Positioned a short half-block from SFMOMA, the Hotel W is at once imposing and discreet, its smooth dark façade accented by a tasteful W protruding from the wall face.
"I always thought it was a Wiener schnitzel," says an elegant-limbed urban barbarian, clad from head to toe in leather trimmed with fur. He pulls open the large double doors and his dark hair trembles amid the mantle of spikes, studs, fur, and provocative patches that cloaks his shoulders. Two barrel-chested security guards with dark suits and circumspect wires running from under their shirt collars to the listening devices in their ears appraise the new arrival, looking at him with impassive faces and still, tight lips until a shrill catcall draws their attention to a first-floor balcony. There, a club kid in taut shorts and leather suspenders smiles and waves his arms wildly as he gyrates and pushes his groin against the low glass screen that overlooks the luxury hotel's lobby bar. After a quick inner-ear conference, two more security guards appear from behind a large column and head toward the elevator doors but an ecstatic cheer from the ground-floor crowd seems to stay their progress. They disappear but never reappear on the balcony and the club boy continues to grind. Another svelte young thing appears two glass screens over. The crowd cheers again.
It's not the usual W crowd.
In celebration of the Folsom Street Fair, the "Guerrilla Queer Bar" has descended on the W. In leather.
The "Guerrilla Queer Bar" is a monthly gathering of lurid and luscious homosexuals who appear without warning in ostensibly un-gay places, to carouse, consume, and imbibe outside the exhausted haunts of SOMA and the Castro. "Don't clone, colonize" is the motto of instigator Barney Schlockum, who has sent troupes traipsing through such establishments as the Crow Bar, the Tonga Room, POW!, Tango Tango, and Sacrifice. Since the "Guerrilla Queer Bar" Web site went up in May, similar actions have appeared in other cities -- Austin, Philadelphia, and Sydney, Australia to name a few -- and the frolicsome trend continues to spread.
"We aren't going for strength in numbers so much as surrealism in numbers," states Schlockum, whose nemesis is tedium. "Same scene ... same music, same neon, same, same, same," berates the "GQB" manifesto. "We have a remedy." Pronouncements of upcoming "GQB"s are brief, sporadic, often last-minute postings to various e-mail lists, but that hasn't hurt attendance. As many as 150 people usually turn up in all genera of finery. The W event is no exception. And the impact is visible on the faces of the hotel's regular clientele.
With a flutter of starched habits and sparkling eyelashes, three Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence -- Sisters Gina Tonic, Diana Cross, and Merry Peter -- pass by two chic Japanese tourists leaving the dining room. The Japanese women stop abruptly, watching a small train of young men in dog collars that follows. The women look beyond startled; they look like two deer trapped in a Walgreens. They look ready to bolt in every direction at once; they look unable to move ever again.
Mistress Midori, wearing a pale gray military uniform fashioned entirely from leather, straddles her "leather sister" from the East Coast, Bubbles, who sprawls across one of the plush leather chairs near the front door.
"Black leather is formal," says Midori, looking over the hide-ensconced crowd, "but I'm so over black." Bubbles nods from within her bright pink skins.
"You know, San Francisco," slurs a visiting radio executive who has positioned himself next to me at the circular bar, "is a fucking wild town. Wild, you know?" Three leather daddies in chaps wedge themselves between us and wave money at the suddenly overwhelmed barstaff. "I'm from Akron," says the executive through the daddies' armpits. "That's a wild town, Akron."
A well-groomed couple from Washington state look up from their multistar meal of braised meat and balk at a towering drag queen in gold lamé who saunters past, shouting "Damn the torpedoes!" over her 60FFF chest.
The woman leans over her meal and whispers to her husband "What's going on?" in a tight voice that says: "What have you done?"
I approach one of the security guards who stands with his arms crossed over his chest.
"What do you think?"
His demeanor shifts instantly. "I think it's great! Half of the staff here is gay," he says in a confidential tone. "Someone in banquet is on this mailing list, so we had an idea of what was going to happen. We brought on extra security because there's a bachelor party on the third floor. (You never know what the straights will do.) But I think it's great."
"I could have gone to an S/M party tonight," says Midori, "but this is so much more entertaining."
Tudor, a 24-year-old business consultant in a full Romanian military parade uniform that his father wore as a dentist for that socialist republic, approaches the bar. "I don't think I'll be going to the Folsom Street Fair," he says thoughtfully. "I'm not much into leather."
"I'm going!" announces Akron over his fifth martini. "I'm definitely going."
After you've been to a few Folsom Street Fairs, it's hard to take it too seriously, but a group of misguided white-haired tourists from Florida reminds me: The sea of leather and procession of lash marks can be quite a sight to the uninitiated. Urged on by fairgoers, the Florida contingent stops to take pictures of a man brandishing huge bleeding welts across his shoulders. Satisfied, the Floridians scurry down a side street, toward Union Square.
The fair is much as always, an impenetrable parade of pale San Francisco asses wagging in the wind. Clouds of bubbles blow over rainbow-festooned rooftops as leather boys and girls lead their slaves on leashes down the street. Fine Faggot Food peddles its barbecue sauce; the AIDS Food Bank flogs people on a giant rainbow blanket for donations; Happy Tails does a brisk business selling whips and paddles at the "Flogging Station"; the Drillers Folsom Street Pit Shop offers shoe-, pants-, and chaps-shines for $5; garage doors along the route offer penis cookies and bottled water.
I watch two shimmering androgynes in boas and halter tops having a chicken fight on the shoulders of two hairy leather-vested bears.
"You have to make your fun," explains the victor, picking stray feathers out of his hair, "otherwise it would just be too dreary and painfully dull."
A sassy young man in a leather harness and codpiece approaches a makeshift photo studio set up for New York photographer Howard Schatz.
"If you give me a copy, I'll let you take my picture," he suggests with a practiced wiggle.
Schatz's assistant delicately declines the offer.
"Well, this is certainly nothing like New York," says the boy, turning heel. "This is a stinking cow town."