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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wicked Grounds Coffee House Reopens:
S.F. Regains a BDSM Community Hub

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2012 at 11:30 AM

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Last October, I wrote the eulogy here on The Exhibitionist for Wicked Grounds, the kink-oriented coffee house that had, in just a little more than two years, become one of the most beloved gathering places for San Francisco's alt-sex community. When Wicked Grounds announced its closing via Twitter, there was an enormous and immediate outpouring of grief from \Bay Area kinksters, made all the more intense by the hard work that they had put into rallying to save the place.

But like Mark Twain, it seems that reports of Wicked Grounds' demise have been exaggerated. Just as everyone had begun to come to terms with Wicked Grounds being dead and buried, the word went out in January that it was reopening.

Almost exactly one month after the café reopened, I found myself once again sitting across from owner Ryan Galiotto at a table in the middle of Wicked Grounds. When I interviewed him in October, his voice trembled with with grief and exhaustion. After working a busy four-hour shift, the exhaustion was still there, but braced by a sense of satisfaction and relief.

"It's like I've used two of my nine lives on this place," he said. "I'm so grateful for the doors being open again."

Bondage demonstrations such as this once again have a public place to call home.
  • Bondage demonstrations such as this once again have a public place to call home.
Except for a few missing couches, the place looks just the same as it did before the October closing. The most obvious change is there are no morning hours: The café now opens at 3 pj.m. on weekdays instead of 10 a.m. That's easy to understand; Wicked Grounds never had any real lunch crowd. Before, until early afternoon, it would be practically uninhabited except perhaps for the occasional writer who needed a place to use a laptop while researching bondage sites and porn films.

More substantial changes have taken place behind the scenes, though. The reopening of Wicked Grounds is thanks primarily to a small group of investors, most of whom are active members of the Bay Area alt-sex community. The new backers have strengthened Wicked Grounds' financial position. When the doors closed last year, the café was in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which requires liquidation of a business's assets to pay its debtors.

"The group of investors were able to put together enough of a fund to buy the assets of the business back from the bankruptcy court," Ryan says. "So the bankruptcy has been discharged, but this group of assets has been bought for more than what they could have done to liquidate it."

That's a pretty huge change of fortunes; even before the closure, the financial struggles of Wicked Grounds were well known. Even in the months when it came out in the black, existing debt was a constant threat to the café's existence.

"There was always some stuff that we were trying to catch up on," Ryan says. "The bankruptcy has saved us from that. Right now, we're starting fresh, and we're good to go."

Being saved by bankruptcy might seem strange, especially in the current economic climate, but the past month seems to give Ryan good reason for optimism: "One of the important things is, we've been fairly busy. ... First month in, and our bills are paid."

That optimism is hard-won, though. If closing the doors of Wicked Grounds was grueling, getting them back open was almost as traumatizing.

"The reopening process was one of the worst times of my life," Ryan says. "I went from having lost all hope to having hope again. ... And then that process dragged on for a month. We should have been able to be open by the middle of December instead of the middle of January. ... It was a month of legal back and forth and this signature here, and people holding out. It got to the point where we were here, the place was clean, and we were ready to go, and waiting for one signature and we had to step back. ... I am still amazed that I got through it."

While we were talking, two men came in the door, wheeling a palette. A third man was strapped to the palette in a prone position, wearing a hood and locked in a form-fitting metal cage. Anywhere else, the scene might have received resentful glares or inspired people to study their coffee uncomfortably. Here, the clientele greeted them with big grins and compliments. Yes, Wicked Grounds is definitely back.

San Francisco is known as someplace that's open to queers, perverts, and freaks, but that reputation is fast becoming overrated. As I noted in my article about the closing, San Francisco's number of spaces for alternative sexualities is shrinking: Last year, we lost legendary leather bar the Eagle; Stormy Leather is no more; the Lyon-Martin clinic only barely managed to cling to existence; Femina Potens is operating without a permanent gallery space; and now the Citadel is also homeless, having lost its lease and having to give up the new space the owners had found because of zoning restrictions.

After all that, I still hold my breath a little when I go into Wicked Grounds, afraid that the whole thing will just blow away. But for now, it feels damn good to have held on to one place that queers and perverts can call their own.

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Chris Hall is a godless pervert, sex nerd, and writer who lives in the East Bay. Follow him on Twitter at @LiteratePervert.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.
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