Camped along the corner of Shelby and Michigan Avenue, there's a long line five people deep, a streak of crimson against the slick metallic drizzle of night. Girls are pressed against their men, snuggled under suit jackets to avoid the rain. At the line's front, bouncers of titanic proportions maintain the crowd, while apprehensive doormen wearing red dress shirts and ties attempt to make sense of the mob.

It's Esko Lounge's much-anticipated Red Party, hosted by Adnan Medic, Bashar A., and Ramy M. Admittance into the club tonight is a fevered passage of utter mayhem; this is clearly the event of the evening. It's the standard flurry of "I'm on the list" and "My cousin forgot his ID" garbled with "Let me in this club!" barked by a woman who knows someone at the door. Women blow kisses and scream at the staff while their boyfriends try to subdue them with petting and cigarettes. Some grow impatient and join the girls in protest, their voices knitted with the sound of spike heels against wet asphalt.

When I finally slip through the stampede at the door, the fevered drone of the crowd is washed out by loud and surprisingly good techno. The music and the white flash of a camera dull the senses, and everything appears red.

The crowd here tonight is a Grey Goose-sucking throng of sexy young clubbers. They are well-dressed and immaculately coiffed, despite their purgatory in the rain. Women wear red ruffles, scarlet silk, dresses of claret, crimson and cherry. They scurry around to unite their groups, navigating with serpentine haste through the crowd. One spins on ruby polka dot patent-leather heels, another appears in wine-tinged taffeta.

I've explored the corrosion of buildings on this block, and found skeletons of strange machines, crumbling ceilings and decaying pipes, horrific murky sub-basements and low-slung rats the size of housecats. By contrast, Esko is everything elegant. There are tall ceilings, dark walls, scads of VIP nooks tucked away, gussied up with leather couches and bottle service. Red panels are suspended above the immense island bar, which is bathed by golden bulbs hanging overhead. The line for drinks echoes the swarm of people outside.

It takes 15 minutes to traverse the club. Bodies are pressed so close that I can discern the faint, crisp fabric-softener sweetness of a man next to me. Despite people's calculated politeness, I am very aware of the likelihood of getting a cigarette in the eye, or elbowed in the gut by some bony lass, or snagged by this dude's four-inch diamond-studded belt buckle.

A panoramic view from the second floor confirms not an inch of free space below. I find the sheer impenetrability overwhelming, yet Esko is in its element and the crowd is ecstatic. The dance floor is a dense, sweaty vision told in shades of red-gold-black, sexed-up by sultry bodies moving to mainstream club hip hop of Jay Z and Juvenile. On the periphery, every visible hand clutches a martini glass or a cigarette or a cell phone. I watch people try to communicate on their phones; the device cupped in hand, they yell away in vain.

Esko's little ladies' room is a claustrophobic abode swarming with girls teetering on four-inch heels. I recognize the attendant, Shay, from other venues. She's a sweet, motherly woman whose business card reads "Aunties Unlimited — Bathroom Valets." Shay once told me that she took care of four girls puking in a club bathroom at once. That's club class for you. As always, Shay handles us all with grace and plenty of paper towels. The bathroom is an exhausting experience and that makes me long to be at some lame club with a bad turnout.

Envy — the stripper

Twenty minutes later I'm four blocks down Shelby at Envy nightclub, drinking a glass of bad red wine served from a giant bottle with a screw off top, listening to gangster rap. The place is pretty empty tonight, save dudes in track suits talking football plays, and a trio of voluptuous black girls at the bar. "Damn, we full a tequila ta-night!" one of them hoots, followed by the sound of shot glasses slammed against the bar.

I'm getting the lowdown from Envy's quintessential club girl — a slim, sparkling blonde with mile-long lashes, pounds of jewelry and a fistful of bills. The girl, Andrea, drops a pile of them on the bar and grabs her drink. She's perfectly proportioned, a walking pinup gliding on stilettos.

She wants to talk men. "When I'm into a guy, I walk right up to him, like, 'What's your number, baby? You're looking good tonight.'" She twirls the tips of her hair and inches closer. "When I go out, a lotta guys are like, 'I'd fuck her,'" she says — and she might be right. Andrea is wearing a light-brown tube top, and at first glance from across the bar, she looks a bit naked.

Andrea is from the west side, but hits Detroit for the clubs. She throws back her mane of platinum and makes an interesting distinction concerning the scene. Girls go to clubs to hang out, drink, dance, catch up, while "guys come to clubs to get laid. All guys are the same — millionaire, blue collar ..." (I sense how Andrea catalogs men). She stares me in the eye as though disclosing some womanhood secret. "Guys. All. Wanna. Get. Laid," she enunciates. I cock my head, and Andrea continues, "Oh, yeah. Even good-looking guys will take home a girl that's ... I don't wanna say ugly, but men don't care."

I wonder if maybe Andrea is fed up with talk of men, and I ask if she has a job. Her heavily shadowed eyes light up. "I work in a gentlemen's club." She takes a deep breath of secondhand smoke and tosses me a smile.

"I like being the center of attention," she chirps when I ask her why she started stripping. I can't help but be impressed with her honesty. The perfect curves of her eyebrows furrow, and she tells me, "It's not like you'd think — we can't walk around all night topless anymore. And we can't sit on guys' laps, even in the VIP room." She pokes the ice with her straw, and we're on to another important topic — a gent's club VIP room.

"Well, lotsa girls have sex in the VIP room," she explains and drains her cocktail. I'm confused. Sex is a go, but they draw the line at the lap?

"How much does the VIP room cost?" I muster.

"Twenty five dollars a song."

"To possibly have sex?" I retort, incredulous. Andrea nods and tells me what a wholesome girl she is — she never has sex in the VIP. As for the girls who do, she insists, "Well, if you're smart, you'll drag it out for alotta money, but most guys get off in, like—" Andrea clicks her tongue and rolls her eyes, "three minutes." She adds curtly, "Hundred bucks for a blow job."

Does she like selling her body for cash?

"I've been stripping for a yearandahalf." She looks absent-minded and adds, "The first six months were fun — I made five hundred bucks a night, not even trying. Now, I hate lap dancing. It makes me sick. The guys are usually married, and they have kids my age or older." Neon orange nails trace the rim of her glass and she sighs, "They always want me to touch their dicks."

I'm getting more confused. "You don't, er, touch their ... dicks?"

"Nah, at most clubs, guy haveta keep their hands on their thighs everywhere in the club."

How does one get laid with your hands on your thighs?

That's the question on our minds the ride home. It's not such a long drive.

Night Tripper appears regularly in Metro Times. Send tips, quips, whispers and comments to [email protected]