It’s another of those understandably popular tropes in the more generic of erotic novels: the (invariably discovering-her-true-submissive-nature) heroine gets taken to The Special Fetish Club. It’s usually in a mansion, or a luxury hotel, and everyone’s not just gorgeous but a billionaire, with it. The buffet’s all caviare and prawns, with unlimited champagne (but the characters are usually too busy devouring each other – or running off crying – to care) and the looseats are solid gold… you get the picture.
Having worked, in the past, as a reviewer of fetish clubs for top-shelf magazines, I have to say that I never really went to any exclusive soirees in elegant mansions. There was one notorious house in a very, very wealthy part of London where the legality of us oiks being there at all was a little bit dubious, but I recall that, despite its impressing exterior, the place was an utter craphole inside. It also felt so much like a fatal house fire waiting to happen that I was never fully able to enjoy myself for fear of meeting the sort of punishment your average puritanical wingnut would believe I generally deserve.
Fetish clubs used to take place in nightclubs, or pub basements, or slightly dubious bars, on the whole. The ambience would vary (will your feet stick to the carpet? What’s that smell? Ooh, they’ve got really posh soap in the Ladies’ and they actually sell champagne) and you could never be quite sure how much the bar manager would tolerate in the way of nudity or whether those hooks in the ceiling were suspension-safe. There are still premises which will host a fetish night from time to time and allow the bringing in of dungeon furniture and the uninhibited-ish whipping of arses.. Nowadays, problem of the way nightlife venues are being replaced by ‘luxury’ flats, generic office blocks and/or student accommodations.
The reality for the most liberal, liberated and permissive of clubs, though, has nearly always been the Unit On The Light Industrial Estate. I’m not going to name any specific examples, given that there appears to be a whole complicated maze of rules and regulations which some of these places may or may not be exactly compliant with, but in a general way, they manage to do their thing without attracting too much in the way of unwanted attention. Part of the ritual of attending a play party is the last few minutes of your journey there: the moment when you stop and look around and say to yourself or your date, ‘Do you think we’ve got the right address?’
Often as not, though, the more horrible the exterior, the more delightful the actual environment: crossing the threshold really can feel like passing through a magical portal into a world of wicked delights.
OK, the floor might be a bit uneven, and there might be a draft or two, but nearly every one of these places I have ever been lucky enough to set foot in has had a wonderful, kitschy, charming type of ambience: fairy lights and mirrors and red velvet drapes; dungeon furniture and mismatched vintage chairs; sometimes a hot-tub, sometimes a tiny garden space with beach umbrellas. Though the buffet, if there is one, is more likely to be crisps and sausage rolls than gourmet dining, but I don’t suppose many of the guests are there for the grub in the first place.