S.F. Loses a BDSM Community Hub with the Closing of Wicked Grounds Coffeehouse

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Rose White and Ryan Galiotto owned Wicked Grounds.
@WickedGrounds is closed today. We are very sorry for any inconvenience.

That tweet went out two Wednesdays ago. It was at once cryptic and unsurprising. On the one hand, it might just mean what it said: Wicked Grounds was closed for the day. On the other, it could mean something more, because the city's only kink-oriented coffeehouse had suffered financially since its opening. The fact that it was still open at all was because of an enormous effort by regular clientele to raise funds. (The owners had announced it would close at the end of April.) When the tweet went out, everyone froze for a minute, wondering whether the axe had finally dropped.

Once the baristas started posting on Twitter and Fetlife about finding new jobs, it seemed very clear: Wicked Grounds was closed for good -- and with it an important hub of San Francisco's BDSM community.

I can't pretend to have journalistic objectivity on this subject. For the past two years, Wicked Grounds has been central to my social life in the city. When it opened, I wrote it up for CarnalNation, the website where I worked at the time, and when it looked like it would close, I participated in the fundraisers to keep it open. A lot of my writing has been done sitting at one of its tables while people openly practiced bondage knots a few feet away. My main response to its closing is a profound sense of grief and loss.

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Supporters were able to raise $50,000 to keep the cafe open, but it eventually wasn't enough.
​Those feelings are even more acute because the story of Wicked Grounds says so much about the state of San Francisco's sexual subculture. Just getting the café's doors open in 2009 was a community effort. Before the first coffee was poured, people volunteered their help to get the space into shape. Co-owner Ryan Galiotto (who was joined by his wife Rose White) acknowledges that they probably wouldn't have been able to open without that assistance.

But as much as that says something about the fundamental decency of our local pervs, the closing of Wicked Grounds also shows a real problem: Kinksters are fighting tooth and nail to keep community spaces. It's not just one coffeehouse.

"Things have been really bad," Galiotto says. "When we opened, we had Stormy Leather, A Taste of Leather, as well as Mister S and Leather Etc."

The first two of those four retailers are gone.

"There were a handful of leather bars [in the SoMa area] and right now, I think Powerhouse is probably the only real leather bar," he says.

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Rose White holds a "g-spot cucumber" in the "We Can Do It!" pose.
​After Rose and Ryan announced that Wicked Grounds would close at the end of April, two more of San Francisco's queer institutions were also fighting for their lives: the Eagle Tavern and Lyon Martin Health Services. In May the Eagle lost the battle to keep its lease after being indispensable to the numerous sectors of the queer community community for 30 years and closed its doors. Lyon Martin has held on, if barely, thanks to fundraising by its patients, staff, and community members.

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A recent bondage demonstration.
​With each closing, it feels like San Francisco is becoming less and less of a place to be queer or kinky, unless you want to keep it in your apartment.

Wicked Grounds was unusual in that it was primarily a social space where everyone just happened to be kinky. People came in as a normal part of their everyday lives, not to get laid or to buy stuff for a special night out. On any given afternoon or evening, you might see Scrabble at one table and bondage at the next. The casual nature of the space broke down the careful segregation between "normal" life and sex.

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This shot is from a "Beefcake Barista" event.
​Perhaps even more important, because it was a coffeehouse, it was a great landing place for the younger members of the scene, the ones just learning how to shape their mouths around the word "queer" and finding out what that means. They now have one fewer door that will open to them. It's also a place where other groups held fundraisers, such as one to help victims of the earthquake in Japan.

The dedication of Wicked Grounds' customers and employees to preserve that kind of space, where they could come and chat and be normal without being in a closet, was demonstrated in April, when they raised more than $50,000 to keep the place open. They did it through individual pledges, raffles, and fundraising events.

It still wasn't enough.

While walking to the café on Oct. 5, Galiotto got a call from his wife that they had to close the café immediately because of bankruptcy rules.

"We did not qualify for conditions under Chapter 7 to remain open in receivership," Galiotto says. "So as soon as Chapter 7 went into effect, we were no longer able to be in business."

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The tweet that accompanied this photos says "She might have won the contest, but now she is forced to live in a cage for the rest of her life."
​As a result, a lot of groups are scurrying for new venues for their get-togethers, sometimes called "munches" because they're informal discussions over food and beverages. At the time Wicked Grounds closed, regularly scheduled meetups included a pony play munch, a games night, a twice-monthly bondage munch called "Rope Bite," and events sponsored by the Society of Janus and the Exiles. Despite our twisted reputation, venues for those kinds of events are surprisingly difficult to find in San Francisco. Even here, most business owners prefer it if the freaks find somewhere else to talk shop.

A week and a half after closing, Galiotto's voice was heavy with exhaustion and grief, but not with regret.

"I guess what I have to do is just lick my wounds for a bit," he says. "I put so much of myself into this place, it's really hard not having it there. I'm trying to remind myself that we did an amazing thing, that it may not have lasted forever, but we did it. For two years, we provided this for everyone."

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23 comments
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Ethan Davidson
Ethan Davidson

What about the citidel?  Is that still open?And where are the things chedled to happen and Wicked grounds (And The Citidel?) going to happen?

corsets
corsets

 Punishment can be pain caused physically (such as caning), humiliation caused psychologically (such as a public flagellation) or loss of freedom caused physically (for example, chaining the Bottom to the foot of a bed). Another aspect is the structured training of the Bottom

intercambio de parejas
intercambio de parejas

I am sure this news made their regular customers disappointed. Many people, especially those who loves BDSM, would love to go there.

PollyAmmo
PollyAmmo

What I loved about WG as a third space was that it was normal, believe it or not. It seems that usually when you get geeks together at a geek-oriented event, whether it's for scientists or gamers or shibari riggers, mostly what you talk about is whatever interest brought you together. But WG was a place to gather in a space that has the type of art you like, events that interest you, and even kink-friendly resources. You could meet someone there that you know shares an interest with you, but it was easy to talk about things in addition your predelictions. That kind of casual context-switching was special -- the sort of thing that's rare to achieve at, say, a comic book convention or a sex club.

The staff and patrons were utterly accepting and usually nonchalant about your rope-enhanced togs, or the idea that you want to lock your date in a cage while you visit the loo, or that you're on all fours and need assistance to order your latte. It was a place where being genderqueer was noted, at most, by apologizing to a male-looking person for forgetting that she prefers to be called a she. San Francisco has lost one of the reasons that I love this town. RIP Wicked Grounds.

PollyAmmo
PollyAmmo

Oh. I just realized that the kind of "services" offered might be misconstrued. I was referring to stuff like a deep tissue massage from someone who can judge and make use of your pain tolerance. Not the other kind of services. Get your mind out of the gutter, you perv! 

Lovings Webmistress
Lovings Webmistress

So sad. It was wonderful to have a low-key coffee place where pulling out some ropes to show a new idea, or sitting around with honey and sketching a new bondage chair felt perfectly accepted. We'll miss Wicked Grounds and the warm sense of community it nurtured.

Now, SF Citadel folks have lost their lease too! Bad news about two of my favorite alt places in one week :-(.

Mattel
Mattel

no... not the Citadel! 

Lovings Webmistress
Lovings Webmistress

Alas, true. They have the lease until January 2012, I think. They're trying to renegotiate with the landlord, but the building might be put up for sale. Read about it on Fetlife. 

Hoping they'll find another and even better place, but it'll be a tall order and a lot of work. Sigh.

Akaopus
Akaopus

Duchess Azure and Opus are in mourning about this closure. Wicked Grounds was an amazing venue as a "third place" where not just the kink community could meet and just be ourselves.

voltairesmistress
voltairesmistress

Maybe WG failed because people who do not practice bondage etc. did not think themselves welcome.  I know my wife and I passed by it many times, and it seemed more like a clubhouse, not a public coffeehouse. So we never had coffee there.  And frankly, if we had once, we probably wouldn't have gone back. If you are not into that sort of thing, you don't usually want to be around it except for a lark on when you are playing tourist.

Voodoo_dollie
Voodoo_dollie

Actually, as one of the baristas that worked there, I can say without a doubt that we had quite a few regulars who were not in the "scene" who liked our cafe for its low-key attitude and non-judgmental approach to service.

Also we got TONS of tourists who wanted to check out a small piece of what makes SF so unique.

SO, yeah, maybe try getting your facts straight next time.

Sgt.
Sgt.

I got to go there once. . . and in all honesty it was, for the most part, like every coffee place I've ever been to in the country.

Perhaps it's a bit silly to come here and say it failed when you never entered. Book vs. Cover and whatnot.

rraucci
rraucci

Well, I thought it was a cool spot.  I've been in the BDSM scene for around four-five months now, and I have fond memories of the place... 

Jefe
Jefe

As sad as I think it is, I also wonder how much of this has to do with the way the business was run. When I visited San Francisco I was surprised to find that the shop didn't seem to open early enough to serve "regular" customers on their way to work in the neighborhood. PLENTY of coffee shops survive for years in the area nearbye, there MUST be coffee customers. Maybe you can't survive on kink alone, but you can have kink along with regular customers. Honestly, I don't know, but it is something I wonder about.

KuriousKat
KuriousKat

Truly an amazing place! WG will be missed. So many fond memories of this place and its staff. One that sticks out in particular is SF Pride day. I got to the cafe prior to opening as a volunteer and stayed until after closing. That day was a busy, stressful day but seeing everyone show their support and their WG PRIDE was AMAZING! A memory that will stick with me. 

OwnerOf
OwnerOf

You are all a bunch of freaks who are going to hell unless you repent...

My basement is open for your regularly scheduled repentance.

Vince Pardue
Vince Pardue

OwnerOf: I don't believe in your "Hell". Stop trying to shove your Bronze Age religion down other people's throats. Who are you to tell others to repent? Worry about your own repentance and shut up.

Nentuaby
Nentuaby

If this whole "text" thing is going to work out long term, we really do need a sarcasm typeface. ;)

R. Scott LaMorte
R. Scott LaMorte

Vince, you obviously missed OwnerOf's second sentence. 

Mattel
Mattel

There will never be another place quite like it. We will feel the tragic loss of it's passing for quite sometime to come, especially those of us that made Wicked Grounds a regular ritual. Even though we knew it was an eventual possibility, nothing quite prepares you for hearing those final words... closed today. 

Clarisse Thorn
Clarisse Thorn

Sad.  I always visited WG when I was in SFO, and got a lot of writing done there.  Rest in peace.

Ashigeru
Ashigeru

It was a wonderful place.  I am saddened that it had to go.  I and my love will miss it.

Evergrey
Evergrey

It's so heartbreaking that they had to go. :(

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