From Issue 2.2 - October/November 1995

Wear Your Kink and Buy a Drink:
Nightclubbing for the City-Dwelling Pervert

by Rob Jellinghaus

The line was rather short for 1:15am on a Wednesday evening, but that was fine with me. I was going to Bondage a Go-Go, the original SM-themed San Francisco nightclub, and I wasn't in a waiting mood. Behind me in line, one yuppie titillated his friends with stories of seeing an officemate's pierced and tattoed dick: "I can't believe how much that must have hurt, man!" Ahead of me, a couple in formal wear snuggled together, maybe for protection. I smiled at them, which didn't seem to help, as I was in full leather and looked, I suppose, scary. But clearly they were interested in getting scared.

Bondage A Go-Go opened about two years ago, amid much anticipation. It rapidly (and unsurprisingly) became controversial. Were the promoters just looking to make a fast buck, or were they really SM-positive? What kinds of play would be allowed? Who'd be welcome, and who excluded? There was almost no straight equivalent to the gay leather bar scene. What would Bondage a Go-Go become?

Since Bondage a Go-Go's opening, many clubs have come and gone; it's a hard business, and promoters don't get rich. There may be some exploitive promoters, but there are also many cool ones. Each club develops its own miniculture and playstyle while it lasts. There's not really a "club scene" in San Francisco instead there is a motley bunch of clubs.

Bondage A Go-Go has become the "introductory" club. Each week a few dedicated players stake out some room upstairs and administer a variety of whippings and teasings to a few hearty bottoms while a goggle-eyed, and often somewhat sloshed audience, looks on. For quite a few people, this is their first real glimpse of SM.

At its best, Bondage a Go-Go hosts some electric scenes and plants the seeds of kink. More often, sadly, the audience is too busy being repulsed (or being loud) to boost the energy. The place can have all the alienation of any other nightclub, with an added edge of self-absorbed voyeurism. Nightclubs usually aren't about clear communication and hot play, but about sending vague messages and getting drunk.The industrial DJs and the dancing are excellent, and a few weeks ago I forgot the lackluster surroundings while watching an amazing movie about alien demons fucking young "schoolgirls."

One messiah-monickered, unfortunately now-deceased club [Jesus] featured weekly queer bloodsport perfomances on stage and a mind-boggling array of drag. Many bloodthirsty friends of mine lived for that club, while others wondered where the appeal was in hasty scenes performed before strangers. Some other queer clubs also have (or have had) an SM tone, such as Hellbound. The play at these clubs is often more intense than at the more "entry-level" kink clubs.

Many gothic clubs have SM crossover -- fashion shows or performance artists. Generally the (audience's) focus is on fashion and mood, not on play. Bedlam, a Thursday night goth club, has an especially large group of SM-interested regulars. Without the circus-like atmosphere of Bondage a Go-Go, it can be a mellower place to meet people. But not much play. Other goth clubs include Death Guild on Monday nights at the Trocadero and A Winter Gone By at Club Arte on Saturdays.

Many promoters I know are real scenesters, but it's hard to make comfortable playspace while trying to attract many bar-hopping patrons. Not many kinky folks fetishize clueless gawkers. One common solution is to require "fetish attire" for access to the play space. This, of course, is far from perfect; many perverts have no interest in dressing any particular way, yet are very hot players. Besides, what is fetish attire? What if polyester makes you come in your pants? And just because someone dresses up doesn't mean they don't have greedy energy. It doesn't even mean they're interested in SM!

All of this is true, and I must come clean and admit that I love fetish clothing. Give me a good fetish nightclub with hordes of people gleamingly and gauzily attired, and I'm happier than a pig in shit.

Ultimately, the dress code question comes down to the most basic community issue: exclusion. Is a dress code exclusionary? Of ourse, and so is a men's or women's gathering, or a private play party with a limited list of invitees, or a safer-sex event. So while I have sympathy for folks who aren't comfortable dressing, I'm also very glad that there are spaces to dress. Years behind the Euro-fetish scene exemplified by SkinTwo and <>, San Francisco is finally approaching that level of delirious glamour appeal. (Part of me wants to believe the fetish trend will keep escalating and sweep across the planet, but the rest knows that ain't likely, and that it might not be good if it did.)

Three nights after my trip to Bondage a Go-Go, I went to the opening night of a new club named Ritual. The name alone has irritated some who believe that rituals, sacred spiritual SM practices, have nothing in common with random boozing nightclubs; they have a point. Held in the same space as Bondage a Go-Go, the upstairs was curtained off and restricted to fetish dressers, which seemed to mean everything from immaculate black-and-white rubber corset dresses to PVC catsuits to skirts and sequins (on men) and leather chaps (on women). Everyone, intoxicatingly, was both voyeur and exhibitionist. Some not-so-outrageously-dressed players used Society of Janus and other membership cards to get in -- a great concept!

Play space was available and artfully used, and I introduced quite a few partygoers to my violet wand, under the stern admonitions of the Dungeon Mistress. Safe/sane/consensual was the order of the evening. (Incidentally, violet wands are great icebreakers; last month I had a brush with fame when I got to zap a rubber-dress-wearing Courtney Love for fifteen minutes at an underground fetish event.) At the end of the night I was happily overstimulated! I don't remember Bondage a Go-Go being this much fun way back when. I'll be at the Cuir Underground bash at Ritual on October 21st -- will you?

Another fetish club worth watching for is SLICK, last held on Queer Pride day, the next one to be held October 29th. SLICK, organized by some of the Ritual promoters together with some able Stormy Leatherwomen, will take over the DNA lounge and transform it into a fetishist's wet dream. With Ritual, the Cuir Undergroud party, the Hooker's Ball on October 28, SLICK, and a myriad of Halloween events, October will set new records for kinky clubbing activity here in San Francisco. Be ready.

There are a lot of desires in the world of SM, and we need a lot of different venues in which to express them. Just as some anti-dress-code players lambaste the shallow and surface-oriented fetish dressers, so some of the fetishists consider bloodsports on stage to be shockingly immature. Any fence you care to name will breed insults on both sides. I prefer to get out there and have fun the way I like it. The more of us that do just that, the easier it'll be for all of us to party -- and play -- as much as we deserve.

One lesson we have learned from Bondage a Go-Go and similar clubs is that these high spots may not last -- but they will if we make them!

Rob Jellinghaus (robj@unreal.com, http://www.best.com/~robj) is a random hacker, an online sex educator, and a happy animal.

Bondage a Go-Go is held each Wednesday night at 520 4th Street. Ritual happens on Saturday night at the same location.

© 1995, Cuir Underground

Last updated: 21 November 1995