Wicked Grounds suspended in limbo

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The Grounds' calendar of fetish-ful events

Coffee pots and spankings may soon cease to coexist at Wicked Grounds, San Francisco’s only kink café that announced plans to close last week due to crippling debt. Fans of the sexy space have since pleaded for a chance to help and offered up donations, but instead of accepting the cash with a hungry growl, owners have asked people to hold off and “think about it.”

No this isn’t a clever scheme to rake in even more moola with a big, slutty, pitty party -- owners and husband and wife duo Ryan Galiotto and Rose White want their customers to contemplate other causes that need a boost. This from the Wicked Grounds website:

Please consider what is going on in our community, our country, our world: Bay Area's Lyon Martin, who provide much needed health services to the queer community, is on the brink of closure; STI and HIV/Aids testing, prevention, and research is woefully underfunded; our community has yet to be awarded equal civil rights in so many areas; a series of natural disasters have made those that survived homeless and fighting for even the basics. Wicked Grounds might be an important part of our community, but so much money is needed in other places for even bare necessities.

Wicked Grounds isn’t quite refusing the money -- by no means do they want to lock the doors. “We just want people’s emotions to calm down so they can think about it,” Galiotto says, noting how much they appreciate the community’s show of love. “We’re just trying to be responsible.”

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Galiotto getting his hands dirty

The shop has only been open since September 2009 but its honesty and openness has harnessed a whole lot of friends and connected a community of kinks that otherwise may not have mingled, teased and whipped. Over half the evenings in each month are reserved for special munches, themed play parties, and gatherings that welcome both veterans and newbies.

“At first I thought we would just be popular with the leather family,” Galiotto remembers. But their Folsom Street neighbors weren’t the only people who started showing up. Now customers bring in "littles" color pictures to post on the back refrigerator, a submissive group meets to chat and trade secrets; "ponies" stampede around the tables. All kinds of other fetish fans and even your average vanilla folks come in for sober conversation and the beverage of choice -- coffee.

"When you come in here, you don’t have to worry about your neighboring table becoming upset over your topic of conversation. We’re not open for the 'general' public -- just the public.”

And the patrons aren’t the only people having a good time. Steam milk, pull shot, get spanked -- as witnessed on a Monday morning, baristas behind the counter at Wicked Grounds have lots of options for work-related benefits. Galiotto is even supportive of employee hook-ups. “Just sanitize as appropriate,” he laughs. “As long as everything is food safe. Like I always say, we’re all about team building.”

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Employees Xin Farrish and Zev Hoffman play at work

Manager Xin Farrish is broken-hearted about the possibility of closure and the elimination of a friendly third space for people to explore new ideas. Wicked Grounds has consistently been a space for education. Last week while Farrish was baking a batch of brownies she watched a visiting Norwegian couple get suspension bondage lessons. She casually comments that "it was cool."

Farrish hopes to pull together a bake sale and is still brainstorming with the other employees and Grounds lovers for fundraising ideas. 

“It’s more of a safe space than a business. We’re not a dungeon, not a shop and not just coffee. And without this space, there will be a big hole in San Francisco.”

Galiotto is now battling a stress-induced cold and coming up with the $100k to save the place seems impossible -- but so does the thought of saying goodbye. The money the couple put into the café could have bought a home and the means with which to start a family, but for him and Rose, a kink café seemed more important.  

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Galiotto taking a deserved break

“It would have been selfish for us to just build a cushy home. Yes, [Rose and I] could have made decisions that would have made our life easier,” he says with watery eyes. “But we built a home for a lot of other people.”

Galiotto and White will be making a decision on the future of their kinky love child by the end of the week. 

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