain age, you may have a T-shirt in the drawer with Ricky's motto: "Hey, Hey, Hey." And, you probably remember the two for one specials (on everything except beer) when Paul rings the bell.

Silk Exotic
11400 W. Silver Spring Rd.
(414) 462-7455

Located in the sprawling complex that once housed the Attic West, Silk prides itself on a "Vegas-style" atmosphere, and often books national feature performers. The cover charge is $10 and private dances are $20 (the area is monitored by security cameras). The staff and dancers generally are energetic and friendly. The bouncers are burly and dress like bouncers do in Vegas. Silk offers a menu of appetizers and sandwiches and is located adjacent to Jokerz Comedy Club. The club also offers entertainment for the ladies.

Solid Gold
813 S. 1st St.
(414) 647-0130

If you remember the old Club Paradise, it may be time to visit Solid Gold again. There have been some improvements, including bathrooms that have the feel of an upscale sports club. Private dances are $20; $200 for a half-hour champagne room visit. The club offers an expansive menu featuring steaks and lobster tail, wireless Internet and a rooftop patio. Like On The Border and Silk, Solid Gold occasionally books nationally known "feature" performers.

Spot Lite
6426 W. Greenfield Ave.
(414) 257-0616

Another, blue-collar, neighborhood bar with topless women. The Spot Lite features a cheap cover (usually about $3) and reasonably priced beers. The dancers tend to cluster around the bar, where they talk to each other, regular customers and occasionally their boyfriends. The stage is tiny and the music comes from a jukebox, which is refreshing for people who find DJ patter to be indecipherable and annoying.