Desert Companion

Made in the Shade

shadylady-3839.jpg

Photo: Gregg Carnes

A feisty couple banks on the colorful history of a Beatty-area brothel drawing visitors to what’s now a regular old bed-and-breakfast
 

SCOTTY’S JUNCTION — Nigel White recalls that day in 2018 when he returned home to Las Vegas from a business gallivant across Nevada’s outback. He gave his wife, Jennifer, good news: He’d found the perfect property to establish the rural bed and breakfast he’d always dreamed about.

But there were caveats. The place was isolated, 150 miles north of Las Vegas, a half-hour past the town of Beatty, its address along U.S. Highway 95 the very definition of rustic: Mile Marker 92. The other issue? The place was once a working brothel, where randy men paid to play.

Known as the Shady Lady, the place boasted a colorful reputation as a cathouse that liked to push the limits. Briefly, in 2009, the Shady Lady featured an L.A. porn actor who billed himself as the state’s first male prostitute, a self-proclaimed “prosti-dude.”

Nigel liked the idea of communing with the ghosts of madams past. The property could attract visitors traveling to nearby Death Valley National

Park and would fit into neighboring Beatty’s big dreams to establish itself as a tourist hub where you could rent mountain bikes and get a good meal.Nigel especially adored the name Shady Lady.

“What great advertising!” he told his wife. “That name alone is probably worth a million bucks!” Always the salesman, he added that the price included a passel of peacocks that had the run of the grounds, spreading their feathers, hooting out their signature, “Cah-Ah!”

Jennifer looked at him like he was insane.

Still, the two entrepreneurs pulled off the unlikely. They sold their Las Vegas house and relocated, undertaking the job of convincing weary travelers to stay overnight at a place in the middle of nowhere, where sex was once sold, and nobody ever asked any questions.

Nothing is normal when it comes to Nigel and Jennifer White. He’s a South African gaming industry consultant with a smooth-as-silk accent. She’s a no-nonsense Pennsylvania native and former clothing boutique owner who refuses to suffer fools gladly, especially Nigel.

Their life is like an episode from the old Green Acres TV sitcom: A city man has a rural dream, and his big-city wife goes along for the hilarious ride. At first, Jennifer didn’t even bat an eyelash about the brothel. But she had other issues: “Where in God’s name is Beatty, Nevada?”

And then, when she saw the Shady Lady, she had one word to describe it: “Appalling.” The brothel, established in 1983, had closed in 2014, and for the four intervening years had been run as a B&B by a guy who let the place go.

As the new owners discussed renovations, Nigel confessed to a plan: Along with the B&B, he wanted to continue the place’s legacy — as in, reopen a brothel. Jennifer wanted the place as a private getaway. But Nigel insisted that 8,000 square feet of structures, 11 bedrooms, and 60 total acres  of land was too big for two people. They struck a compromise: The property would reopen to guests, but not the cathouse kind.

Sitting on the B&B’s front porch recently, Jennifer says, “I’ll never own a brothel.” “We can put it in my name,” Nigel offers. Jennifer sighs. “Nigel, let’s just get a divorce lawyer. Then you’ll get it all.”

“Cah-Ah!” a peacock calls out.

The town of Beatty welcomes the new Shady Lady, as not just any B&B, but one that celebrates the world’s oldest profession. While Beatty looks to the future, it’s determined not to forget its past: including a close connection to the sex industry.

In the 1950s, two brothels sat in the middle of town — the Red Rooster and the Willow Tree, both considered respectable businesses. Beatty native John Lisle still owns the piano his mother bought from a working girl at the Red Rooster. In the mid-20th century, when officials moved to shut down the brothels, residents signed a petition fight the move, according to a True magazine story headlined: “The Town That Fought to Keep Prostitution.” While the two brothels did eventually close, another, last known by the name Angel’s Ladies, took its place outside town until it, too, shut its doors.

Erika Gerling, chair of the town advisory board, isn’t ashamed of Beatty’s working girl association. “Nobody has anything bad to say about brothels here,” she says. “They’re a novelty, and that’s why we love Beatty. We’re a novelty. And we’re not ashamed of our history.”

Gerling says the Shady Lady fits into plans to grow Beatty through its proximity to the popular nearby national park and the three-day Beatty Days festival each October. “Another B&B is just what the doctor ordered,” she says. “And promoting the brothel theme sets you apart from everybody else.”

Nigel and Jennifer opened the new Shady Lady in September 2018, but not before some renovations, supervised by Jennifer. The new owners kept the large road sign that beckons passersby down a dirt road called Petticoat Lane. They spruced up the grassy lawn and painted the white picket fence and doublewide trailer. And even though the last john visited the place in 2014, Jennifer changed the mattresses and bedding, just to be safe. The spirit of the former staff remains in pillowcases featuring overstated female eyelashes.

Now far from shady, the place boasts clean comfortable rooms and a full English breakfast. Jennifer replaced suggestive statues and artwork, such as an illustrated poster that advertised pricing. She held her nose when Nigel found pairs of edible panties and handcuffs covered in fluffy red velvet.

“Nasty,” she says.

Today, the bed-and-breakfast enjoys rave reviews. Guests like the four themed accommodations where the women once did their work — the Paradise room with the red heart-shaped jacuzzi, the Asian, Victorian, and the Willow tree cabin, with its own outdoor pool and breathless mountain

 views. Prices range from about $100 to $200 and up per night.

Most of all, customers like how Nigel and Jennifer — along with Nigel’s cousin and her husband, who help out at the B&B — treat them like family. Jennifer makes a point of walking departing guests to their vehicles and often receives a goodbye hug.

“The Shady Lady has a quirky and mischievous history, which makes for riveting fireside chats,” one guest writes on social media. “This was no shady lady! Jennifer was by far the most welcoming host you could imagine!” another adds. And a third: “The primal needs of man, now replaced by the birds, in a desert setting!”

The couple takes pride is their low-key approach. Guests aren’t immediately hounded for credit cards but pay at departure. The inn has no website or business cards, instead relying on word-of-mouth advertising.

Sometimes, when the sun goes down, Nigel and Jennifer are the main entertainment. They love to regale guests with Shady Lady tales — how no more than six girls worked there at a time, and how owner Jim Davis slept in an adjacent trailer while his wife, Bobbi, took the madam’s quarters where the Whites now live. Bobbi sold the business after Jim died in 2014.

Nigel stresses that the couple only offers the colorful history with adult audiences, and not when families with children are there. “We offer a personal touch,” Nigel says. “But not like the one they offered back in the day, I’m afraid. We’re not quite that intimate.”

Nigel offers tours of the endless night skies and bought a large telescope for guests. He hasn’t yet figured out how to use it, and Jennifer won’t be much help. “That’s Nigel’s gig,” she says.

Some guests see the dining room table full of awards the Shady Lady won as “Best Small Brothel of the Year” and add to the folklore. One artist painted a sketch of the B&B grounds that hangs on the wall, along with vintage Shady Lady photographs gifted by another guest. Still another framed an old-school Shady Lady voucher with a matchbook from back in the day.

In its sex worker era, the Shady Lady never joined the Nevada Brothel Association. Still, the trade group approves of the B&B’s history tours in what experts consider a flagging industry. The number of Nevada brothels has dropped from a high of 35 in the early 1980s to, according to the Nevada Brothel Association’s  Chuck Muth, 19 at the beginning of the COVID pandemic.                                                         

In 2019, Muth says, he toured 15 of the remaining brothels and stopped in at the Shady Lady B&B to meet the new owners. “Nigel told me then he was thinking about reopening the brothel as a side business but had to get the OK from his wife,” he says. “I guess that conversation didn’t go well.”

Nigel and Jennifer continue to have their differences. He loves the isolation; she deplores it. She also rues B&B management’s 24-hour schedule, by the time you feed the guests, make up the rooms, and welcome newcomers. Then there are the complainers who bring out her Philly tough-girl side, like the one who griped for three days straight, until her host finally said: “Did you not Google us? If you’re that unhappy, there’s the door!”

The new owners still hear from working girls and former clients who didn’t get the memo that the brothel closed eight years ago. Truckers arrive looking for a thrill, and Jennifer sends them to the Alien Cathouse in the Amargosa Valley (but not before asking if they can read, like, the sign out front, which advertises a B&B, not a brothel?). Then there are the peacocks, which have doubled in number to 40, leading Nigel to threaten separating them as a form of birth control.

He still harbors dreams of hosting working girls again. He insists that, with six hostesses, he and Jennifer could make in one hour what they make off a room in one night now. Like always, she waves him off. First, there’d be the $100,000 brothel license, she says, and then the attorney’s fees when she divorces him.

It is a risky business, financially speaking. While the state’s brothel business still thrives — stubbornly surviving the COVID pandemic — running a B&B may be more viable.

“There’s more risk in brothels,” says Barbara Brents, a UNLV professor and author of The State of Sex: Tourism, Sex and Sin in the New American Heartland, a 2010 book that examined the history and labor of Nevada’s legal brothels. “You need independent contractors who don’t stick around without steady clients. A B&B makes much more sense.”

Despite their differences, Nigel and Jennifer are proud of what they’ve created out in the high desert. On a tour of the living room, Jennifer points to the Victorian furniture. “I’d never buy this, but I’m keeping it,” she says.

Nigel shows off the well-lit side of the room where the working girls once did their lineup for prospective guests, his manner as courtly as any museum guide. A visitor looks around the area and observes: “If these walls could only talk…”

Jennifer whips her head around: “Well, they better not talk to me!”

A peacock outside adds, “Cah-Ah!” Φ

 

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Photos: Gregg Carnes

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