Claire Sinclair is apprehensive, not what you’d expect from someone who’s spent much of her adult life semi- or entirely nude.
She’s sitting on a pink settee in the Jayne Mansfield-inspired glitz room at her burgeoning Clairebnb rental project in a cream-colored lace dress, her dark hair, wet from the tub, settling in waves on her shoulders. It smells like a bottle of Herbal Essence exploded in her luggage and she didn’t have time to send out the dry cleaning.
If you ever have a photo shoot and no bubble bath, turns out that’s a good substitute.
“I’m nervous even to put it out,” she says. “It makes me break out into sweats to think about putting out a Kickstarter. It could be nothing, it could be huge. Doing anything in my career has always been that risk. There’s no fun if there’s no risk.”
Sinclair smiles at that. It’s not the stage smile. It’s the camera smile, the one that creeps up toward her bangs, like she’s going to tell you a dirty joke or maybe take you out for ice cream. It’s the smile that made Hef stand up and take notice … which led to her run in Pin Up on the Las Vegas Strip … which led her here.
“[Pin Up] was a four-year lesson I keep going back to. There was no fun there, there was no risk, there was no anything. It was just dead. I’m just happy I get the chance to try.”
Maybe it’s better to start from the end. The end of Pin Up, anyway.
Four years ago, on her 21st birthday, Sinclair—fresh off a 2011 Playmate of the Year win and an appearance on Holly Madison’s reality show, Holly’s World—was attending Frankie Moreno’s show at the Stratosphere.
He told her about a new, vintage-themed dance production he’d hatched up, and asked if she’d be interested in fronting it, the way Madison, another Playboy celeb-turned-Strip showgirl, had starred in Peepshow.
Pin Up was born. It launched with typical Vegas fanfare in March 2013, but it wasn’t long before something felt wrong. It operated under a kind of showgirl hijab—it never got racier than corsets, as if it was some stage version of Leave It to Beaver. By June, Sinclair had pushed the show from PG to PG-13 by stripping down to pasties … with a bunch of Yelp reviewers in attendance. Stratosphere brass might not have approved of her rogue ta-tas, but the crowd’s reaction meant more, so the show’s change stood.
Her relationship with the property began to show cracks, however. She says annual contacts became monthly arrangements and that the resort pulled back on marketing efforts. “They put up a billboard that said, ‘Best free parking in town,’ where ours had been,” Sinclair says. The audience began to dwindle.
“Some nights we’d have unenthusiastic audiences that would be silent,” she said. “You could hear the crickets. There would be two drunk people sleeping, and you’d be pulling out your pasties, like greeeeaaaat.”
When word down came in January that a March 4 performance would mark the show’s end, Sinclair wasn’t surprised, or all that crushed. “Not that it wasn’t an amazing opportunity, but four years of doing the same thing?” she says. “And I lived at the Stratosphere for four years. I think I got disconnected from humanity doing that for so long. [So] it was like, f*ck it. I’d rather have one cent in my pocket and be free. If they gave me another year contract, I would have done it, but I wouldn’t be happy.”
Whenever someone in the public eye ends a project, everyone immediately wants to know, what’s next?
Which brings us back to now, in the Jayne Mansfield room with the pink settee, glitter pink walls and gold cylinder lights mounted on the ceiling.
“There’s no feeling of, I need to find another show,” Sinclair says. “When everyone asks me, ‘What’s your next show? Are you looking?’ This is where my heart is.”
So what, exactly, is this? It’s a funky little Downtown apartment building, built in 1971 with a nod to Modern style, at 427 11th Street. The street number is affixed to the building in janky, angular wood, straight out of a Saul Bass poster. The building sits in a residential neighborhood, but it’s a convenient five-minute stroll to Huntridge Tavern to the south and the Bunkhouse Saloon and Atomic Liquors to the north.
That’s outside. The real action is inside, where two apartments have been fully converted and are available to rent, a third is on the way and four more are in the planning stages for an all-Airbnb experience aimed right between the eyes of the quirk-centric.
The concept itself proved to be something of a problem. After she bought the building, Sinclair learned she needed a special permit to run the operation, which can be tricky business obtaining. She enlisted the assistance of Artifice co-owner Trinity Schlottman and former planning commissioner Steve Evans, both of whom helped guide her through the licensing process. It took from April to August before she was official.
And then foot met gas. Sinclair drew inspiration from two primary sources: Jayne Mansfield’s Pink Palace and San Luis Obispo’s Madonna Inn, where Sinclair stayed by chance on a road trip as a teen. Every room in the Madonna is themed out, from antique cars to William Tell. When Sinclair’s boyfriend—co-designer, art dude and all-around shop hand Jon Crowder—started renting out his own unit as he spent more and more time with Sinclair at the Stratosphere, the whole project came together in her mind.
Crowder’s old apartment turned into a ’70s bachelor pad, and it’s as delightfully hideous as you’d imagine: shag throws, an infinity mirror, velvet nudes and walls so avocado green and burnt orange you’ll wake up feeling like you’re trapped in your great aunt’s refrigerator. The hi-fi works, and the record collection’s stocked with Bob Seger, John Lennon and the sweet, gettin’-it-on sounds of Marvin Gaye.
The Beauty and the Beast room features deep blue and gold wallpaper and a four-poster bed that’s bigger than a Buick.
Sinclair is hoping to cut a licensing deal for a Pee-Wee’s Playhouse room, for which Crowder is champing at the bit to build a Chairy. Other potential plans include a space based on Yayoi Kusami’s Infinity Room at the Broad in LA; a vintage ’80s grandmother’s basement and a 19th-century British explorer’s club, complete with sturdy leather and taxidermy.
It sounds like an awful lot of renovation, and the many Lowe’s visits Sinclair and Crowder have been making don’t come cheap. There’s a Kickstarter in the works, but Sinclair’s also swinging for Mark Cuban’s fences. She’ll head to open auditions for entrepreneurial ABC reality series Shark Tank March 30 in Palm Springs. Seems hard to believe a former Playmate of the Year and Strip headliner won’t be interesting enough to make the cut, but nothing’s been settled yet.
If the Kickstarter hits the mark, Sinclair expects to have the whole building done within three months, faster if there’s a TV cash infusion (Sinclair will also take a shot at Tilman Fertitta’s CNBC series Billion Dollar Buyer). If none of that pans out, the project could take until the fall to complete.
After four years hitting the stage at 9:30 every night, the first week must feel surreal. Anyone who’s ever left a job knows how strange it is the first couple of times you don’t make the commute, check in at the office and push whatever papers need pushing that day.
“The last day it was weirding me out, because I started to think all of those things I’m going to miss,” she said. “But I don’t think I’ll miss it for a couple of years. It’ll take some time for me to want to do anything like that [again].”
Oh, so there’s still a chance this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Claire Sinclair perform? “The show I would want to do is not a show on the Strip, but an HGTV-style show renovating and doing themed places,” she says. “I love being in the public. It’s fun and natural for me to be a representative of something that I’m passionate about. To do this—not for a reality show with any drama, but showing the logistics and the process of it—would be something I’d be really happy about.”
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