I arrived at Powerhouse on Folsom Street and Dore just after 11 on Saturday night. The front doors of the bar were painted with the leather flag: black, blue and white with a red heart in the top left-hand corner. I could hear the bass thumping inside, even from the street, with an underground electronic beat. I’d been looking for a decent dance club since I’d arrived in San Francisco a week ago.
I couldn’t bear another night at Badlands, a video dance club in the Castro. It was too young for my tastes and only played top 40. I wanted something harder. I’d read there was a dancing night at Powerhouse, despite it being an old leather bar, so I decided to check it out.
While in San Francisco, I’d spent most of my time at the Eagle in SOMA and 440 in the Castro, which was more of a bear bar. The crowds at both were perfect, but neither had a dance floor. I’d heard the Eagle has DJ nights, though this Saturday was a gay video game party. Of course there was the infamous End Up , but it’s more of an after-hours club that doesn’t get going until 2am (think the Comfort Zone in Toronto). It wasn’t not quite what I was looking for either.
I walked into a main bar of Powerhouse and found an assortment of men under its red lights: bears in clusters, punks in harnesses, topless hipsters with tattoos, and your traditional muscle boys. The music was electric, hard and hypnotic.
I grabbed a pint, and wandered towards the back of the bar, which was teeming with men. Up the stairs club lights were criss-crossed by cheap green lasers. A go-go bear in a jockstrap danced on a riser from within the crowd. It was a makeshift dance floor, so I pushed my way up there and found a spot next to a group of muscle bears. These guys were caricatures of what a muscle bear should be, larger than life: exaggerated muscle mass and perfectly distributed body hair . . . except for one. He was unassuming and seemingly unaware of his appeal. He danced with his fists in front of him, punching the air in unison with his eyes closed, like he was getting ready for a boxing match, already covered in sweat. I found his dance alluring.
Across the room, I spotted another guy: a hot daddy, sitting along the edge of the dance floor. He looked more like an actual father, wearing hiking boots, cargo pants and a Northface shirt. He finally stood up and tried to dance; there was a charm to his misstep as he too got lost in the bass. He danced like my dad, shifting and shuffling, but in the most endearing way. I tried to cruise him but he was far too involved with the sound.
There is something sexy about the way someone dances, or at least tries to dance. I’m turned on by those with more primitive and spontaneous moves, even if they might look silly at times. Being able to “let go” is pretty hot, and often equates to great sex.
The energy at Powerhouse is how I’d imagined the venue was back in the day. In the late ’70s, the place was called Bolt, which was also a leather bar and a part of the legendary “Miracle Mile.” In the late ’80s it became Powerhouse but changed owners until it re-opened under the current ownership in 1997.
Because the bar was so vintage, I’d wrongly assumed it had to be past its prime: musky, dank, with nobody inside. I was partially right — it was musky and dank, but with hip, hole-in-the-wall charm, which was validated by the incredible music and a crowd that actually liked to dance.
Whoever says dancing isn’t sexy is probably too uptight to enjoy it. Dance clubs are as important to leather culture as leather bars, sex clubs and street fairs. Whether it’s International Mr. Leather in Chicago, The Black Party in New York City or more recently, Brüt , leather, dancing and sexuality have always gone hand-in-hand.
I was disappointed to learn that Beatbox , the only real underground dance club in San Francisco with regular gay parties had closed . Gay dance floors in the city are few and far between, especially for the bear and leather scenes. But it’s still nice to see an effort is being made to keep the dance alive.