The gay community's and the local fetish community's high holidays are upon us this weekend with 33rd annual Folsom Street Fair. Though it was originally a very gay male event and continues to draw plenty of LGBT tourists, Folsom is for everybody, including straight people, many of whom arrive dolled up in their fetish gear or just in civilian cloths, prepared only to gawk. The fair is a grand and dirty San Francisco tradition, and the third-largest single-day outdoor event in California, spanning 13 blocks and drawing upwards of 400,000 people. It is also the world's biggest leather and fetish fair, and a testament to the weirdness of San Francisco that many longtime residents like to say is lost forever. (Read a brief history of the fair right here.)
Come Sunday, if you've never been, you're in for something pretty special and likely a few things you can not un-see. Long before SF became the most expensive, techiest town in the nation, it was the capital of sex, porn, and leather daddies, and you'll see the present-day evidence of this in broad daylight in what's predicted to be 80-degree weather all afternoon along Folsom Street.
Below, a few words of advice, and scroll down for some party and event suggestions that both newcomers and old-timers should consider, as the weekend kicks off tonight.
Be Prepared To Be Scandalized, Maybe
Many have noted that Folsom Street Fair has gotten a little more tame in recent years, but only a little. You're still very likely to see some old man peen, and very likely to see some scrotums shot up with saline that's why they're so extraordinarily swollen, everyone, it's not a disease. You may also see any or all of the following: men dressed as leather-bound puppies being led around on leashes with tails that are actually butt plugs; grown women on leashes acting subservient in non-feminist ways; bloodied backs covered in lash marks; men wearing police uniforms that are entirely leather; an actual San Francisco Supervisor shirtless in a leather vest; men wearing biker/cowboy chaps with no jeans or underwear on underneath; young twenty-something lesbians and gay men trying on leather harnesses for the first time and giggling a lot; pale people who typically spend a lot of time in sex dungeons getting sunburnt while showing off their junk. You also might see actual sex acts, but I'm making no promises. The easily faint or offended should probably steer clear.
Don't Look Like A Stupid Tourist, and Ask Before Taking Photos
Just be cool, ok? This is not your opportunity to look edgy on Instagram at the expense of someone'e privacy. Also, you shouldn't just be there to point and gawk SF doesn't take kindly to prudes, and nor does the BDSM set, though they'll be happy to talk about their fetish with you, probably. You may see titillating demonstrations of sex acts, and you may see things that make you laugh or cringe or wince, but even if it's at an official festival tent, you should still ask before taking someone's photo — unless they have a mask on. But if they're porn stars, it's fair game.
Act Cool If You See A Coworker Naked In A Stockade
San Francisco can sometimes feel like a small town and Folsom is no exception. You will likely see someone you know, maybe even a coworker, potentially in a compromising position. Whatever you do, don't spread any gossip and don't run away. If it's appropriate, say a quick hi. If it's not, keep walking and pretend you didn't see them.
You Do Not Have To Wear Leather, Or Be Gay
Kink transcends all gender and sexual identities. And if that sentence made you snicker or cringe, welcome to San Francisco. You don't have to costume or conform with the leather-, rubber-, and latex-clad hordes if you don't want to, but that stuff is certainly encouraged and will get you more attention. It's fine, though, to just wear jeans and non-open-toed shoes and be a tourist at the fair. But please read that again: non-open-toed shoes.
Leave Dogs And Kids At Home
I can't stress this one enough, and it seems like an obvious one, but every year, someone thinks nothing of dragging along their chihuahua or toddler and either is subject to being stepped on, trampled, psychologically scarred, or just made the subject of many angry stares. And don't even think about bringing a stroller (for dog or kid). It's hard enough as an adult to push through some 400,000 people packed into 13 city blocks, though if you yourself want to act like a puppy or diapered baby in public, that's very much encouraged.
Do Not Try To Drive Through Town On Sunday
Just don't. All of SoMa is basically going to be off-limits to traffic creating consequent traffic snarls in every direction all afternoon.
Bring Sunscreen! (And Water)
You may shed some layers while at the festival (there's an area to check your clothes) and you don't want a harness tan when you go into the office on Monday. Bring sunscreen and reapply throughout the day (but if you forget, or lose it in the back of the Powerhouse, they've always got some free sunscreen at the medical tent). And while you can buy water at the event, it's cheaper and easier to bring your own and refill throughout the day. Oh and don't drink from any water bottles filled with yellow liquid — unless of course that's your thing.
It's Free, But You Should Donate
Support the folks who have kept Folsom Street Fair running for 30 years and pony up at the gate. If you pay $10 or more, you'll get $2 off every drink, and proceeds go to benefit local groups including the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who man the gates. Pun intended.
Now, some event ideas...
Thursday, September 22
Bawdy Storytelling's Folsom Kickoff @ The Verdi Club
The party/reading series dubbed "The Moth for pervs" by LA Weekly comes to the Verdi Club for this Folsom edition, hosted by sexual folklorist Dixie De La Tour. The theme is "Trigger Warning," and it promises to be "an evening of ballsy-as-fuck oversharers who will tell their honest to badness true stories that range from mild to mindfuck." The Verdi Club, 2424 Mariposa Street, 8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., $20-$30
Divine Deviance Kick-Off Party @ The Armory
Appropriately, Kink.com is hosting this fetish-y kickoff party for the weekend, which will be especially fun for those who've never been inside the Armory itself. The party happens in the Victorian-themed upper floor of the building, which VICE once described as "Downton Abbey, but with ball gags and more leather than Kanye's wardrobe." And it's also a kickoff fundraiser for a BDSM documentary project. The Armory, 1800 Mission at 14th Street, 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., $30-$35, advance tix here
Baloney Male Revue @ Oasis
The all-male burlesque is back with a Folsom edition, playing tonight, Friday, and Saturday at 7 p.m., featuring some sometimes funny, always sexy dancers performing in a number of erotic scenarios. Nobody gets fully nude, but it is a good time. Oasis, 298 11th Street at Folsom, 7 p.m., $25
The Gay Agenda @ El Rio
Hostess Juanita MORE! and DJ Siobhan Aluvalot bring you this dance party/art event, with the theme of homosexual recruitment of children, naturally. The art on display was all used for a crowd-funded day planner, a literal agenda, a prototype of which will be on display. It's free to attend, but there will be food for purchase. El Rio, 3158 Mission Street, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., free
Friday, September 23
SomeThing FOLSOM @ The Stud
Join the drag queens of SomeThing and DJ Down-E as they ring in the big weekend with some leather- and fetish-themed numbers in SF's most beloved (and possibly endangered) club space. As always, there will be two shows with a dance break, and dancing til the wee hours afterwards. Harrison and 9th, 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., $8
Leather And Fur Fundraiser @ GLBT History Museum
As the monthly "after-hours" event at the museum, this party DJ'd by Gayle Rubin and bringing together leathermen and bears is a fundraiser for an upcoming exhibition on bear culture and the beartoonist works of artist Fran Frisch. 4127 18th Street, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., $10, tix here
Shenanigans Folsom: Magic Kinkdom @ Oasis
This offshoot group of promoters from Burning Man camp Mystopia started life exactly a year ago with a Folsom weekend party with a Disney theme, and they're at it again. Combinations of Mickey ears with harnesses obviously encouraged, and there will be DJs in front in the Fez room and the main dancefloor, as well as a silent disco on the roof. Oasis, 298 11th Street at Folsom, 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Steam Does Folsom @ The Powerhouse
This batthouse-themed party, complete with wet towel contest and go-go shower, features the legendary disco DJ Steve Fabus of Trocadero Transfer fame. The Powerhouse, 1347 Folsom Street at Dore, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., $5
Saturday, September 24
New Breed @ Club Six
This collaboration between Polygramorous and Pound Puppy promises to be some sexy fun on Sixth Street, with two levels of dancing and play spaces, a more alterna- and younger crowd, and music from Jackie House of Honey Soundsystem fame, as well as Pound Puppy and Polyglamorous resident DJs Taco Tuesday, Mark O'Brien, Kevin O'Connor, and M*J*R. Club Six, 60 6th Street, 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., tickets here
Magnitude @ The Midway
The official pre-party for Folsom is this big circuit-y affair, and it's also geared toward the gay men who are here more to party than to don their finest gear first thing on Sunday, since it gets going late. It's the 20th anniversary of the party this year, and it's out in the Dogpatch, and they promise "We've even expanded our infamous dungeon to accommodate nearly double the amount of attendees." No more dungeon lines for the dungeon-inclined! The Midway, 900 Marin Street, 9 p.m. to 4 a.m., $125. Tickets available at Mr. S Leather and at Phantom and Chaps in the Castro, along with a limited number at the door.
BRUT @ Great Northern
The club formerly known as Mighty is playing host to this "clash between NYC's nightlife and San Fran's Folsom" (try not to blame them for the "San Fran" part), featuring Brüt Masters Dan Darlington and Peter Napoli and local help from Locoya Hill Entertainment. Great Northern (formerly Mighty) 119 Utah Street, 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., $50, tix here
Pretty In Ink @ Powerhouse
The Powerhouse Saturday affair for tattoo fetishists and the tattooed (and everyone else) will feature music from DJ Salazar, and "a drive-by from the flagging in the park crew." Powerhouse, 1347 Folsom Street at Dore, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., $5
Sunday, September 25
The 33rd Annual Folsom Street Fair
The fair takes place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Folsom Street from 8th to 13th Streets, with many vendor and exhibitor booths, beer stands, food stands, dance areas, and music stages. And it's gonna be a sunny and hot one! Fun music acts this year include Dragonette, YACHT, Fritz Helder, and there will be lots more to see and hear.
Suggested $10 donation
Top Of the Hole @ DNA Lounge
This once private house party literally above Hole in the Wall got to big for its own good, so it's moved around the corner to DNA and is now open to the public. There's an outdoor disco stage as well as two dancefloors inside, and it's sure to be a cool and fun break from the crowds, assuming you're going to need that. DNA, 375 11th Street, Noon to 11 p.m., $15-$20
Deviants Adult Arcade @ Mezzanine
The now official, annual afterparty of the fair, just a few blocks away at 5th and Jessie, this dance party features the spinning talents of Honey Soundsystem, Cologne, Germany-based DJ Lena Willikens, and Tel Aviv's Roi Perez, as well as the Bay Area debut of Tuff City Kids, a supergroup formed by German electronic music legends Lauer and Gerd Janson. (All of the above will also be doing sets at the Deviants Dance District at the fair, between 12th and 13th Streets, during the afternoon.) Given that it's the biggest and best known afterparty for the fair, you'd be wise to arrive on the early side, before it gets too cold. 444 Jessie Street, 6 p.m., $40 at the door, first come-first served.