THE SEX FILES: Hide In Plain Sight

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Joe Hickerson, owner, and operator of NYC’s Member’s Only Club, said in his email blast sent at the beginning of July that he was left no choice but to “suspend all events” in his sex club for men. According to Hickerson, the Manhattan Department of Buildings was behind the closing of his space, located at 410 W. 47th St., NOT, as he wants to make perfectly clear…monkeypox.

I remember sometime in the early 2010s, visiting a dungeon a mere stone’s throw from my quiet little Tudor on my little dead-end street in my little section of north N.J. suburbia. The place hosted kink hangs every other Saturday night, with this garage-like structure set anonymously at the end of its suburban street dead end while being a full-time photography studio/office owned by a guy I knew from the northern N.J. band scene back in the 80s. Yes, it certainly is a small world, but every other weekend he set out spanking benches, St. Andrew’s Crosses, pleather-sheeted tabletops, and various other BDSM gear for naughty parties.

I also have frequented two dungeon spaces in NYC, one very famous, for parties way back in the day. And, of course, there is the massive infamous dungeon space called “The Armory” in San Francisco that hosted some of the most amazing and full-to-the-rafter kink get togethers when it was the preeminent spot of the Kink.com organization. This massive spot, often referred to as “Kink In The Castle” which I have been to twice for adult industry hangs (cause I am THAT cool) is an decommissioned U.S. armory building.

Even in this day and age and given what we all went through over the past few years with the pandemic, there are plenty of spots, from NYC to L.A., to Berlin and London, where sex clubs/kink dungeons hide in plain sight. But when the sex club or kinky play spot exists in Manhattan, strict zoning laws come into play, as they did at Hickerson’s place down in Hell’s kitchen.

For the past year+, the parties down at the Member’s Only Club have been happening Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights. As suspected, the weekends proved the busiest, where the festivities ran pretty much into the wee hours. For a gathering of this kind, a “PACO” or Place of Assembly Certificate of Operation is required when more than 57 people gather. Hickerson did not have a PACO and did not have the required permit for the construction of a wall divider that he built to separate his club’s entrance from its changing area. He also did not have a Certificate of Occupancy for running a social club or adult establishment. His failure to produce these documents saw him issued a summons during inspections on both May 20 and July 1.

Hearings for these violations have been set for this month and next. Those inspections could have occurred due to noise complaints from neighbors of the club’s late-night activities

Hickerson suspended his parties last month as he said, because “there was no way to prevent this from continuing to happen until a hearing date.”

The lesson here; have your requisite permits well in hand if you are going to run a club (even a private one) that champions/permits sex on the premises, and realize that when things oftentimes get noisy in the wee hours from your revelry, even if you are hiding in plain sight, expect a visit from some sort of law enforcement after a time. Monkey pox or not.

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