From Issue 4.2 - Summer 1998
While it has a way to go before it rivals London, San Francisco has begun to develop a fetish club scene over the past couple of years. In a city better known as a haven for gay leathermen, a variety of pansexual events is now available to satisfy the urges of those who are into dressing for pleasure. While some of these events do feature a dungeon and allow SM play, the emphasis is on looking fabulous in leather, rubber, PVC, uniforms, drag, or other fetish attire -- on seeing and being seen.
The most high-fetish local event is also the least frequent. Apparently, these types of events do better when they do not take place too frequently. Slick occurs about every 6 months. The crowd is typically nearly all attired in fetishwear, much of which could have come out of the pages of Skin Two magazine. In addition to the usual leather/rubber/PVC, there are also more elaborate character costumes.
The main activity as Slick is dancing. The most recent installment at 1015 Folsom Street in January also featured an upstairs lounge and a downstairs play area. Slick aims to be pansexual, but its crowd is quite skewed -- largely heterosexual, with a good proportion of bi, transgender and 'indeterminate' thrown in. For some reason, it seems that male dominant/female submissive or all female play is most common in the dungeon, with hardly a gay man to be seen.
Slick features a show each time. The January show included the Collapsing Silence butoh dance troupe, a futuristic performance by Michael Manning, Jade Blue Eclipse and Mistress Midori, and a fetish fashion show.
Slick Fetish Ball
Masquerade is a fetish dance party that recently celebrated its 1-year anniversary. The event happens each month on the Saturday closest to the full moon. The club is heavy on the goth atmosphere and tends to draw a young crowd. Although there is an emphasis on fetish fashion, the club is kept dark enough that seeing and being seen is difficult.
While the main event is dancing, the club also includes a lounge and a small play area with bondage furniture and toys. Only those with play partners may enter this area, although voyeurs can watch from outside through the glass. "Controlled" scenes are permitted throughout the space, but Masquerade emphasizes fetish, not SM.
The club features a monthly Midnight Cabaret, and sometimes has a special theme. Recent shows have featured readings by David Aaron Clark and Danielle Willis, the band Communion and several fashion shows. Recent themes have included Latex Lunacy, a Bacchanalia, and a Catholic school theme.
Masquerade aims to follow the model of European fetish clubs, and recently instituted a membership policy. Previously, admission was based on degree of fetish attire -- a heavy discount for "head-to-toe" leather/latex/PVC, a lesser discount for "semi fetish," goth or industrial attire, and full price for street clothes. Under the new policy, the discount will apply to members. members status is attained by attending three events wearing extreme fetish attire.
Maritime Hall basement, 375 First Street
As CU goes to press, one of the founders of Masquerade has spoken out about the club's lax enforcement of a strict fetish dress code and atmosphere. Arcane is now working to create new fetish events, under the name Iniquity, that have a heavier S/M component and a closer resemblance to European fetish clubs. Currently Iniquity holds a monthly party at the Power Exchange.
Bondage-a-Go-Go, affectionately known as BAGG, deserves mention as the longest running SM/fetish-themed nightclub in San Francisco, and perhaps in the nation. While BAGG is often described as a venue for the gawking "bridge and tunnel" crowd, it does serve as the most regular public place for perverts to hang out -- especially those of the heterosexual persuasion who lack other kinky venues.
A foray to BAGG requires a certain appreciation of its... um... kitsch value. While the percentage of patrons wearing PVC and lingerie-as-outerwear is higher than at any other nightclub in San Francisco, the level of actual pain and role-playing is minimal. The people standing around wearing black leather vests behind the velvet ropes upstairs in the play area are largely of the "Stand and Model" variety of SM. Serious leather/SM afficionados -- especially gay men and lesbians -- may feel less than welcome.
Leather community historian Gayle Rubin reports, "The cashier initially resisted giving us the fetish price. The definition of 'fetish' was rather narrow. I was wearing a leather jacket, a studded belt and boots. My friend was wearing a German uniform jacket, a chain mail belt and some strategically placed studded leather items. The cashier failed to get that uniforms could be a fetish. 'Don't you have any latex,' she inquired?" Much the same transpired with the twenty-something bouncer whose job it was to enforce the "fetishwear only" rule in the upstairs area. "It was clear that there was a certain, shall we say, heterosexual tilt to the proceedings. Clearly, women's tits were coded as 'fetish.' One got the idea that the concept of fetish here involved feminine women in tight latex. I noted that few of the obviously heterosexual men there were very fetished-out. It was apparent that there were different standards for men and butch women. There was a certain, shall we say, lack of awareness of gay/lesbian semiotics. I don't mind SM environments which are mostly straight, but I do mind SM environments that are SM clueless, homophobic, and gender dense. This one clearly was."
It is surprising how many sex-seekers BAGG manages to bring out on a weeknight. The industrial dance music mix is among the best in the city, and BAGG periodically features special performances by scene luminaries such as Mistress Midori. Cleo Dubois, Fakir Musafar, and Lydia Lunch highlighted this year's New Year's Eve party. The club was recently ousted from its long-term home at the now-closed Trocadero. BAGG now takes place -- still every Wednesday night -- at V/sf.
V/sf, 287 11th Street at Folsom