BDSM Club "The Facility" Now Open in South City

photo by Melissa Meinzer
Cages at The Facility
​If you were to visit one of the newest businesses licensed to operate in St. Louis, you wouldn't see people having sex. Not that.

But you might see a person getting florentined: They'd be cuffed standing, facing a wall, with a person behind them wielding a pair of multi-stranded leather implements called floggers hitting them -- hard, yes -- in a pattern of interlocking ellipses. It's possible you'd see a woman bound to a pillar in the middle of the room with Saran wrap, her every curve hugged close by the cling. You might see people taking turns shocking each other with an ultraviolet wand. And you might leave with bruises on your ass that take weeks to heal -- but not if you don't ask for them.

BDSM -- which stands for bondage, discipline, submission and dominance, also known as sadomasochism -- is nothing new to St. Louis. The city has a sizable population of BDSM enthusiasts: folks who practice consensual exchanges of power or pain, or other forms of extreme physical sensation.

The news here is that these kinksters are coming out of the shadows and into your neighborhood. And that's a good thing, proponents say -- for the community, for the economy and for society at large. After all, they're already in your neighborhood. They just want to be aboveboard about it.

There are at least four groups around the city, if not more, who routinely host play parties. The parties follow strict codes of behavior: There is no sex and no nudity. Party guests compare notes on bondage techniques, pleasure and pain, and they demonstrate what they've figured out. Participants show identification at the door, and parties require guests to be of-age -- 18 years old at some parties, 21 at others.

But despite the strict rules, such gatherings have long operated in a legal gray area. One group had operated in a residential home out near the airport, drawing participants via word-of-mouth and, a kink-oriented social networking site. Other groups rent out halls for their parties. Some parties are hosted in back rooms of established venues like bars. All of them operate at the risk of running afoul of city codes, in terms of safety and occupancy permits.

photo by Melissa Meinzer
Joe Kriegesmann: "Satan's Master"
​Joe Kriegesmann, also known as "Satan's Master," is tired of being in the shadows. After considerable work, he's opened The Facility, a legal, fully legitimate venue dedicated to BDSM educational workshops and gatherings off Gravois Avenue in St. Louis City. The unassuming and unheralded space is surrounded by empty buildings and lots, along with a few businesses, most of whom support his endeavors.

His business is operating as COTB LLC, which stands for Clan of The Barbarian, a decades-old national BDSM group dedicated to safety and standards in play. He's reviving the group after it had gone underground, and its new home is actually its second location in St. Louis.

Kriegesmann's previous landlord wasn't on board with the club seeking out proper inspections and permits, which led to a parting of ways this winter, he says. (The other landlord also never got around to turning the heat up very high, which put quite a damper on the corsets, miniskirts and shirtless leather vests favored by many guests.)

Kriegesmann is tired of the secrecy and misinformation surrounding the BDSM lifestyle, and has taken months untangling the decidedly unsexy red tape around getting a BDSM club to operate wholly within city codes. He estimates that in setting up the south-city location for fully legal educational workshops, he's been to city hall more than 30 times.

"We're not a sex club," Kriegesmann says. "We're a private educational business. We're trying to educate the community."

In order to open the space officially, he appears to have ferreted out all the legal loopholes and has closed them. He's got an up-to-date occupancy permit with a building inspection and a business license -- they're framed and hang proudly in his office.

Kara Bowlin, a spokeswoman for Mayor Francis Slay, says that to the best of her knowledge, Kriegesmann is now operating within the letter of the law. "As far as I know we haven't gotten any resident complaints about it," she says. (And, in fact, several neighboring businesses have given Kriegesmann "to whom it may concern" letters saying they're in support.)

The building is in the city's 20th ward, which is represented by Alderman Craig Schmid. Kriegesmann says that Schmid has been less than helpful in the process -- which he suspects is related to fear and mistrust toward the BDSM community.

But Schmid says kink has nothing to do with it: "I don't deal in speculation. The issue we always have to deal with is health, safety and welfare, how people are going to get in and out."

With the permits Kriegesmann has for the space, that shouldn't be a concern. The public areas are all on the first floor, which circumvents the need for elevators. The sprinkler systems are in good working order, and exits are clearly marked.

photo by Melissa Meinzer
One of the Facility's racks
​The building has themed rooms for different sorts of role-playing and kink: There are human-sized birdcages, racks for lashing wrists and ankles apart, and a "littles" room full of toys for folks who enjoy role-playing as children. There's also space for socialization and business, decorated with tasteful photography of pinup-styled women -- complete with bright-red ball-gags in their mouths.

But Kriegesmann wants it to make it clear that this isn't a sex club. There is no nudity, and no penetration of any sort. Sexy? Sure. But not sex.

That said, it's not a typical classroom. During workshops and social events, groups might bring in a DJ to spin some tunes. Social areas are comfortable and welcoming, and the lights might be just a little lower near, for instance, the rack.

Certainly participants aren't dressed for church. You might see a man in a dog collar with custom-made vinyl ears, or women with electrical tape covering their nipples. Surely you'll see a lot of leather and vertiginous stiletto heels. Most folks are fully dressed most of the time, though.

"It's not what you see in pornography," Kriegesmann says.

Or, for that matter, in a bar. Alcohol is not for sale, and visitors aren't welcome to bring it along to the Facility, despite its presence in other BDSM play venues around town. Not only does booze complicate the heck out of permitting, but, says Kriegesmann, it runs counter to long-accepted tenets of power and pain exchange: These acts might hurt like hell, but everyone is on the same page, and their consent is of the utmost importance. Alcohol clouds this.

"What we'd really like to do is start pushing our educational workshops so we can educate not just people in the lifestyle, but vanilla people as well," he says.

Just last weekend, for instance, The Facility hosted a workshop for Generation Kink. Scheduled for the evening were a BDSM Social Etiquette Class, an Intro to Dungeon Equipment demonstration and a Scene Negotiation discussion. One of the post-events comments on FetLife said "Thanks to everyone for making my guests (first timers to the scene entirely) feel welcome and at home."

And if that's not enough to make the Facility a good citizen, consider the private guard they hire to patrol the grounds at night, and the drug dealers and prostitutes Kriegesmann says he's scared off.

"This area is bad...maybe blighted," says Kriegesmann. "We've cleaned up a whole city block. What we're doing here is good for the neighborhood."

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