Bikini barista stands, like the one where Tammy works, started in the Northwest, on the rainier, bluer, more liberal side of the mountains of Washington state. With them has come controversy: Girls at one stand were busted for flashing undercover cops in exchange for extra tips, and another server was caught on camera giving customers early morning strip shows.
To Mike Fagan, a Spokane city councilman who just saw a voter-led initiative to restrict bikini baristas flop, Devil’s Brew’s model is too risqué not to regulate. But he says he’s taken heat for trying to impose a moral code on local businesses. Where do bikini baristas fall? If they’re not offensive, he wonders, why then are school-buses being rerouted so kids won’t see the coffee stands?
At the Devil’s Brew where Tammy works, women have to cover up 50 percent of their breasts, in accordance with Spokane Valley ordinance. But still, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Tammy and her coworkers are almost as naked as the girls rolling on the stage at the Deja Vu Showgirls strip club a few miles down the same street. That’s when things get dicey for Fagan.
“In my mind we’re talking adult entertainment,” Fagan says. “We don’t want to shut down the stands. We want to say, ‘Look, you either put the bikinis back on, or you move your business to an appropriately zoned area.’”
“Triple X dancing,” he says. “Triple X stores.”
At Devil’s Brew on a cold Wednesday, Tammy slides the window open and closed. “Good morning!” she peeps. “Are you having your usual?” From the time the window slides open to the time the car pulls away, fewer than three minutes elapse. It’s like a really friendly drive-through peep show.
But Sarah Birnel, owner of the Devil’s Brew stands (and several other bikini and non-bikini coffee kiosks in eastern Washington), says that’s never been her business. Birnel is an ex-con who got a second chance when her former boss offered her an opportunity to buy his coffee stand. “I have a history of getting in trouble, so I couldn’t get a job. This opportunity came up that was really amazing,” she says, of her first coffee stand, where baristas wear all of their clothes.
After Spokane’s first bikini stand opened, she started thinking of opening one herself. “I’m sitting here looking at this and … I’m like, ‘I could do that business. I could just do what I’m doing now, but just throw girls in there dressed in that way and it will just blow up,’” Birnel says. “I was begging my husband to let me open this, and he’s like, 'No way.'"
Birnel eventually got her way, and she knew exactly how to spot the people looking to do more than sell coffee. “I know because I lived it. Like I wasn’t that, but I’ve seen it all,” she says. She says she’s just selling coffee, and the girls who want to work there should be able to do that in a bikini if they choose to. “It’s a different thing when people are on drugs or they’re being abused and there’s someone that’s making them do these sexual things to get attention, or because they have to,” she says. “When a woman is actually saying, ‘You know what? I’m going to make money. I’m going to make money with what I’ve got,’ how is that not empowering?”