"Are you going to ride the bull?" I am immediately asked upon arrival at Cowgirls Inc. The staff of The Stranger is clustered at the near end of the bar. We are here celebrating the 21st birthday of Alithea, whose boyfriend bought her the party through our Strangercrombie holiday catalog. Cowgirls Inc. donated the drinks and the food. The peanuts at Cowgirls Inc. are always free.

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Cowgirls Inc.'s main draw—besides hot female bartenders and bar-top dancing—is a mechanical bull à la Urban Cowboy. Even early on Friday evening, before the crowds have come and bull riding has begun, it's total sensory overload. A cavernous faux roadhouse, it's got a plethora of vaguely Western-themed miscellany all over the walls and ceiling. "Space Cowboy" by Steve Miller is playing very loud. And, yes, a few women are dancing on the bar.

"There are two things I never want to do," I say—this is patently absurd; the number of things I never want to do may be in the hundreds, if not thousands—"go to jail or have chronic back trouble." I point to the bull. "THAT looks like chronic back trouble."

"Huh," the questioner says. He thinks. "There are two things I never want to do: accidentally kill someone or go down on a woman." This, too, is patently absurd. This man is extremely gentle and extremely gay; the possibility of him somehow unwittingly doing either of these things is remote, indeed. Dread, however, knows no reason.

It's too bad "dance on the bar at Cowgirls Inc." isn't on his list, because he'll never do that, either—it's no boys allowed, not even homosexual ones. How this is enforced is unclear; the employee who provides the policy is currently dancing on the bar herself. She's more punk rock than cowgirl, butcher than you'd expect, and seems like she could easily go from flirtatious to kicking some asshole's teeth in.

A little later, various members of the party express disbelief when confronted with the fact that two bar dancers are not incorporated Cowgirls, but unpaid and gyrating of their own volition. (They have been seen doing shots in the corner, presumably marking them as civilians.) The Marxist among us is undisturbed by the depraved form capitalism has taken here (these scantily clad dancers dancing for free), but finds the innumerable brassieres that hang above the bar metaphysically troubling. It is as if, he says, the women whose breasts were so supported simply disappeared.

You must sign a waiver and be fingerprinted to ride the bull. A few of our number acquit themselves well, though rides tend to end with riders listing badly to port or starboard rather than being bucked off, which is anticlimactic. Our sole cowgirl will later report sustaining major contusions on her legs—in blue, green, and yellow, an "impressionist buttercup bouquet" of bruises—but no back problems. The gays flock to watch a random male patron.

"He's totally your type," one says to another. recommended

Support The Stranger

Ride the bull at 421 First Ave S, 340-0777.

bethany@thestranger.com

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Washington Ensemble Theatre presents amber, a sensory installation set in the disco era
In this 30-minute multimedia experience, lights & sounds guide groups as they explore a series of immersive spaces.