Just in time for the fetish fans who cavorted at the Folsom Street Fair last weekend, the Internet pornography company Kink.com on Sept. 18 opened the doors to its new Mission District bar, the Armory Club.
The Armory Club is a departure for Kink.com, a company that produces hard-core films aimed at fans of bondage, dominance and submission. But now the company, known for sites like “Men in Pain,” is moving from whip-wielding actors to bartenders whipping up innovative cocktails.
Christopher Gaw, director of art and construction at the Armory, designed the Armory Club interior. Far from being a dank dungeon, the space radiates warm earth tones. The bar surface is amber-colored onyx. Feather-patterned wallpaper and espresso-brown leather chairs add softness. In a back room, red walls surround an art deco-style fireplace, and the ceiling is stamped tin finished with a bronze patina.
Kink.com founder and Chief Executive Officer Peter Acworth described the décor as updated Victorian, but he declined to reveal the exact cost of the renovations.
Acworth said the design was inspired by the top floor of the San Francisco Armory, Kink.com’s fortress-like building on the corner of 14th and Mission streets, which once served as an armory for the National Guard and was purchased by Kink.com in 2006. “We have sort of a Victorian theme going on up [in the Armory], which was very popular,” Acworth said. “We wanted to start with that but make it feel a bit more modern at the same time.”
Artworks on the bar walls depict tamer versions of the film scenes created by the parent company across the street. One reason, Acworth said, was legal concerns related to Armory Club’s liquor license. Another reason was its appeal to a broader clientele. “I hope it will be popular and just seen as a friendly local watering hole, and it will be appealing to those people who are curious about kink, but don’t want to necessarily show up at an actual dungeon to see people naked, whipping each other.”
On the outside of the Armory Club, a red K with a spiked tail is the only sign of the bar’s kinky parent company. “We hope that people will recognize [the logo] and come in as a result,” Acworth said.
In a city saturated with trendy nightspots, Armory Club manager Kristopher Ramirez says, “The expectations here are very high for any type of bar business that opens.” There are a lot of places to get great drinks in the Mission, Ramirez says, but those places are often associated with restaurants. He sees an opportunity to serve high-quality beverages without patrons committing to a whole meal.
Right now the Armory Club offers a selection of beer and wine along with a menu of cocktails, some with fetish-themed names. “I just focused on doing less ingredients and going with bigger flavors, but trying to keep it balanced with acid and lightness and also some fresh juice,” Ramirez said. Most drinks on the menu have a bitter component, he added.
The drinks include ingredients from San Francisco farmers’ markets, and Ramirez hopes to add more exotic fruits, such as prickly pear and guava, from local Mission markets.
San Diego resident Anika Greene visited the Armory Club Saturday night before attending the Folsom Street Fair on Sunday. “The ambience was sophisticated and the crowd was new and a little curious about the type of people you find there,” she said. “I wouldn’t say it was big in the fetish scene, but the bartenders were incredible and the selection of liquor is quite nice.”
“I think it’s a complete 180 of what I thought of Kink.com,” said Mission resident Sohail Sajid. “The vibe, the setup, it’s just very well done. I’m still trying to figure it out.”
Pacific Heights resident Tim Kennedy agreed. “Somebody might come here and not know what to expect and they’re thinking porn, porn, porn. But when they walk in there, it’s an upper-scale place that’s tasteful. That’s kind of the dichotomy of why it’s cool.”
Still, for Kennedy, part of the Armory Club’s allure is its proximity to Kink.com’s studios. “Maybe we’ll rub elbows with porn stars,” he said, laughing. “It’s like being in the Marina, maybe you’ll run into [Giants’ pitcher] Brian Wilson…. It’s the same draw.”
Kink.com employees get a 30 percent discount at the Armory Club. Along with boosting employee morale, CEO Acworth said, “It’s a way for the general public to meet us and see that we’re quite normal people, actually.”