Kink Tank (NSFW)

Bound in Public’s Sexual Speakeasys
by Jim Provenzano
(images: Bound in Public and Raging Stallion)

The sexy couple making out next to you soon become more than passionate, as one ties the other up, rips his clothes off and offers his submissive partner’s mouth for your pleasure.

Sounds like just another night in South of Market? Not exactly. While many gay bars in San Francisco have a longstanding reputation for a cruisy atmosphere, including BDSM demonstrations and fetish nights, it’s rare that you’ll happen upon the full-tilt bondage orgies created by Kink.com’s Bound in Public video series.

But while the videos are available online for thousands to enjoy, with titles like “Horny Men Attack a Gogo Boy at The Powerhouse Bar,” some bar owners are a bit skittish about discussing the videos they allowed to be shot there.

Spencer Reed tops Shane Frost at The Powerhouse.

Director and Master of sexual ceremonies Van Darkholme, long a known presence in the local kink scene, can be seen orchestrating nearly all the scenes in the Bound in Public series, which he clarifies, are set as invite-only private events that nonetheless retain a spontaneous atmosphere.

The inspiration behind the series began at a private birthday/sex party shot at the Armory studios for the Bound Gods series. Said Darkholme, “We invited people to become extras for that shoot. I did a demo in the middle on the upper floor. People were just taken by it. To see people enjoying this up close and live was great. They told me how incredible, and educational, it was to witness it. There’s this strange, positive energy in the room. Then I realized, I think we’ve got something here.”

Darkholme, his crew, and several local and visiting porn performers, have shot videos at the Folsom Street Fair, in several bars, as well as the Mister S leather store, Stompers Boots, Wicked Grounds Café, The Nob Hill Theatre, adult video shops, even a grocery store and a laundromat.

Unlike traditional porn shoots on location, their scenes have an edgy, sometimes awkward spontaneity. There’s also the odd sight of recognizing a few acquaintance as extras.

Van Darkholme (left) nipple-twists a gogo guy.

Darkholme describes the “exhilaration” of the public response to their BDSM displays at street fairs, where everyone’s an extra, with “fans cheering, and at the same time, feeling this symbiotic connection.”

Darkholme cites his outdoor street fair shoots as favorites. “Everybody, male, female, old people, young people; everybody gets to be our audience.”

Asked if participants use safe words when they’re overwhelmed by the bondage experience, Darkholme assuredly affirmed. “They all have safe words. Not everybody gets to do this. Not everyone can do this. Anytime it’s not right, we stop. Otherwise the performers get pissed off.

While he favors the spontaneity of street fairs, Darkholme also uses caution to guard against what he calls “the occasional crazy person. We have other dom’s (dominant performers) to make sure the sub (submissive) is safe. At the end of the shoots, all my sub’s are like ‘That was incredible. I want to do it again!’ It’s such an endorphin rush!”

Darkholme admits that things can get out of control, which is why participating as an extra for the semi-staged shoots has a few limitations.

Eric, a local acquaintance who attended a studio session with other masked participants said of his experience, “You couldn’t just go up and fondle the porn stars,” he said. “As an extra, you’re supposed to be in the background. I was a little disappointed, but I got a few minutes with one of my porn favorites.”

Darkholme said that interaction is simple; just ask for permission. The [porn performers] aren’t being paid to play with the public. The purpose of the shoot is to witness the sub getting worked over by the doms. We have some where there’s more full participation, though.”

That combination of professional sex performers and cinematic spontaneity leads to some memorable scenes, one shot at Raven, then-Club Eight, which Darkholme described as “a human centipede of butt-lickers on top of the bar.”

Tristan Jaxx bar-tops Shane Frost at Raven (then Club Eight).

Barcade
Scott Peterson, manager of The Powerhouse for 15 years, was one of the first gay bar owners approached by the Bound in Public crew, and admits that renting his space for a porn shoot, “is a grey area. If some neighbor complains, it’s my liquor license on the line. But we got away with it, and it was fun.”

The “problematic” aspect is the pervasive specter of the city’s Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) slapping a tavern with a fine for violations to its stringent regulations, specifically the seemingly dreaded combination  (to ABC) of nude people and alcohol being in the same room.

Street fair organizers and nonprofits laud ABC’s training sessions for volunteer beverage booth bartenders, which prevent minors from being served alcohol. But in some cases, as has been documented in our parent publication, the Bay Area Reporter, and other local weeklies, ABC staffers have a history of overreacting to alleged violations.

Peterson recalls the 2002 party called Strip, which “was too much for ABC,” he said, before it had even taken place. “They used an ad to try to fine us, saying ‘You’re implying nudity.’

So, with an actual porn video shot there, Peterson’s understandably concerned, and said he wouldn’t want a porn video to be shot at The Powerhouse again. He also noted the extreme nature of the Bound in Public shoot as being “more than just about bondage. It made me very uncomfortable. Everybody tries to push the boundaries, and we’re trying to, but a lot of older places have been shut down. It’s not good to say it couldn’t happen, because in reality it can.”

But Peterson doesn’t think the videos perpetuate too great a fictional fetish atmosphere. “If we were more liberal in this world, they could come in and be bound and fucked, as long as everyone’s a consenting adult. You can come to San Francisco and have a good time, but you have to be careful. Some of us have to do our jobs.”

A balcony boff at The Lookout

Looking Out
Doing his job while the second of two Bound in Public videos were shot at The Lookout, owner Chris Hastings admitted he was surprised by the intensity of the humiliation one performer endured.

“I knew that they’d done it at other bars,” said Hastings. “Other gay bar owners had positive things to say, so we did the first one. It was an interesting experience to see who participated in it.”

With its open views, The Lookout afforded the ultimate exhibitionist aspect, but, Hastings noted, a one-way tinted film was taped to the bar’s expansive windows.

“It definitely has an appeal that it’s open to anyone to participate,” Hastings said. “I could tell they were into that.” But, he added, “The people were drinking (liquor provided by the film crew, not the bar) and started heckling the paid participant, who had a breakdown and started crying. This guy totally lost it. That caught me off-guard.”

Asked about the legal ‘grey line’ of shooting porn in a bar, Hastings said he’d rather not have another such video shot at his bar, and didn’t know how ABC would react. But “if push came to shove, it’s pretty clear that we weren’t open during the shoot. We didn’t sell them any product. They brought in their own food, and they cleaned up afterward.”

Of additional concern to Hastings was the use of food in the taping, which included pizza being served on a performer’s ass. But it was definitely not from the bar’s popular menu. Asked, ‘Who gets turned on by a guy with a pizza on his butt?’, he replied, “Well, obviously somebody does.”

A tight-roped twink at Truck

Beat It
One of the more recent Bound in Public videos was shot at SoMa’s newest mixed-use club, Beatbox. Event manager EJ “Gehno” Sanchez asked the crew to avoid more recognizable parts of the popular new space. But eventually two performers crawled up and down the space’s iconic grid sculpture.

The entire alcohol/nudity absurdity was dodged via drink tickets, a private party, and the film crew providing booze, said Sanchez, who worked with Treasure Island Media, another local porn company. He understandably had no problem with the on-site sex.

Asked why others would allow a potentially problematic film shoot, Sanchez was blunt. “Money. The location fee pays part of the rent.” He discounted concerns about ABC swooping down on a bar over such activity.

“We’re all part of a community,” he said. “We all kind of know each other. When we’re doing these events, we approach it from a ‘friend’ place, and as a business.”

Sanchez described the Bound in Public shoots as “a party where you can get involved or not. That’s what makes it enticing. I thought it was great. Working with them was pretty simple.” Sanchez called the crew “professional yet laid back.”

Sanchez was also honest about the sexual nature of some bars, clubs, and special events outside of video shoots. “People have sex; they create darkrooms, cruisy areas. That’s part of the appeal.”

“If you have rules, then everybody’s breaking them,” said Sanchez, who worked for the controversial bareback video company, “You can break, or bend, even more rules.

[Most of us] are trying to stay within the law, so we can all have fun.”

Along with being a presenting sponsor of the Folsom Street Fair, Darkholme promises some special events on their stage, as well the future return of the popular Naked Kombat series. Look for updates on www.KinkMen.com

Alessio Romero wets his appetite, and Josh West, in 'Code Yellow,' filmed at Kok Bar (then Chaps).

Kok Swayin’
“Bars are under so much scrutiny all the time,” said David Morgan, owner of Kok Bar (formerly Chaps). “It’s understandable to be concerned. But if someone came after us, I like to think that we’d have some support.”

The site of more than a dozen videos shot by Falcon and Raging Stallion studios, Morgan said he might consider the Kink folks’ presence, but hasn’t been asked. Morgan is comfortable with the professional studios’ video visits. “I see it as PR. It’s never been a problem. The bar is so small in the first place; it works for them.”

Transformed with some deft lighting, one of Raging Stallion’s more popular kink videos, Code Yellow: Piss in My Mouth,” featured more water sports than would ever be witnessed at the bar without a drainage ditch. With its private men’s room, Morgan agreed that such acts wouldn’t be cool in his bar. He also clarified that the bar was cleaned up after each of the video shoots.

“We usually get a copy of the DVD,” he added. “The release parties are fun; everybody loves a porn party. It’s funny to play the video when people are in the bar, and see them recognize it.”

Morgan said the only important aspect of renting a bar for porn shoots is insurance and liability. And he also trusts that his patrons know the difference between porn fiction and bar reality. “People sometimes think that if they stay afterwards there’s going to be a big orgy. Usually by two A.M., everyone’s going home. At one time, ABC was going around to bars, banging on their doors to see if they were serving drinks after hours.”

Morgan runs a bar safety workshop for others in the business, and said, should any problems occur for his colleagues, “If one of us got in trouble, we would all rally forces and come together.”

Despite the good working relationship Morgan cites, he still wonders about the skin/booze restrictions in the supposed ‘gay mecca’ where people can sit on a public bench while naked, but not while having a beer.  ”You can go to a bar with nudity in so many areas of the world. It’s silly.”

Masked extras enjoy the submissive talent.

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