tl;dr/summary: Folsom weekend is like a big gay leather prom. See you there.
Last year’s Folsom guide was a hit, so here we are yet again.
Folsom is a Rorschach. It reflects your sexual identity back at you. You learn what turns you on, what doesn’t, what you like to watch, what you used to not even consider, what you now think is normal, what you like to do, what you might try, what you’d never try, who you’re scared to admit you want to be, what you’re scared to admit you want, and what you’re absolutely sure you don’t.
Folsom Street Fair (also referred to as just “Folsom”) is the world’s largest leather fetish event and attracts half a million people every year from all over the globe. Folsom is generally a more ‘mainstream’ and straighter affair than July’s Dore/Up Your Alley weekend (also produced by the Folsom organization). Straight kink and fetishists have been valuable partners in the fight for LGBT equality and visibility and Folsom is for them, too. I think they realize that after conservatives get done outlawing all of the gays’ sexual thrills, they know anything but straight procreative married sex is next. You’ll hear some gays complain that the fair isn’t what it used to be. It’s too tame. Too straight. Too many women. Bitching that things aren’t the way they used to be is one of our most hallowed San Francisco pastimes. Along with being seen by others while standing in line for things.
First: Know Your History
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include some history. It’s hard to convey how much leather, kink, and fetish culture is woven into the fabric of San Francisco and how that libertine spirit has grown to include all sexualities and genders and all types of people and expanded across the world.
Found SF article Changes and Continuities in the Leather Community.
SFist article Brief History of the Folsom Street Fair
Blogger Broke Ass Stuart’s Down and Dirty History of the Folsom Street Fair
This context is also important because many have a knee-jerk conservative reaction to this collection of people and behaviors. It’s hard to express to straight people sometimes, “We do it this way. I can’t entirely explain why we do it this way. But this is how we do it.” Numerous religious right fundamentalist websites use photos from the street fair to depict all queer people. Some would argue if we just didn’t dress up like that or throw it in everyone’s face that we’d have more queer acceptance faster but let’s be honest: They’d murder us for simply holding hands. If you don’t like it, then it isn’t for you, and isn’t intended for you and it’s completely fine if you stay away. That’s why the street fair requires admission and minors aren’t allowed. For some people leather and fetish is a core part of their identity and their peer groups. For others it’s a fun weekend to get a little wild, experiment with different dress or style, and push your own boundaries of what you like and who you are.
You can see this history in action as the entire week kicks off with:
27th Annual LeatherWalk on Sunday September 23rd
Founded in 1992, the annual LeatherWalk features hundreds of people gearing up in their best leather finery to walk together to celebrate leather, kink, chosen family, and community while raising funds for Folsom Street Events and PRC charities.
They stop at several local watering holes ending up at The Eagle where the leather pride flag is raised (know your flags!). On-site registration and check-in begins at 10am at 440 Castro. Full map and event details and event on Facebook.
When someone asks me to describe Folsom weekend I usually say:
It’s like a big gay leather prom.
Sure there’s gonna be Mean Girls or Mean Bears or Mean Muscle Queens or Mean Belligerent Twinks that you want to kick in the face – let it slide. Any time you get more than a dozen gay men in one space, a few decide they are the fairest of them all, and that others should give them deference and act generally like tween girls. As I tell my sister in recounting these antics, “Yes, these are adult grown men acting like this.” (Hell, sometimes I’m using that describe our behavior) You can usually find these a-holes because they are standing outside the dance floor not moving at all, just posing. They look amazing and they’ve worked hard all year to look this good and they are starving. Give them a quick high-five and tell them they look great and then go to the opposite space in the club where people are actually having fun.
Anyway: You’ll lose 10 pounds (but age 10 years).
But generally the San Francisco crowd is warm and friendly to a fault and the general etiquette is such that everyone introduces everyone to everyone else. It’s like we say back in Indiana, “The way to a man’s hole is through his husband.”
I describe it to my folks back home in the Midwest as it’s like a really slutty adult Halloween.
Here’s a list of many of the events of the weekend. I’ve tried to included links to photo galleries for most of the events so you can get a sense for the mix of the crowd is like and what to wear.
Taste in music is so individual. I can rage for five hours at an afterhours until 7am and then have a friend say, “Yeah it was too dark, didn’t really do it for me.” Then I’m at another party with a more disco-y edge and it isn’t moving me at all (I keep trying to get into EDM, but it leaves me completely cold). I like the familiar structure of circuit mixes with the beat doubling on itself and building and building and then the 1-2-3-4 – suspend – and the bass kicks back in. Or the steady state deep pounding of a heavy spare minimal afterhours mix. Others find it completely monotonous.
My motto is: If you can’t fuck to it, I can’t dance to it. Probably why our favorite getting-ready-to-dance song is Ivan Gomez’s remix of “Do You Fuck As Well as You Dance?” (1 minute in on this J. Warren mix).
I’ve tried to find Mixcloud, SoundCloud, and Facebook profiles for the DJs so you can get a sense for their music as well.
You’ll also notice producers of the ‘unofficial’ parties calling the weekend “leather weekend” or referring to it as “FLSM.” That’s because the Folsom Street Fair producers are a bit protective of the Folsom Street Fair trademark.
Friday, September 28th
Geared Up Party, at Mr. S Leather (also on Saturday)
Just like with Dore, San Francisco’s globally famous leather store Mr. S Leather hosts an in-store party for Folsom – on both Friday and Saturday. Fetish demos by the Mr. S Crew throughout with (quoting from the Dore event) “dirty dancers and the trashiest bartenders in San Francisco.” We always tell people if you are going to buy something at Mr. S, get over there when you first get to San Francisco. They can do onsite alterations to ensure a perfect fit and often while you wait. Their leatherworkers will be going overtime for the weekend so that might be more difficult as the weekend approaches. Harnesses, hats, ballcaps, boots, uniforms, vests, blindfolds, ropes, lubes, jockstraps, singlets, socks, toys… The store has just about everything you’re going to need for your revels and I think they also have slings for rent for the weekend as well.
This party has not been officially announced yet but last year’s was Folsom Friday and Saturday from noon to 6 at the store. In the meantime, follow Mr. S on Facebook or Instagram to stay up to date on announcements.
Folsom Sunset Cruise, produced by Brian Kent with DJ Tony Moran
The Pride Friday and Folsom Friday sunset cruises have quickly become some of the most popular events of the season – and they always sell out, so get your tickets now. Join a couple hundred of your new best friends on a cruise sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, The Bay Bridge, and watching the city come alive as the sun sets.
Veteran superstar DJ Tony will spin you into the night from the moment you board the boat and are handed a glass of champagne through to the return to the pier. The revels include a bon voyage champagne toast, drink specials all night, and just about the friendliest crowd you’re going to find in the city. Bring a coat or jacket (or wear your leathers). It can get blustery out there in the water. Of all the parties this is truly a unique only-happens-here type of event
If I were to choose the most mainstream, straight-friendly party or event of the weekend it would be this one.
Brüt, at the Great Northern, produced by Hedonic Productions and Brian Kent Productions, with DJs Dan Darlington, Peter Napoli, and Manny Ward
Two of my favorite moments of Folsom weekend two years ago year were at the Brüt party at Great Northern (formerly the old Mighty space). One was when Brüt producer and DJ Dan Darlington slowed down the beat and mixed in Nine Inch Nails’s “Closer” and you had hundreds of rutting leather-clad men chanting “I want to fuck you like an animal!” and then as the song ended, Dan kept repeating the Downward Spiral descending motif from the classic album as he brought the beat back up. That and the remix of DMX’s “It’s All Right” featuring the rap, “It’s all good, it’s alright, fuck all day, fuck all night.”
Brüt – originally born in NYC – has really built up a fantastic following over past three years in San Francisco. We also went to the Brut party at IML in Chicago last May and it was a great time. The party always attracts some of the die-hard leather and fetish crowd but also the guys like us who just like to dress like fuckbots from time to time or the more mainstream circuit queens giving the leather thing a spin. In the bear/muscle spectrum, it’s more on the muscle side. I love the aggressive feel to Brut events, you can feel the testosterone hanging in the air. The Dore edition of Brut was glorious and sweaty and horny.
Producer and resident DJ Dan Darlington on Mixcloud, SoundCloud (Brut also has it’s own SoundCloud), and Facebook. My all-time favorite Brut mix is this one from Folsom a couple years ago it really purrs at 33 minutes in.
Prime at Club Six, presented by TrophyDad with DJs Neon and Serge P
The dads are back! After a rollicking Prime at Dore Alley, TrophyDad returns to seedy Club Six with two floors of daddy issues for everyone to work through for the evening. Upstairs, resident DJ Neon spins his trademark blend of vocal circuit spanning pop hits and the classics – all with a bit more oomph under it – and a big grin on his face as he sings along. And downstairs is the Daddy Pit, with Ed and Julian recreating the aggressive vibe of the leather bars of days gone by with DJ Serge P from Berlin bringing that dark, sexy sound he’s pioneered at clubs across Europe. Hot gogo daddies (all over 50) ply their trade (ahem) and keep you entertained while a broad group of daddies, otters, wolves, bears, and the rest of the zoo come together to celebrate and dance and enjoy.
Bearracuda at Public Works, produced by Matt Bearracuda with DJs Ted Eiel, Victor Rodriguez, and Perfect Lovers
And if you’re skewing more bear than muscle, the boys of Bearracuda have got you covered. Matt Bearracuda and the Bearracuda crew are back with their trademark winning formula of thick boys and deep bass, provided by DJs Ted Eiel, Victor Rodriguez, and Perfect Lovers – all DJs that don’t play SF very often so we’re in for a treat.
DJ Ted Eiel on Mixcloud.
Taboo: Puppy Play at Oasis, produced by Taboo with DJ Chad Bays with guest star Boomer Banks
The category is… puppy play! Our canine brethren come out to bone on Friday night at Oasis for Taboo’s Folsom edition of Puppy Play. Wear your leather best or your pup gear and celebrate your fetish fantasy while gogo studs get down and dirty all night along and a fierce ensemble of drag pups takes to the stage to show the children how it’s done including pup-queens Anna Rexie, Lady Camden, Senda Rose, and Cloaca Munro. Oasis is a fantastic venue with a big front bar, rooftop area sometimes open, then a legit stage and cabaret theatre space that doubles as a dance floor. You can barely tell it used to be an 8000 sq ft gay bathhouse in a past life.
Recon San Francisco Party at DNA Lounge
Recon.com’s party promises this is “where all the geared-up men come meet, dance and get ready for the oncoming carnage of Folsom. This is a men only event where you can find the guys you’ll be playing with all weekend long!”
No definitely details yet on the Recon site or Facebook.
FLSM Friday Fetish Ball, produced by Gus Presents
The first of local circuit veteran producer Gus’s trio of events for the weekend. No Facebook event listing just yet and not listed on Gus’s site so not completely confirmed it’s happening but it’s been on the past several years.
DILF San Francisco Meat & Greet Fundraiser by MAN UPP
Joe Whitaker brings the DILF crew to SF for leather revels. Jockstraps encouraged with clothes check available. No Facebook event listing just yet, proceeds go to charity. It’s been a while since I was DILF of the day. Details will probably show up on the Joe Whitaker Presents page soon.
I haven’t been DILF of the day in a while. 🙁
Baloney at Oasis, produced by Rory Davis
And SF’s only all gay male revue is back with their Folsom edition. Always a fun evening with these beautiful men. Ugh, Pablo (#2, tats) I cannot deal with him. No dates yet but more than likely it’ll be Folsom weekend and maybe a few days on either side.
Saturday, September 29th
We’re going to wake up, brunch up, gear up and go to:
BigMuscle Meet & Greet at DNA Lounge, benefiting PRC
I always like taking friends to this event because if you don’t know it’s happening, you don’t know what you’re missing. Several hundred muscle guys of all sizes and stripes, and their admirers pack into DNA Lounge to have cocktails and dance and make Mary. It’s got a fantastic vibe whether you’re in the mood to dance on the main floor, hang out and chit-chat or people-watch from the wraparound balcony.
Keep in mind that DNA Lounge is much bigger than you think. If you’re new to the space, go upstairs and do a promenade all the way around and through – I totally missed the far-back back lounge all these years until we were there for Dore. Relaxed and fun with lots of hot guys and not everybody is a total mess just yet. Also a cheap ticket. $10 on DNA site I think (with suggested $15-$20 donation at the door the day-of). If you wanted to go to a mild but fun event and still be in (someone’s) bed at a reasonable hour, I’d say go to this one. You’ll be blind for the first few minutes you enter the club since it’s so bright outside and so dark inside. Ron and I have always had a great time at this event.
Facebook event forthcoming.
I’m hoping we relax after that but a lot of folks will probably go to:
Magnitude at Fort Mason Center, produced by Folsom Street Events with DJs Boris and Pagano
Magnitude is huge. Massive. I mean that’s why it’s called Magnitude. You don’t know how big it is until you walk in the venue. There was a scandal last year when it was announced the event would not have the usual fully outfitted dungeon/demo area (bigger SF venues aren’t willing to risk their liquor license blah blah techies ruin everything blah blah).
Magnitude’s headline act is German superstar DJ Boris, resident at Berlin’s notorious club Berghain with London’s DJ Pagano opening the evening. Both artists are on deck with meaty, sexy beats to keep the crowd moving all night. Pagano was with us all week on the Atlantis cruise last January and he’s fanastic whether he’s doing prime time, tea dance, or afterhours. Magnitude event page and some photos.
We’re going to skip Magnitude this year. One reason is because is two years ago we overslept and missed one our favorite events Aftershock (below). We got home from Magnitude and decided we’d just take a brief nap and neither of us set an alarm. I woke up at 8:30am and thought, “Oh shit. Do I tell him?”
Bound on Folsom Street, at Folsom Foundry, produced by Brian Kent and Matt Berracuda with DJs Ralphi Rosario and Philip Grasso
A brand new event! Brian Kent Productions and Matt Bearracuda are set to deliver a mind blowing production with amorous visuals and sexy gogo men that aim to have you begging for more. So check your clothes and ride out what will be the epicenter of a new energy on Folsom Street.
Headlining the event this year is superstar DJ Ralphi Rosario who has worked with everyone from Beyoncé to Donna Summer and has spun leather events the world over. And opening the night is local kitten Philip Grasso bringing his unique brand of dark, driving, funky house and tech house. And production by the folks at RAGErLAZER will make it a visually dazzling evening.
Clothes check at Foundry is alway pretty nuts so go early (or plan to not check anything).
Learn more about Bearracuda from this interview at Unicorn Booty as they celebrate their 12th year of producing events around the world.
No photos from last year’s event since it’s the debut but reference the guys in the poster up there.
Heat at Monarch, produced by Cecil Russel and Evan J. Sun, with DJs Dani Toro and Mohammad
Packing Monarch with prime time get-to-the-point circuit to shake the walls. Cecil and Evan are producing another awesome Heat event with two floors to enjoy with expert DJs manning the decks all night long. Monarch’s seedy basement makes way for DJ Dani Toro to rattle the low-ceilings and make you move. And then on the lavish ground floor lounge, local BFF Mohammad brings his hard, raucous brand of circuit and tribal glory. She better not steal my look again!
DJ Mohammad on Mixcloud, SoundCloud, and Facebook and featured in Chicago Pride for his upcoming Market Days gig. We are always overplaying his promo mix from Ram party NYC and his 5 year anniversary of House Party mix. House Party (Facebook page) is every second-Saturday at Powerhouse. Now Mohammad’s music… that I can fuck to.
Friendly Fire at Danzhaus, produced by Gage Lennox with DJs Marek and Salazar
And Gage Lennox’s Friendly Fire event for Fancy Fellas that need a helping hand. Ahem.
Resident DJ Marek will be breaking the boys in for the night and then Hellbound’s DJ Salazar slides in to continue to give you a good stretch while lighting maven, Visuals by 3, keeps the kaleidoscope of visual effects spinning. Admission includes access to both floors of the venue, which and coatcheck, the main DJ theater, bathrooms plus shower, refreshments, and snacks. Note this is one of the specifically cash only venues and I don’t think there’s an ATM onsite.
Detail on the Friendly Fire site or on the Facebook page for the event. If this is your kinda thing, add Gage as a friend and then join their private Facebook group. Gage runs a fantastic global community of ffun enthusiasts and this is one of the few times a year the crowd gets together to blow the doors off. The vibe is safe, fun, respectful, consensual, and everyone’s ready to learn, watch, experience, and have a good time.
Trim your fingernails.
DJ Salazar on Facebook.
So we probably will do something new/different instead of Magnitude since we’ve done it a couple times now or snuggle and sleep until 3am and then rinse off and gear up for Aftershock. If you’re looking for something even wilder for Saturday prime time:
Stripped at 415 10th St, produced by Truck Events with DJ Trever Pearson
Truck (formerly a real bar in the city, now a production group) is back with a vengeance producing underground parties (including the notorious Truck Tuesday events I keep hearing about) throughout the city. They’re back for Folsom with Stripped at a nondescript nameless private loft space down on 10th St. in SoMa. The Truck team promises to deliver one of those “only in SF” nights where you can lose your inhibitions with locals, visitors, and porn industry special guests. As the Facebook event description says: “Fuck. Yes.”
Aftershock at City Nights, produced by Frisco Disco, with DJ Abel
It’s hard to say why Aftershock is one of our favorite events of the year. It’s got the perfect dark, horny, forbidden, unforgiven ambiance. None of this happy vocals and “Isn’t life great?!” bullshit. I want to be dragged to hell and stay there. With Aftershock, it feels like the guys that want to hookup have already met at Magnitude (or the bars or the apps) and are in their respective hotel rooms in the throes of whatever. The crowd that comes to Aftershock is there to dance. And DJ Abel is the fucking king. We’ve heard him in several cities and on the Atlantis cruise the past two years and whether it is prime time circuit, tea dance, or afterhours, he’s just simply master at what he does. I know it’s stereotypical to talk about a DJ taking you on a journey but he absolutely executes that every time. Aftershock starts promptly at 4am. Everyone is pretty much wearing just jockstraps, harnesses and boots.
Aftershock achieves that strange surreal feeling that you’re dancing in a crowd of hundreds of hot horny sweaty men and you’re not entirely sure the world outside the club exists anymore.
City Nights clothes check is always nuts (better last year) and hopefully you get there early enough that you aren’t waiting in line for 45 minutes but the line will be long. Last year we got there over an hour early and the line was already down the block. Hopefully you’ll want to find a way to pass the time. Like if there’s a cute Argentinian guy who has already taken his pill and is high as fuck and wants to grope and kiss, calling you “guapo” and “Papi” as your husband watches and giggles and shakes his head from the sidelines.
Keep in mind Aftershock is before the fair on Sunday morning.
Stumbling out into daylight at 10am and stumbling back to your hotel will be something you remember forever. Besides the fair starts at 11am so you better rinse off and gear up, babydoll.
Other events on Saturday include:
New Breed: The Second Coming at Club Six, produced by PoundPuppy SF and Polyglamorous
Along with Friendly Fire, this is the most sex party-ish events I’m seeing promoted for the weekend. Upstairs, the Polyglamorous crew is running their usual dance party while downstairs, the gang from Pound Puppy is getting a bit more carnal. I don’t know much about these events at all but it literally has the words “breed” and “coming” in the title, so there you go.
Very few details on Facebook and tickets not on sale just yet.
Folsom Street Overnight at Catalyst, prodcued by the San Francsico Bay Area Leather Alliance
As kink tries to stay fortified in San Francisco, the Catalyst space provides one of the few dedicated play spaces in the city. And as the Saturday night dance parties continue on, Catalyst opens at 1am ready and waiting for nocturnal activities until 10:30am (and it’s a block away from the fair). And with showers available for guests, you can smell so fresh and so clean-clean as you head to the fair (bring your own towels, pillows, or blankets). The space is open to all open-minded persons 18+ respectful of other guests and the space. SF Catalyst is a community-run space for the leather, fetish, BDSM, and motorcycle communities. Catalyst is equipped with “crosses, benches, beds, slings, a suspension frame, hoists, and more BDSM equipment.” Donations go to support SF Catalyst, a project of the non-profit SF Bay Area Leather Alliance.
House of Black Leather, produced by Honey Soundsystem with the Zenker Brothers
A lot of people absolutely love Honey Soundsystem and the events that they produce throughout the year. Their music never really grabs me so I’m not a good judge. I find their stuff too light and disco-y. I’ve included links to the DJs below. But this event will be packed like all of their events and draw a broad crowd of SF queerdom and I’d venture this is pretty straight-friendly event as well.
ONYX vs FLSM at Powerhouse, produced by Onyx with DJ Jason Godfrey benefitting Leatherwalk
And Saturday night at Powerhouse is Onyx’s Folsom party for leather men of color and their admirers. Cover benefits Folsom Street Event’s Leatherwalk. No details yet on Facebook or on their site.
Sunday, September 30
Sunday morning we stumble out of Aftershock and sleep until Real Bad. But if we have houseguests, I might be convinced to go to:
Folsom Street Fair, produced by Folsom Street Events
Ah the fair. It’s huge. You won’t realize it’s so many people until you are there. It’s crazy. Enter on the side streets for quicker entry and to get into the crowd faster. It’s half a million people packed into 13 city blocks for 7 hours. It’s insane. There are two huge dance stages with some of the city’s best DJs and a couple other stages with a constant cavalcade of indie music rock acts. Hundreds of booths of fetish and leather vendors. You’ll see just about anything there.
What do you actually do there? Get flogged, buy some leather, watch fetish demonstrations, have a chicken skewer, dance your ass off, get drunk/stoned/high/fucked/fucked up, or whatever you’ve got a whim for.
If you’ve never been to the fair, go. I’d go early if I were you. The crowds are crazy. It’s an introvert gauntlet.
White people/Wypipo: BRING SUNBLOCK. The sun is pretty much high noon and direct with little shade and most of the surrounding buildings are one story. But there’s usually super hot sexy tattooed EMTs with sunblock at the first aid tents.
People of Color: Please continue to get super-dark and sexy. We thank you.
Usually we walk the length of the fair or if you just stand in one place you’ll eventually see everybody. Lots of other people love the fair and it’s their favorite part of the weekend and they stay out for hours.
We’ve been to the fair numerous times so I’m hoping we’re sleeping in so we can enjoy our absolute favorite event of the entire year.
Release at Catalyst, produced by San Francisco Bay Area Alliance
And I assume after they’ve aired the place out after Overnight (above), the Catalyst play space opens back up with Release, an open play party inviting you to “bring your partners or meet new ones and get kinky.” As mentioned above, Catalyst is complimented with a full dungeon of BDSM essentials including St. Andrew’s crosses, slings, spanking benches, suspension points, and more.
Full details on the Facebook page for the Release event but no Eventbrite listing yet.
Real Bad XXX at 1015 Folsom, produced by Grass Roots Gay Rights with DJs Jesus Pelayo, Charly, and Byron Bonsall
Literally our favorite event of the year. If I could go to only one dance party a year it would be Real Bad. And this year is the 30th anniversary of this famous fabled Folsom closing party.
Thousands of the friendliest, hottest men you’ve ever met (and some women) pack into local dance mega-temple 1015 Folsom for a night of dancing and revelry. The event is produced by local non-profit Grass Roots Gay Rights and all the money from the general admission tickets goes directly to local and national beneficiaries.
Real Bad is special to us because it is the centerpiece for the entire year of gay dance events in the city. From the initial margarita party kickoff to the premiere of their new Dore afterhours, Ritual, and then the check presentation party where we all cry as they give the funds to the beneficiaries, it’s an entire narrative across the year for the community that we call friends.
Tickets are a bitch to get. Most tickets are only available through a host system of 250 hosts who are each given 5 host codes to share with friends and their network (each host can also buy 1 or 2 VIP tickets which they can also resell if they like). That approach helps preserve the vibe that nearly the entire crowd is there because of someone they know in the organization’s “Circle of Friends.”
You can’t really separate the event from the venue it is in: 1015 Folsom (the address and venue name are the same). A nondescript front door gives way to a warmly lit lobby and a stair and ramp on either side lead to the main dance floor with three-story ceilings and a wrap around balcony. The balcony also includes the notorious Red Room and then the large upstairs lounge with seating and refreshments that comprises the VIP area for the first half of the evening (it opens up to everyone later on).
Since it’s Real Bad’s 30th birthday, they’ve got two DJs on the main floor, with two of Madrid’s finest: DJ Jesus Pelayo from Real Bad XVII (he was fantastic) and newcomer DJ Charly taking you on a ten-hour journey (they added an hour!) from post-fair tea dance into the early hours of the morning.
The first year we went to Real Bad, we spent most of our time on the ground floor and in the balcony area and then we finally went downstairs to the The Underground – the glowing low-ceilinged basement of the venue- where it’s a whole other party with a more downtempo steady state house sound, much cooler down there as well. This year the Underground DJ is local veteran favorite Byron Bonsall whom we always enjoy.
Be sure to explore the entire venue. Our friend Joey spent most of his first Real Bad in just the lobby – thinking the event was just the front lobby. He was literally missing the entire overwhelming wonder that is the event.
It is hot as hell at Real Bad. They’ve pulled back on the number of tickets the past few years I think because it gets so packed and so hot. The venue had new air handlers installed a couple years ago that also help and you can tell when they open the side doors so the cold air from the alley gets inside. Some people find it too intense to enjoy. We rarely try to make our way to the inside of the crowd on the main floor since it’s so many people. Usually we’re on the sides or in the less dense areas. Take a break in the upstairs lounge, snuggle up with a guy in the basement, cruise guys in the lobby, or head out to the roped off smoking area outside if you need some fresh air. Like with all things Folsom, you can dial the density/intensity up or down without having to leave the venue you’re in.
I can’t say enough about Real Bad. It’s a singular experience distilling everything amazing about the city of San Francisco into one event. I know that sounds trite. Every year I walk down that ramp from the lobby to the main floor and think, “Goddamn this is a whole other level of party.”
And when you hear “Let’s Have a Kiki” come on, look for Ron and I among the platoon of men and women in aprons (which Ron designed!) and hats (and little else) barreling through the thick crowd handing out popsicles to the over-heated crowd. Sometimes it’s hard to convince a queen to eat a calorie (bruh it is hour five, have a goddamn treat). And be sure you’re in the main room for when they drop the leather flag. The whole night has several peak moments.
It’s worth the rigmarole to get tickets. If you can’t get tickets through hosts they have a limited set of tickets available Saturday morning at Mr. S. Leather. Show up early. I’m not joking. The line is long and half the guys are still a hot mess in their leather gear from the previous night. They also usually se
Short documentary about Real Bad, Activism with a Beat.
Article about Real Bad in The Daily Californian.
If I couldn’t get into Real Bad, I’d probably make Magntiude on Saturday my ‘big event’ and then hang out with friends or whatevz until the Nocturnal afterhours started (below). Or some of the other Sunday night events:
Deviants Adult Arcade at Mezzanine, produced by Folsom Street Events featuring Derek Monteiro, DJ Lina, and Lovefingers
This is the official closing party of Folsom Street Fair. I’ve never gone to this one and don’t a lot of friends that do. Which honestly probably tells you more about me than this event. But looking at the photos of past Deviants parties it gets packed with a broad range of guys.
LA producer Mario Diaz joins forces with Folsom Street Events at Mezzanine which is a space I always enjoy with a huge main dance area and cozy expansive lounge overlooking the floor. DJs are a good mix of house with out too much circuit in there – a little disco I suppose? Maybe the Burning Man crowd type sound? I might be talking out my ass.
Not finding a lot of photos of the event, here’s some photos of Deviants from the Folsom Street Events Facebook page. More details on Facebook and on the Folsom Street Events site.
Monday, October 1st
You requested Monday off, right? I’d hope so. I’ve got the straight people on our team trained on the calendar: “Oh that September leather thing is this weekend right? That’s like that May thing in Chicago right? You’ll be off Monday then. Do you think I’d like the fair?”
After Real Bad ends at 5am we’ll probably come home and rinse off and re-caffeinate and have some calories and then attempt to rally to go:
Nocturnal Extreme Afterhours at Halcyon, produced by Ky Martinez and Cecil Russell with DJ Paulo
I can’t think of a better way to close out the weekend, the night, and the morning than with the original “tribal bitch” DJ Paulo. Last year we came home after Real Bad to lie down for a quick break before going to Nocturnal but didn’t get up – I swear to God we’re getting there this year! Doors open at 3am and the event goes until 9am Monday morning. Our friends Ky and Cecil are producing and their events always draw a fantastic crowd that is a broad slice of the city’s denizens (leather, muscle, queens, queers, jocks, and all the rest). And at this time of the morning you need a good hard pounding like only Paulo can deliver. Again, we kinda like an afterhours because the guys that are there are there to dance.
I will say VIP tickets are worth it for Halcyon because there’s a nice lounge that sits behind the DJ and on the sides of the club opposite the bar so you’ll be able to escape the crowd but still enjoy the music.
And with lighting and visuals designed by William Brown the production production design will be stellar.
And then on Monday afternoon everybody hits the bars and keeps drinking and calls it “recovery.”
Folsom Recovery at Lookout, with DJ Phil B
Bars will be packed the Monday after the weekend since no one wants to admit every good thing has to end. Lookout and Eagle seem like the most popular ones. Lookout especially.
Local favorite DJ Phil B is on hand at Lookout to keep the party going as you try and delay thinking about your terrible life choices. Phil intimated that it’s one of his favorite parties he gets to spin each year and used hashtags #hotcock and #puredurt, so draw your own conclusions.
No official event page yet but usually the high holy day Recovery events start at 1pm and go until 9pm.
That lockable bathroom can get you in trouble.
Speaking of which – there’s also all the bars.
And along with all these events at specific clubs and venues, every bar will be packed to the gills with hot fuckers.
And a lot of the events above are expensive by the time you buy your ticket then pay for a Lyft or Uber or cab and clothes check and a few drinks and tipping plus if you’re going the enhanced route that’s a whole other effort and expense. Ain’t no shame in doing it the old fashioned way and gearing up and going to the bars to score some hot trade.
Recommended bars in the Castro: 440 and Edge has a fair amount of the leather/bear contingent. The Mix and Midnight Sun are more mainstream-y feeling. Hi-Tops is more jock/clean-cut. Beaux I always feel super old (Cafe also skews younger).
Recommended bars in SOMA: Powerhouse and The Eagle of course. Lots of guys we know also enjoy El Rio, Lone Star Saloon, Oasis, and The Stud.
Or just stay home and wait for the hot horny eager men to spill out of the clubs and bars and start popping up on Scruff or Grindr or Recon ready for intense cuddling (it’s like a special hug two men do when they like each other very much).
Okay let’s do a run down of other important stuff:
Do you have to be into leather or fetish to attend and enjoy these events?
Not really. When we first moved to San Francisco ten years ago, we didn’t really get the leather thing at all. We’d lived in Chicago for ten years before that and had gone to the annual International Mister Leather convention but it didn’t really stick then. I found leather culture intimidating and overwhelming and was honestly pretty prudish back then.
We’ve been back to IML since then, and we seem to have a lot more fun:
But here in SF, you’ll see at a few guys in leather at every event so it’s part of the city’s baseline temperature.
For some people, leather is core to their identity and social circles. They carouse at leather bars and events and enjoy all the accoutrements of leathermen culture. (I’m including “leather” broadly to include fetish and kink though they are overlapping Venns, not complete circles).
There’s a very consistent personal narrative a lot of these men and women experience that is something like:
“I grew up knewing I was different. I came out gay/lesbian/queer. But I didn’t feel like I fit into the commuity. I found leather/fetish. And I felt welcomed and accepted.”
Since that is not my personal experience – even though we go to these events and I’d say we are leather-adjacent and have a huge dufflebag of leather gear at home and hell I’m literally the model for Mr. S Leather’s newest harness – I don’t call myself a ‘real’ leatherman. For the rest of us it’s a self-dare to stretch your self-image and push your own boundaries.
But if you find the culture off-putting you are definitely not going to have a good time – so don’t be a bitch about it – just leave. Not every thing is for every body. It’s okay to give it a whirl and say, “Wow. I tried it out and saw that and it was totally not my thing.”
Do some people really wear just jockstraps at these parties? I don’t want to be the only one dressed like a whore.
Yes. I like to call it fuckbot couture.
Dressing like a sex object is pretty much par for the weekend and just-jock seems to be a particularly SF thing. Sometimes at other cities and on the gay cruises people go out in just a jockstrap, but SF seems to go full-bore-whore a little more regularly and with more intensity.
Some guys will wear the full-on leather uniform out to the bars but that’s way too much clothing for a steamy, hot dance party. Most guys will enter the clubs with shirt/jacket, shorts/jeans, boots, harness, and a jockstrap underneath and many will check their shirt/jacket or shorts/jeans. You’ll want to have pockets to keep your ID, cash, mints, and such handy. Or if you have no pockets, wear long socks and stuff them in there. It gets humid too – my iPhone shorted out halfway through Real Bad a couple years ago. Had to put it in a bag of rice that night.
For some parties, we aren’t sure if we’ll want to check clothes so we’ll dress with the intention that we can check shorts or jeans if we want to later on in the evening (or not). But peruse the photo galleries of the events for a sampling of the various options available. We’ve done couples’ matchy-matchy outfits before and planned things for the entire weekend but anymore I’d rather wear something comfortable I can move in.
Or just put your shirt in your beltloop and keep your pants on. Otherwise you’ll lose it on the floor and have to walk back to the hotel like a hooker.
Are all these events just a bunch of white hairy guys only looking for other hairy white guys?
Sometimes these events have a tendency to be a bunch of big hairy white guys only interested in hanging out with other big hairy white guys (and gay-dom has some pretty shitty race politics in it sometimes and no it’s not just a preference). And that sucks for our brown, black, and/or smooth and/or non-huge brethren. The weekend’s events will have a pretty broad range in body type and ethnic mix. Chances are you’re “totally my type” for someone in the crowd.
We always find the mixed couples anyway (easier to pre-qualify). That’s also in case there’s an emergency, we have to shepherd all the hot men of color out of the club quickly. Inked brown and black muscle is our nation’s most precious natural resource.
Don’t mix G and alcohol, you stupid fuck
Same warning as Dore: Don’t mix depressants and definitely do not mix alcohol with GHB or it’s pre-cursors GBL and BDO. If you mix alcohol and G, you’re basically telling your friends you’re a selfish piece of shit and you think it’s cute that others have to take care of you. We saw a guy ‘falling out’ (the more glam way to say overdosing) in a play room at a Dore party being attended to by EMTs. Nothing kills a play space like a guy who’s stopped breathing. They were trying to keep him awake. Know your milliliters.
Poppers and Viagra are both vasodialators so together then can cause your blood pressure to drop dangerously low. Go slow.
I won’t even talk about crystal meth. It has been tearing down the LGBT community and many small towns like the one I grew up in. If tina ever gets into our house it’s Grab the cat, walk out the door, marriage over.
Handle your shit, ladies.
Always thank the EMTs when you see them
I usually say, “Thanks for dealing with our bullshit.” They are there to make sure everyone has a great time and stays in the guard rails.
If you see someone getting stumbly, ask if they’re okay.
If you hug someone and they seem cold or have stopped sweating, ask if they feel dehydrated and need some water or sugary soda.
If you know any of the producers of these parties you know that the (mostly straight) venue owners are very harsh when our community is a hot mess. We risk losing access to these spaces for gay events.
If you are sober and out at these events, be sure you know local AA/etc. meetings so if you need support to stay on track, you’ve got it.
Have a great time. Take care of yourself. Take care of others.
And thank security
I’ll always remember standing outside in line for a party and a (presumably straight) security guard looking inside the club and the wildness going on and remarking to me, “God-damn you boys can throw down!” And yeah there’s an extra bit (read: a lot) of permissiveness at these events that ideally is liberating but can also be dangerous and it takes a village to keep everyone safe.
There’s a whole phalanx of security guards working at all the clubs all weekend and many of them are queer people that specifically want to work the events of Folsom weekend. Like our girl Donna: (if you see her say hi)
These men and women have an incredible sense of ownership and protection of us as we head out for the evening. One memorable moment of Dore was a lesbian security guard (different than badass Donna above) outside the club who was inspecting bags and doing pat downs, saying to the guy in front of me, “Okay now you might have paraphernalia, I don’t want to see it. Management doesn’t want to see it. If you’re doing stuff just don’t do it on the dance floor. Ok?” And then as she patted me down, “Gotta take care of my community. I love my girls – and my boys. Have a good night!” It’s easy to forget all the people putting aside their own chance at a fun weekend so they can take care of their people.
Get off your goddamn phone
A friend at Dore spent half the night at one club checking his phone for updates from this guy he wanted to hookup with. He had a street address, but no apartment number and we said there’s no fucking way you’re leaving the club to go stand on the street at this time of night for some trick. He’s literally surrounded by hundreds of beautiful horny down-to-fuck men and he’s staring at his fucking phone.
If you’re doing extended texting, step to the side of the dance floor and continue. And turn your screen brightness down. It’s obnoxious.
No really, get off your fucking phone
Just wanted to say it a second time.
Be where you are
I’m prone to getting annoyed if the music isn’t perfect or people are bumping into me and just burning the entire evening down and going home and Xanax-ing myself to sleep. If you and your partner bicker or have an argument, stop. Talk about it next week. Stop waiting for that guy that said he’d be at the place at that time that wanted to meet up or breed you or get your load. Stop chasing that porn star (he’s probably booked all weekend making videos for his OnlyFans page and wants you to participate for free).
Remember daddy Aaron’s only Folsom rule:
Be where you are. Here and now. Don’t make this a make or break weekend for anything or anyone. It is what it is. Enjoy it.
No life decisions the week after a party
Until there is at least a glimmer of hope in those dead cow eyes, don’t get together or break up or get married or close things or open things or move out or move in or quit a job or start a job. I’m usually a dessicated husk until at least Thursday night. Around Wednesday while I’m at work is when Ron usually texts me, “We really have to stop doing this.”
How to find the bears
Tip: If you are looking for the bears at any club, find the big industrial fans. There’s literally a ‘bear corner’ at 1015 Folsom because that’s where the big fans always are. The big boys overheat easily so they’re usually near the fans, or they have actual fans, or are near the A/C vents.
What’s with the colors and armbands?
When finding gay sex and companionship was more difficult and dangerous, gay men developed the ‘hanky code’ where you’d wear a specific color of handkerchief to signal what you were into and what you were looking for. The color communicated fetish/activity and the back pocket would tell you your role. Left side, top. Right side, bottom. Both sides, vers. This has been carried forth in the colors of harnesses and armbands you see out and about. But sometimes yellow is a signal (watersports) and sometimes you just want to wear yellow. I had on a snazzy yellow Cellblock13 jock at a party and had a guy say, “Hey, I can piss on you if you want!” and I countered, “It’s more of a sartorial choice.” It’s a fun retro part of the culture we’ve carried through to today. Here’s a full rundown of the hanky code colors in probably one of the oldest web pages you’ll ever read these days.
Everyone secretly hates your fan clacking
The fan thing has taken off the past few years and there’s nothing I love more than seeing a big burly boy queening out over one of Ron’s (many) fans. But don’t clack them to the beat with that sharp sound that feels like an icepick behind your right eye. Everyone is secretly hating on you for doing that and wants to choke you down to the ground. If you want to hear some some expert clacking, Ron provided the clacking sound effects for DJ Jack Chang’s mix of Alan Capetillo’s song “I’m Tired.”
Buy multiple drinks at a time.
Bars will be busy and/or short staffed. If you are buying Gatorade for 3 friends, grab six. If you are buying cocktails, buy double, chug one and sip the other. Hell, grab 8 Gatorades and hand a couple to guys as you pass on the dance floor. They will act like you’ve given them nectar of the gods. And pay cash if you can. Credit cards slow everyone down. Most venues have an ATM but go into the venue with cash. We usually try to have $80 on us for the night. Break your twenties so you can tip.
Assume clothes check will be a disaster everywhere
Given the minimal attire of patrons to most of these events, coat/clothes check will probably be a complete bitch anywhere you go. We usually bring one of our gym bags and put everything in there (and put phones and wallets in obvious pockets so we can find them quickly for the keys-phone-wallet! check as you leave the club). That way if our stuff gets misplaced or mis-tagged we can say, “Look for the bright red Timbuktu backpack. I can see it right there!”
Get tested the week after (and two weeks before)
A circuit party is a Petri dish with a bass line.
A lot of people have a lot of sex with a lot of people during Folsom weekend so there’s a possibility you might get a bug – even if you’re the most careful condom user ever-ever. Go to your GP or local clinic to get tested for the full palette of STIs. Keep in mind you can have gonorrhea, syphillis, or chlamydia and not show any obvious symptoms for a while.
And even if you’re a “total top” doesn’t really mean anything since infections can spread between oral, anal, and genital regions regardless of who is fucking who. Notify the other people you had sex with if you have their contact info. It’s common courtesy and comes with the territory in our high-volume-hookup sex-as-a-hobby culture.
If you’re really an ethical slut, get tested two weeks early just in case you’ve got some critters. That way if you come back with something, you’ve had enough time to complete a full course of antibiotics (usually 7-10 days). Nobody wants to spend Folsom in sex jail (which you would think sounds hot, but no it is not).
And of course, get tested for HIV. And if you test positive for HIV, go into treatment immediately. It is much easier these days to get down to undetectable levels and manage your health properly. Undetectable is untransmittable, meaning a positive person on meds whose viral load is undetectable by conventional testing carries the same risk of transmission as someone that is HIV negative. It sounds too good to be true, but research looking at over 70k condomless sexual encounters between couples with one HIV negative partner and a HIV positive but undetectable partner resulted in zero new infections. If you don’t know these stats you’re not doing your due diligence in staying informed as a sexually active gay man. Get your shit together.
A lot of guys will also be cleaning out for the weekend in the event that they bottom. Here’s a guide (still don’t agree with the stomping). Pack the shower shot – and don’t forget the wrench! If we’re dancing and I smell a waft, we gotta vacate the surroundings.
If you are HIV-, get on PrEP
If you are HIV negative, consider getting on PrEP. It doesn’t protect against other STIs but the risk of HIV transmission is statistically approaching that of condoms. Again, one of those medical breakthroughs that sounds too good to be true but actually is what it is. We have the power to stop HIV in it’s tracks in this generation and we’re stupid if we don’t take advantage of this technology. And remember, you have to take PrEP consistently for seven days to reach maximum efficacy.
And if you are not on PrEP and have unprotected sex and think you might be at risk for HIV, go to the PeP protocol which is for after a possible exposure.
Be clear about condom use (or not) when agreeing to meet or hookup so no one feels pressured to make choices not aligned with their habits.
And if you take Metamucil or other fiber supplements to be bottom-ready, do not take them at the same time as your PrEP or other meds. Fiber supplements will soak up the meds in your digestive system and prevent them from getting into your blood stream.
I’m too fat, too thin, too short, too tall, too young, too old to go…
Too old? The only difference these days is we take ibuprofen before we head out for the night.
You will see some guys who are so roided up they are practically parodies of masculinity galloping like water buffalo across the dance floor (and probably should have a dialysis machine on their armband). Some of these guys have their ass sticking out so far you’d think you’re at a pelvic tilt convention. You’ll see beanpole guys who are skin and bones (and guys going nuts over them, too). All shapes, all sizes, and ages ready to have a great time. You should go.
Let’s be honest, both US straight mainstream culture and the queer/gay minority culture is co-opted by marketers to tell us we never have enough, do enough, or are enough so not hating the way you look all the time is triumph of the human spirit. Go have fun and fuck all the rest of it.
No guy is too hot to go up and talk to. And if he thinks he is, he’s probably a terrible fuck. And a bad kisser. Which really is a crime against God.
Well, shit I guess that’s about all I’ve got to say about that.
Can I go to these events if I’m a straight man or a woman?
Yes you can. Keep in mind though: Most of the events I’ve detailed above are intended for and produced by gay men seeking to meet and dance and whatever with other gay men. You are not the target audience here. It’s our space – it’s great you feel safe here, too – but we built this. There’s several lesbian and straight women that are a big part of the community out here and join us for many of the parties as patrons and producers and talent. And they know the events that are more play-oriented aren’t really for them and sure they could go into a back room and look around, but turning someone’s sexuality into a tourist attraction is tacky and gross.
You will probably see public sex between men at the fair or on the dance floor or in a bathroom or in a lounge or in an alley way. Enjoy watching or just turn 180 degrees and voila! it doesn’t even exist anymore.
I’ll keep searching for lesbian events for Folsom too so I’ll add them here. Don’t want our Sapphic sistren to feel left out.
All these goddamn events are sold out
You waited too long. In this town, we buy our tickets early (and much cheaper first-tier pricing). If you are looking for tickets for a particular event, post as such on the Facebook page for the event. Mark yourself as Going for the event so you’ll get alerts if someone posts on that event page they have a ticket available. As the weekend approaches, people decide which ones they are or aren’t going to and will sell their tickets.
What if I have tickets I don’t need?
The opposite of above, post on the event page to see if others are interested in buying your tickets. And don’t scalp, that’s some hetero asshole bullshit, right there.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten some events, let me know
No slight to producers or DJs if I’ve missed one (and I didn’t even do shoutouts to all the lighting, sound, video, laser, and environment designers and special peformers).
Finally: Fucking dance.
I try to remind myself it hasn’t been that long ago that police would invade gay bars to stop men for simply dancing together. It is easy to take the level of relative safety we enjoy now for granted. And many queer groups in many countries and cities are still not completely safe. Hell is anybody completely safe?
Dance for yourself. Dance for your friends. Dance for your community. Dance for those never got to have the man or woman of their dreams in their arms. Dance for those that are no longer with us and dance for those that are still here.
Dance for Pulse in Orlando, for the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans, and for all the rest who died or were injured while simply trying to have a fun night out. Dance for the queens, the queers, the faggots, the fairies, the leathermen, the bulldykes, and all the other outlaws who said no seriously fuck this shit and risked their lives and their careers and their families and put it all on the line. You have the luxury of living right here, right now, because so many people fought for it.
Dance for those that live in countries where they would kill us for simply holding hands.
Dance for the closeted queer kids stuck in backwards boondock burgs or dangerous families.
See you on the dance floor, gentlemen
And ladies, and everyone else in and around. It was incredibly rewarding to have guys come up to me at every Dore party this year and say that they read my guide and found it useful. So, if you see us on the dance floor say hello. Look for the complimentary polynesian sleeve tattoos (see photo) on the sexy Filipino muscle daddy with the huge smile dancing with abandon and probably sporting a majestic fan (Ron) and the semi-serious inked bearded white muscle daddy wolf trying to keep up with him (me).
Thanks for reading – please share!
Andy with editing/etc. from Ron
You can follow my writing on Facebook, Twitter, and enjoy our chronic shirtlessness and fear of aging on my Instagram (andymaticgram), but actually Ron posts better photos and gets all my likes on his Instagram (ronamatic).
If you want even more reading in this vein, you can read my 2017 guides for Dore (here’s 2018’s) and Folsom or my recaps of Dore 2016 and Folsom 2014. Or read about that time I turned 40 or when we got married.
And if you’re really retro, there’s the old fashioned RSS feed.