The quest for perfect breasts has taken women many places: to the bottom of a sock drawer, the inside of a padded push-up bra, the sharp edge of a scalpel. On Saturday night, it brought 30-year-old Gena Horst to a bar best known for the giant martini glass lighting the entrance.
Gravity has taken its inevitable toll, says the single mother of two from Pennsylvania. She doesn't need bigger breasts, she says. Just a little lift to make them perkier. And maybe a tuck here and elsewhere for good measure.
"The reason why I need plastic surgery is because I have low self-esteem and because I'm on the market and I need a man," she proclaims, laughing loudly at herself.
So she is here tonight at the Party Block at 10 p.m., a little tipsy. The club, three bars in one that take up a city block at the beach town, is giving away $5,000 toward plastic surgery for one lucky winner. And Horst wants to be the one.
She does a once-over of a knockout who walks by selling shots. She's wearing a bikini top, hot pants, fishnet stockings and knee-high boots, the uniform of the club's female staff. To Horst, the Party Block girls are like walking buzz kills: "They're not helping my self-esteem over here."
There was a time when plastic surgery was an embarrassment, when a teenage girl would disappear from school with a bad case of mono, or perhaps the flu, and returned with a perfectly shaped nose. A time when unnaturally buoyant breasts were the calling cards of porn stars and strippers. But then came Pamela Anderson. And then came reality TV and "The Swan," "Dr. 90210" and "Extreme Makeover." Whatever your opinion of this surgical evolution, it's hardly surprising that bars have joined in the action.
In the case of the Party Block, it was easy to fill the bar with men during its summer-long Wednesday bikini contest, but how to attract gals so that the guys would stick around and keep drinking? The owners cooked up the plastic surgery giveaway, offering women who came to the bars on those nights the chance to register for the big drawing at the end of August.
"TONITE COSMETIC SURGERY FINALS," reads the marquee outside the Party Block. "NO COVER TIL 10."
Bar employee Justin O'Shea stands at the entrance, handing out additional registration forms. He is a tall, broad-chested guy, and when he first approaches women at the club, their eyes light up. But then he asks them if they want free cosmetic surgery, and the light dies.
What are you trying to say?
One woman pushes him in mock anger. Others just roll their eyes. One gives him a haughty no, only to return five minutes later to ask, "What do I have to do for that?" She gets two extra forms for her friends as well.
Club owner Ralph DeAngelus originally wanted to call the giveaway "Win a Boob Job," but that sounded a little "alienating," and he knew that women would still get the message.
"A girl will pick up that flier and she won't read 'cosmetic surgery,' " DeAngelus predicts. "I'm not being funny here. I gave it to all my girls [on staff] and they all read, 'Win a boob job.' "
Leggy bartender Anne-Marie Mercier-Bouse, 24, entered the drawing because her husband had been bugging her to get her breasts done. The way the men at the bar are ogling what's spilling out of her 34B bra top might suggest otherwise, but she says that's all just push-up. Her husband wants the real fake thing.
"My husband likes fake boobs. Not too big" -- maybe a 34C, she says -- "he just likes fake."
Mercier-Bouse says it's actually her nose that she hates. But her nose doesn't bother her husband. Dilemma. "If I do win, I really have to think about it," she says.
The club's owners had wanted to partner with a local plastic surgeon, Robert Davis. But when DeAngelus and his partner Robbie Rosenblit contacted him, Davis turned them down.
"I said it's very nice to call me, but that's strictly against the rules of the plastic surgery society to give away surgery for promotional reasons," Davis says.
A spokesman for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons says that there's a gray area when it comes to this issue (the society has received complaints about promotional cosmetic surgery giveaways in the past, but couldn't say if any involved bars). The club owners eventually decided to promote the event as a plastic surgery giveaway but make the prize just a $5,000 check.
"We're putting it right in their hand. There's no strings. There it is, bang," DeAngelus says. But if the winner does use the money for plastic surgery, he adds, "I definitely want to see the end results."
After a few hours surrounded by the bulging cleavage of the bar's staff, the promise of those bouncy end results begins to beckon.
"If you're thinking about it, you should do it," advises Michelle Schnupp, a 30-year-old mother of three from Bethany Beach, Del., just after ordering a shot.
She got her 34D breasts, tonight squeezed into a low-cut red top, five weeks ago. She loves them.
"It's so empowering," she says. "It just changes your way of thinking in life. . . . It's like you're untouchable. Everybody wants you."
She paid $4,400 for them, and she says the surgery was "the best thing I ever did in my life" -- better than her marriage, her kids, everything, she says. It's part of a larger dream: She wants to be 55, her kids off at college, lying on a beach in Miami and looking fabulous.
But isn't that a little superficial? What if life isn't all about great boobs?
"But it is," she says. "It's the one thing that can make you powerful for life. Honestly."
The clock is ticking closer to midnight, time for the big giveaway. The thumping music stops. A crowd of dancing girls is booted from the stage in the club's back bar to make room for the drawing. Bright lights shine down. DeAngelus takes the mike.
"Welcome to the Party Block on a Saturday night!" he yells.
DeAngelus shakes the bucket of cards. One of the club hotties climbs onstage and blindfolds Rosenblit. He draws a card. Beth Thompson from Baltimore, come on down!
She makes her way to the stage, holding a bottle of Budweiser. She is shaking. DeAngelus and Rosenblit whisk her to their office away from the applause of the crowd. Thompson is now near tears.
"I've never won anything before in my life," she says.
The music starts up again with "Don't Cha" by the Pussycat Dolls:
Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me
Don't cha wish your girlfriend was a freak like me
"Oh, and that's my most favoritest song on right now," Thompson says. She and her sisters were on the way to the club when they heard about the giveaway on the radio and decided they would enter.
Thompson, 25, says she has never really thought about plastic surgery before. Maybe she'll get lipo or her teeth straightened. Rosenblit sits down at his desk to write her a check. She suddenly realizes that it's $5,000 -- straight money. She begins to have second thoughts.
The money should really go into the bank, since she doesn't have a job right now. And then there's the second car that she and her husband have been trying to save up for. There are a hundred things she could think of to buy for her 2-year-old daughter. Five thousand is a lot to spend on herself.
"I really don't have a lot of complaints," she says. "Yeah, I'm slightly overweight, but I've had a baby, so what?"
Besides, she's pretty happy the way she is. Sure, she looked better pre-pregnancy, she says, but she wasn't as happy. And happy is better, right?