February 29, 1960 was a historic day for Chicago and the world. Playboy magazine owner Hugh Hefner decided that Leap Year would be an appropriate time for him to open up the world’s first Playboy Club on Walton Street in the Gold Coast. The club, having hired from the local talent pool, provided the first appearance of the Playboy Bunnies. These Bunnies, with their satin corsets, bunny ears and fluffy white tails served those fortunate enough to be “Keyholders” in the style of the old gaslight clubs. As VIPs of the club, Keyholders could enter the club at anytime and indulge in an atmosphere filled with music, alcohol and nubile women. The flagship Chicago location was so successful in its inaugural year that, it not only become the busiest club in the world, but it was also the first of 40 locations – each being referred to by Newsweek as a “Disneyland for adults.”
Back in the 50’s and 60’s, Playboy wasn’t just porn – it was a lifestyle brand for the mid-century American man.
Further reading on The Selvedge Yard: Iconic Branding of a Bunny Kind
Heffner was gifted with an ironic stroke of fate when the original “Stag Club” name that was going to grace his new men’s magazine was legally blocked by Stag magazine. He needed a new handle, and the stag was soon converted to the now iconic bunny, in a historic and innuendo-laden rename. Playboy later ran a pictorial article on Chicago’s Gaslight Club, and was overwhelmed by thousands of readers requesting to join this exclusive key members club. Playboy execs smelled a golden opportunity, and soon plans were laid to open their own private key holder’s club. All that was needed now was the vision.