Weekends are for amateurs. Weeknights are for pros. That's why each week Stuart Schuffman will be exploring a different San Francisco bar, giving you the lowdown on how and where to do your weeknight right. From the most creative cocktails to the best happy hours, Stuart's taking you along on his weeknight adventures into the heart of the City's nightlife. So, who wants a drink?
A few months back, I got a text from a girl I was dating: “Hey, wanna go on the Armory tour this Sunday?” How could I say no? Not only did it appeal to the history nerd in me because of its time as the armory for the National Guard, I was also excited to investigate the rumors that the subterranean Mission Creek could actually be seen in its basement. That fact that Kink.com shoots hardcore fetish porn there was, of course, incredibly alluring too.
None of my friends who make porn had gotten around to showing me the Armory, so this was a great chance to hang with someone I liked, while also seeing porn sets, walls of whips and chains, and oil drum-sized vats of lube. The funny thing about living in SF is that going on a date to a dungeon will never be the weirdest date you go on.
Walking into the Armory Club last night, which just opened last weekend and sits kitty corner to Kink’s home base, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I was (pretty) sure there wouldn’t be girls bound and gagged and being prodded with various sharp objects, but I didn’t know if there would be shackles hanging from the wall or vats of lube being kept around for “ you know, just in case.” What I found was the absolute opposite of a sex dungeon. It was pure class.
Because Muni was being Muni, my friend Lindsey was running late, so I sat at the bar (which looks like yellow marble being illuminated from underneath) and observed the now-opulent space that used to be the divey biker hangout, the Ace Café. Well heeled and good looking patrons mingled with each other under the vintage ceiling fans and pressed tin ceiling. Velvet wallpaper begged to be petted while electronic music ranging from Dubstep-lite to Portishead-heavy emanated from unseen speakers. The whole place reminded me of the top floor of the Armory, a beautiful Victorian citadel where sex parties happen regularly and are broadcast on the internet. According to the barkeep though, there won’t be any domming, subbing, or fucking going on at the Armory Club. I asked if Kink was gonna film Public Disgrace here like they’ve done in so many bars across the city. The answer was no.
While I looked over a drink list peppered with cocktails named Gently Bound and Donkey Punch, a man in his late 60s or early 70s walked in and all the bartenders greeted him saying “Hi Ivan!” Impeccably dressed in a suit and vest, and carrying an exquisite handbag that looked like a doctor’s medical kit, Ivan resembled a cross between Kirk Douglas and Vincent Price. “Who was this Ivan?” I wondered. Was he some grand master of fetish? Some kind of wild inventor who created new gadgets for Kink’s Fucking Machines? And what on Earth is in his beautiful bag? And then he opened it, took out a camera, and started snapping pics. Oh, he’s a sharply dressed photographer.
Just because I was in the Armory Club, didn’t mean I was in the Armory. That’s not to say there aren’t paintings of girls in bondage, and picture frames with rotating high-def photographs of Kink’s sets, because there are. But it’s all done tastefully and with class and it’s far less kinky than anything I expected.
All in all, the Armory Club is just another great addition to San Francisco’s already stellar cocktail culture. No public sex, no bondage, no spankings, but then again, there is a basement no one is allowed to visit.
Stuart Schuffman has been called "an Underground legend" by the SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero" by the SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap" by Time Out New York. He is also the host for the IFC travel show Young, Broke & Beautiful. Follow him @BrokeAssStuart.