For some, there’s more intrigue surrounding the International Mr Leather (IML) host hotel in Chicago than the competition itself. The entire hotel is converted into a pleasure dome, with all sorts of kinky happenings, over the course of the weekend.
The lobby becomes a buzzing, high-end leather bar, with the mild scent of rubber and rawhide lingering in the air. The ballrooms turn into dance parties, and the hallways are converted into cruising grounds. The whole building transforms into something resembling a bathhouse (but with nicer carpets and lighting).
I spent my first IML weekend last year exploring the sexual side of the host hotel. (Last year, IML was at the Marriott Downtown on the Magnificent Mile; this year, IML is at The Congress Plaza Hotel, which sold out months ago. Organizers are arranging for a secondary venue.)
Burly men in leather roamed the surrounding side streets of the Marriott, travelling hand-in-hand or in small groups with shopping bags. A large crowd of men gathered directly outside the hotel to smoke; most of them in chaps, harnesses and other types of kinky gear. From the afternoon to the early morning, this group would grow larger and larger, catching the attention of wide-eyed tourists and families.
On Friday and Saturday evenings, the lobby became the leather bar; the party would move upstairs to the ballrooms after 10pm. Last year’s parties included GearBlast, Onyx and the San Francisco Party, which was described as a “non-stop sleazefest.” I imagined it would be a full-on sex party with mass orgies, watersports and all sorts of scat play. But to my surprise, there was very little action.
I spoke to a Chicago couple and their boy who had been going to IML for the last 10 years. “There used to be a lot of public sex, but there hasn’t been anything like that in years,” one of them explained.
I did, at one of the parties, find a cluster of men on the dancefloor with their dicks out. They were receiving blowjobs, one after the other, from a hungry sub in a collar. They all seemed somewhat nervous — it reminded me of people trying to smoke a joint in a non-smoking section.
I found similar clusters of men in the hallways around the ballrooms, but witnessed only blowjobs and handjobs. This seemed to be the typical fare. I cruised the stairwells and washrooms thinking that I was sure to find more explicit action, but people were using these facilities for their intended use.
Despite the parties being tamer than expected, the crowd at IML was perhaps the friendliest I’d ever experienced. There were smiling men of all ages and races: some hardcore leather daddies, doms and slaves, and other casually dressed prep boys who were there simply because they live in Chicago and know that IML is a good party. Everybody I encountered was flirty, genuine and engaging. I was nervous about going alone, but I had no problem meeting people. I had great conversations about dom/sub relations, daddy dynamics and why wearing a collar to a leather event will ensure that nobody hits on you — my biggest mistake.
I decided to roam the hallways of the hotel as the Onyx party was wrapping up on Saturday. There were many dudes cruising the halls, waiting for the next sex party to sporadically erupt in one of the rooms. A room at the hotel costs much more than the typical bathhouse, but that was the biggest difference between the two. Rates started at $175 per night, with a three-night minimum stay for guest rooms and a four-night minimum for suites.
As I was cruising on the 14th floor, I ran into three young men from Chicago who weren’t into leather but were interested in finding some action. They let me tag along in the search, even though you’re warned not to roam the halls with more than one other person if you’re not staying at the hotel. We didn’t have any problems, though.
A guy in a jockstrap (who had a massive hard-on) told us about a party on the 20th floor in two adjoining rooms. By the time we arrived, the party had been broken up and the halls were filled with half-naked men wandering aimlessly. We decided to go floor-to-floor searching for the next party, and came across a row of hot, black men outside one room. There was a “men of colour” sex party inside, we were told. Getting in meant checking our clothes in a bag, but there was no alcohol, which deterred my cruising companions.
The key to finding these parties is communication and collaboration. If you see anybody in the halls or elevators, don’t be afraid to ask where the next party is happening. Chances are that if they’re also in the halls, then they’re in the know or they’ll simply join you in your search.
Over the course of the evening, we acquired and lost several cruising companions from all over North America. The social aspect became, dare I say, more enjoyable than the sex itself (though the sex was pretty interesting, being IML and all).
Though the events in the IML host hotel weren’t as sexual as I had envisioned, they were extremely friendly and humble affairs. It was less about the sex, and more about a celebration of sexuality, expressing and exploring kinks without any judgment or pretension whatsoever. Not to say that this isn’t a sexual event — there’s tons of sex happening over the course of the weekend.
Definitely come to the IML host hotel for the sex, but stay for the camaraderie!
The 37th IML will take place Friday, May 22 to Monday, May 25, 2015 in Chicago.