Mike Powers stands in front of one of the walls to be painted over.


Mike Powers gets it—the neighborhood’s reaction to his sex club’s relocation was unequivocal. But as he cleaned up the 12,000 square feet of space at 44 Gough St. where he’d planned to open in early April, the owner of the Power Exchange made it clear he is looking for new space.

“I can’t let [the city] win now. I have to reopen … because now it’s become a battle where they’re saying Power Exchange isn’t acceptable,” Powers said.

Mission Loc@l’s coverage of the neighborhood’s quick and effective campaign against the club triggered a heated discussion of the sex club and the role it played in many lives. Just as the neighbors cried out in response to the prospect of the club opening, its patrons vented their frustrations when it didn’t.

The names you’ll read below are abbreviated or adopted monikers. Because of concern over careers, families or harassment, the Power Exchange patrons included here shared their perspectives on the condition of protecting their identities.

Even in a city like San Francisco, they are reticent. Powers, on the other hand, is not.

Mike Powers stands in front of one of the walls to be painted over.

The 43-year-old ran for mayor of San Francisco in 2007 and now operates a Power Exchange location in Las Vegas. On a recent Wednesday, he wore a purple tank top that read “America’s Naughtiest” and purple, black and white camouflage pants. His hair was dyed blonde and black, his nose piercing glittered under the fluorescent lights, and his manicured black and white nails accentuated his gestures.

“They can’t be outed, that’s the tragedy of it,” said Powers.

Posts on an online forum wanted answers about what happened, and sought alternative destinations. While sex was definitely a topic of discussion, many craved the social atmosphere that Power Exchange provided.

“To say that the sex is all that goes on is like saying that imbibing is the only thing that happens in a bar,” wrote Samantha Barsalona, adding, “People make business connections, they find housing, they find referrals to counseling and therapy—all sorts of things can happen.”

In Barsalona’s profile, she identifies as transgender, one of the groups that patronized the Power Exchange.

Besides the transgender community, Powers said his customers included swingers, heterosexuals and people interested in BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism).

“Everybody was welcome there,” said Laura. She’s a single mom who lives in the East Bay, and she’s straight. At her request, her name has been changed.

“There’s a lot more people like me, like you, that do go and that want to go,” she said, adding, “These are professional people, these are people that have jobs, lives and families.”

At Power Exchange, Laura said she could be herself. She could watch or participate, and she made friends there. She misses it.

So does Jerry. He was there the night Power Exchange opened on Otis Street, as well as the night it closed. On average, he would go at least once a week.

“If you have the impression that I was out getting laid every time I went there, that isn’t how it happened,” he said.

At the same time, the S&M practitioner said, “People went to this club to do the most outrageous and unbelievable things—and they did them a lot.”

Some of the noise and other activity at the Otis location, however, spilled out into the street, and when neighbors heard that Powers would reopen nearby, they mobilized. They made calls to the city and put pressure on the landlord, Tom Hovorka.

Powers’ plans ground to a halt when Christine Haw from the Planning Department and Joe Duffy from the Department of Building Inspection paid him a visit on April 2.

The building code designated the space as a business and office. According to building permits, the Power Exchange’s occupancy code at its previous location was A-3, and it was zoned for use as a club.

Powers said he didn’t think getting the occupancy change would be difficult until “the stink arose” from the neighbors.

When the club was open, Powers hired a private patrol officer to monitor the situation outside during peak hours. The officer would respond quickly, but Powers said the police presence wasn’t quite visible enough.

“I don’t want these a**holes dropping condoms out the windows out there in the parking lots. I don’t even want them in the parking lots,” Powers said.

At his new location he said he had planned to minimize noise by blocking off Stevenson Alley and shuttling guests from the Metreon parking lot at Fourth and Mission streets.

In the 13 years the Power Exchange operated in San Francisco, “This is the greatest uproar people have made, ever,” Powers said.

In no time, it led to the termination of his lease as well as the loss of a lot of time and money.

With his landlord, Powers said, “It got very distasteful very fast.”

Still, Powers envisions a club in San Francisco not unlike the one at 74 Otis. It had three floors, and no alcohol was permitted. Powers said the club provided condoms, gloves and water-based lubricant.

“It’s one of the few places in the world where het[erosexual] folks can go and play,” said Chris English. Couples could have sex or just watch other people. He said people could play just with the person they brought or do more with others.

He’s a sex educator who also teaches S&M and tantric sex. English emphasized the distinction between a public and private sex club. The Power Exchange was a public club. There was a sign over the door, and it was open to anyone.

According to English, the Citadel, at Ninth and Mission, is a private sex club. To enter, you have to be a member, but you can purchase your membership at the door for the nominal cost of $10. On its website, the Citadel says it’s “the centerpiece of the San Francisco BDSM community.”

While the Citadel is a social and sexual option for some of the Power Exchange’s customers, it’s not for everyone. Other alternatives in San Francisco include Eros, Sinfusion, Divas and Kinky Salon at Mission Control, as well as private parties around the Bay Area.

“Unfortunately, I am unaware of any venue like PE serving the needs of so many communities under one roof and the synergy that created,” Robin wrote online, adding, “Nor have I found any place for TGs [transgenders] like PE.”

Robin is a male-to-female transvestite and transgendered, and she said the transgender umbrella includes “part-time cross-dressers through post-op transsexuals.”

At the Power Exchange, she could be herself “without the risk of being verbally abused, beaten or worse—killed—because of who I am.”

She moderates the message board and recently put up a call for help, asking Power Exchange supporters to help paint the 44 Gough space.

Powers had to be out by May 1, and there was a lot left do. Walking through the brightly painted hallways and rooms, he talked about the themes planned for them—from Hollywood to cartoons, and Rome to the moon. His mother had done much of the painting and was helping now to cover it all up with white. (Last year, The Huffington Post wrote about the family-run business and featured a video about it.)

Powers’ son Joshua was also there with friends, as well as two former managers, day laborers they had hired, and three volunteers from the website. Robin was one of the latter, and she said more were on their way after work.

In the meantime, Powers is working with an architect and a real estate agent to find a new location.

The bottom line will be the question of permit and zoning. His architect is researching it, and Powers says it boils down to whether a sex club is more like a strip club or a gym, and therefore considered entertainment or personal services. Unlike a strip club, his employees don’t provide the entertainment, other patrons do. He just provides the pole.

Or, to put it another way, at a gym you’re paying to use a treadmill or a stair climber.

“At my place you pay to use the spanking horse or the St. Andrew’s Cross,” Powers said.

Follow Us

Join the Conversation


Please keep your comments short and civil. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published.

  1. This Power Exchange Club is disgusting and very disrespectful to the community. I think it should and must be shut down completely. Sex should only be private and not being made public to everyone. What a crazy business family owner!!!

  2. I have been a once a year patron for a few years now, It is my main reason for attending a convention at Mosconi Center, to visit the PE while in town and socalize with the locals. If you can’t find a location in that uptite city by the bay, please consider relocating to Sacramento. You will have pleny of customers here.
    Thank You for your vison!

  3. My comment is mainly based on the safety and security of the patrons where ever the club is located. I think that the area of town where the club is located should have a high security and police presence so that the patrons feel safe attending. I also believe that the area could be cleaned up by having security not only inside but also outside monitoring activity which could give the club a bad name. If combative people are asked to leave, as it is private property, they could be arrested for trespassing. Now will SFPD do their jobs and clear the area of these unwanted people. Hell no, they’re too busy with other crap than to give a s**t about PE. I just want to say good lucki, and never give the fight in making this a success.


  4. The PE customers are not the base of the complaint, and neither is the club’s inside operations. its the ‘third entity’ of people and what THEY do outside the club and in the neighborhood that everyone has the problem with…its the drug dealers, prostitutes, vandals that prey on the PE customers (before entering or after exiting PE) and on the business itself and I guess there is the dotted line relationship of those types and the pe customers (if the PE didn’t have customers, these third entity types would not come around as much, as its been demonstrated by the club being closed and those instances diminishing). Neighbors cannot distinguish between those types and the PE customers, so the PE customers and the business itself is getting blamed. The PE customers know it isn’t them and are feeling offended that they are getting blamed for things they know they aren’t directly causing (but possibly indirectly causing). Does anyone see this also? How do we eliminate the third entity without killing off the club and its patrons?

  5. Hey Julie. Who cares what goes on inside the club. It what goes on OUTSIDE the club Duh! Get informed before you express an ignorant opinion. Sex is not the issue. The quality of life for the surrounding area is. Our neighborhood is a nice community of hard working people, most of whom have sex. At least I hope they do. When the club was operating at there prior location there was urine, condoms, and other undesirable materials/people on the streets. Since they have left, it has cleaned up a lot. Contrary to popular belief the whole city of San Francisco is not a bastion of theives and prudes. Get a life.

  6. Halloween, RIP.
    Bay to Breakers, on life support.
    Critical Mass under attack.
    Sex clubs out of the question!

    San Francisco is becoming little more than Dallas with hills.

  7. It was the admission price structure that was a main cause for problems. If you charge one group of people, in this case single men $35 to $70 to get in but the people they are hoing to have sex with can get in free, this automatically sets up a problematic situation. The solution; equal admission prices for all, irrespective of gender/sexual orientation/identity. What’s the objection to that Mike Powers or Chris so-called sex-expert English? The owners of this club are in it for the money, but are expoliting to the historic sex-positive, open-minded and tolerant traditions of SF to expolit peoples sexual needs and naivite about the consequences of the paradigm that the PE represents, which is anything but progessive, sexually or otherwise.

  8. We’ve been to the PE many times and my wife felt much safer inside than out!
    It’s a crappy neighborhood in the first place but I’ve not seen condoms OUTSIDE and the only smell of urine was from the bums OUTSIDE.

  9. i quit coming up from S.J. to S.F. venues in general because of auto thefts, which is a S.F. problem. Inside PE was MUCH SAFER for a single woman to walk in than most of the streets in that area. As with the Armory uproar over Kink.com coming in, most of the complaints are *really* NOT about the business, but about the sex police and their preconceived notions and need to control other people.
    It takes a very special tolerance for a place like PE to exist, and with the current political and personal things going on since Powers ran for office, he might have to wait until a different Mayor is in charge before the club is not stonewalled. That’s too bad– P.E. is a unique and vital business very much needed by the vast majority of adults that enjoy public intimacies from either side of the roped off area.
    It’s also a HUGE tourist attraction that brings in dollars to the city for anyone in the kinky community who travels, including a great deal of money from the other 8 Bay Area Counties. i would hate to see it become a legend.

  10. It’s a neighborhood that (generally) has its share of crime and rather than admit that this is the type of neighborhood they have moved into (or that its turned into) its easier to blame it on the PE than to admit its the neighborhood they live in, not any one institution in the neighborhood. Not that it matters to them but most of them have never even been inside the PE. IF they did, they would see that people from the PE are not dropping condoms out of car windows because PE customers are INSIDE dropping condoms into trash cans or toilets. They are also not coming to the neighborhood to pee on anything or break windows on cars. What I WILL admit though is that the stereotype of what a sex club is and what its people are about DOES bring over some other types . For example…prostitutes not related to the PE will come and try to score on a guy who didn’t get action that night or who is coming to or leaving the PE unsatisfied. Why pay a $45 cover to *possibly* get action when they can get guaranteed action for $20? Or the guy who wants to go into PE but can’t afford the cover so they mill around the area looking for other stuff to do. Or maybe the neighborhood thieves who have realized that they can get away with vandalism and theft because the neighborhood is so quick to blame PE customers they will never get caught. Who knows. The PE needs to move to a place that is super industrial or super rural to get these types off their backs

  11. You know there is some obvious fluff about condoms being dropped out of car windows.If there is a sex club right there in front of you with beds,couches,chairs etc.,why would someone go to thier darn car to have sex? Duh? because it doesnt happen!!!I never smelled urine walking from my car to the club or saw any condoms on the ground.There are haters among us.There are people right next door to them having sex.Whats the difference if there is a building with people doing what they like to do behind closed doors? How do we know that the office people are not sneaking off to the janitors closet and having a sexual encounter with a co worker? Or a neighbor right next to one of the complainers is sleeping around with this persons spouse? I think I have made my point and just so you know there’s alot more than just sex going on in the Power Exchange.Alot of us just socialize and people watch.Maybe I’m just showing off my new outfit I bought and thats all,I dont want to be touched by anybody that night? Its just the stuffy people that have no life and nothing better to complain about at this time.I think a business like this actually protects the neighborhood it will be in by having people traffic and not a place for the bad ones to sneak around without being seen.
    This seems like an old witch hunt.No,I said hunt. 😉

  12. Deke,

    I hate to say this but your community has issues just where it’s located independent of the Power Exchange. At a certain point, you have to acknowledge that the homeless, the regular criminals, and the bleed over zombies from Market are there whether PE is there or not. It’s illustrative that you say as long as Powers shuttles people to the club it doesn’t matter where it is. Say that shuttle existed bringing patrons to 44 Gough and zombies that had nothing to do with PE urinated in your doorway…would you say PE’s a bad neighbor because you live in a crappy neighborhood. It’s a block from Market for Christsakes…I had my car window broken right in front of 44 Gough and was fortunate ( or unfortunate ) enough to see the guy on the bike riding by that did it. This type of crime is NOT PE specific but generally reflects this neighborhood. To say it’s suddenly Mayberry since PE left is nothing but a disingenous joke. As with many of the posters both here and on SF Gate, there’s much more agenda than direct experience with the club or seemingly it’s environs.

  13. Powers minimizes the issues that the PE brought to our community. It’s not just condoms being dropped out of windows of cars, it’s the breakins to vehicles (that have dropped since they left) and the prostitutes that are walking up and down the street, and the people urinating (and worse) on our doorways.
    While Powers claims that he had patrols taking car of this, if he did, they did very little to solve the problems his club was bringing to our community. Maybe if he did a better job of containing it, people would not have been up in arms about the reopening.
    Chris is right, it should be in an industrial area and we’ll all be happy. After all, if Powers truly plans on shuttling people to the club, it doesn’t matter where it is.

  14. I think that everyone agrees that the PE provides a service; the issue is where is the best place for that service to be provided. Probably the best place is in a warehouse district versus offices, schools and residential spaces.