THREE CONTROVERSIES CONSUMED Abilene this summer. One was whether the July 4 fireworks display should continue to follow the Prairie Dogs baseball game. Another concerned the propriety of wearing shorts to church. But the biggest brouhaha by far was over Knockers, a bar and grill patterned after Hooters, the national restaurant chain known for its scantily clad waitresses and leering clientele. There are 211 Hooters worldwide and 17 in Texas, so you might think Abilenians wouldn’t bat an eye—but in the conservative city, which is home to three Christian-affiliated universities and was completely dry until 1978, a place like Knockers is bound to start a fight. “I know there’s pornography and things that seem a lot worse,” says Allison Sims, a 34-year-old mother of two, “and realistically we’re not going to get all the pornography out of Abilene. But this is something trying to be very subtle, and it’s just as bad. They’re exploiting women; they’re exploiting God.”
Sims was one of the many Knockers knockers who aired their opinions in a letter to the editor of the Abilene Reporter-News; in fact, so many people wrote in that the paper had to expand its letters page. “I am not opposed to Knockers or breasts. Let’s concern ourselves with real issues,” read one missive. Another observed that in all the uproar over Knockers, nothing had been said about Girls, Girls, Girls, “a totally nude place open right here in the middle of Abilene.” After a while, the Reporter-News began running front-page teasers such as “Whether it’s fireworks or Knockers, Abilene residents don’t lack for something to complain about,” and “Letters! Letters!! Letters!!! And they’re not all about Knockers either!!!”
In truth, anyone titillated by the bar’s name is likely to be disappointed: On a recent visit there I found the attire to be, in the age of Baywatch, nothing shocking: The shorts aren’t too short, and the shirts don’t give that much away (though you might not want your wife or daughter parading around in them in front of drunk people). The waitresses aren’t seductive temptresses but rather wide-eyed women who perform their jobs with atypical enthusiasm. “It’s just the name—that’s really all it is,” Reporter-News editor Glenn Dromgoole says of the controversy, though he acknowledges that the bar’s location fans the flame: “It’s in a highly visible place in Abilene. If you’re going out to the Super Wal-Mart, you’re going to go by there.”
Anyway, the most noticeable bust at Knockers was on August 16, when the police raided the place and arrested two operators, who were charged with third-degree felony theft for allegedly stealing $20,000 worth of equipment from a Shoney’s in Tennessee, where one of them had worked. “I honestly believe that God got the last word,” Sims says. Or at least the state did: Though the bar is open again, flippantly advertising “fugitive night” specials, its liquor license has been revoked, which means you can add the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to the list of people who can’t take their eyes off Knockers.