Where the Stabby Unicorns Roam

A Love Letter to SF’s Beloved Kinky Coffee Shop, Wicked Grounds

I tapped my foot on the ground, fidgeting nervously as I waited to order my coffee. The femdom munch was about to start. It would be my first kink event in my new city of San Francisco, at a place that I would come to know very well, Wicked Grounds. I nearly jumped when the barista greeted me to let me know it was my turn.

“Iced coffee please, and a pizza bagel,” I sputtered.

“What kind?”

“Ummm,” I stared up at the chalkboards, “Pepperoni.”

“Good choice.” It would turn out to be a very good choice, both the carbs and the munch, one I would revisit again and again for many years to come. Munches, or a gathering of kinky folk over food, provide a pressure-free space to meet new friends, and for the femdom munch in particular, to talk about the topics specific to our experiences, and like for me, to reconnect to an interest and kink orientation that is comparatively underrepresented in most D/s spaces.

It was my first night at what would come to be a perennial constant in my life, the femdom munch. Tables pushed together, a mixed crowd sitting with coffees and pizza bagels, aninfamous “Stabby Unicorn” milkshake, some poking away at their salads while we waited for it to begin.

It was the second ever munch of this kind, and the organizer had us begin, “We’ll start with what you like to be called, your username on Fet if you’d like to share it, and why you came tonight.”

One by one, the sizable group went around, sheepishly sharing, some of them stern, some with wry smiles, a variety of scene names, nicknames, real names. As different as we all were, the tone of the “why” we had come was oddly similar. A desire to enter the community, to explore this part of ourselves, to know more about what femdom is and whether it’s for us, and in my case, to reconnect to this part of myself that had for so long been a private shame, a private truth asleep inside me.

The unassuming facade of Wicked Grounds

Month after month we would return, from the time when the rain drove down outside that winter to the sweltering days with only the corner fan in the back room as respite, discussing topics that ranged from dealing with stereotypes of femdom to the way we personally view our relationship between kink and romantic love.

Kink and romantic love. How could I even start to, how could I ever have written about these things at all if not for Wicked Grounds. It was the site of so many beginnings and endings, as coffee shops are for so many in kink communities all over the world.

Coffee and kink go together in a way that I think becomes impossible to ignore if you date in the scene. Though some first dates involve cocktails, or even dinner, there’s something about the freedom from the influence of alcohol and the just-long-enough commitment of a coffee that seems to have become the perfect context for connecting about this licentious and often wonderful hobby we call kink. Walk through Wicked Grounds at any time, and you’ll often see this ritual in play, two or more people discussing the parameters of what kind of engagement they’re looking for, what they’d like to try, and what their kinks mean to them.

“I worry that I’m not doing this right, or that I don’t live up to their expectations,” said one domme, a common refrain so echoed by most in the room.

“I know when we’re the top we feel like we have to take care of people, but it’s on the sub to also communicate. You’re not a mindreader.”

Nods go around the circle, between long sips of coffee, and the comical slurp of the end of a milkshake. How could you ever talk to your vanilla friends about these details of dating? Of wondering how many times to play together in private before it’s acceptable to go to a party? How to deal with dating someone new to kink without overwhelming them, or more precarious: how to pursue exploration of femdom while having a completely uninvolved vanilla partner?

We certainly weren’t experts, but we provided if nothing else, friendly faces to seek out at parties, to make introductions or ask for help. My heart smiled every time I would find a new person who had so recently joined us for the munch now in the cafe in one of the front tables with a new compatriot, clearly negotiating a potential scene or other activity together.

A warm and welcoming afternoon in the cafe. Photo: Carly Lave/Hoodline

And I was one such friend to many too, as Wicked Grounds had been the scene of many of my own coffee dates, for negotiation, for first, second, third, and so many more, for meeting old friends and new. And so WG became a fixture in so many phases of my life, sticky days with only a fan, baristas good-naturedly slinging frosty milkshakes in tank tops and suspenders. In the time since I moved to San Francisco, in the din of the tamping of the espresso to the sound of the grinder, the latte steamer and the barista’s calls of “GRILLED CHEESE WITH SALAD” I somehow grew up in to a real adult.

It was where the tight group of femdoms that made for my closest friends would meet before munches to catch up, plan our dinners with partners, outings, sleepovers before our lives pulled us in separate directions.

Where we planned our first femdom youth event, a feat that took so much worthwhile energy, good humor, and tolerance of chaos.

Where I took my oldest friends visiting San Francisco, a place where they could look around the cozy cafe and its posters, lascivious art, wall of gear and books for sale, and understand how it is that here in this seemingly impossibly expensive city, found my own slice of paradise.

My favorite Folsom, when the VIP lounge, a borrowed space in the upper floor of the motorcycle shop next door was cool and bright and filled with my friends.

I went from a nervous woman picking pills off my sweater while trying to compose what I would say to this group of femdom women who surely know more than me, to a confident woman with one leg crossed over the other as I sat watching my friend haul her boyfriend up on the frame erected in the VIP lounge. I feel that day of self-acceptance in my heart so clearly, had my hand on a leash, a cold dry cucumber soda in my hand, and the world’s biggest smile on my face.

Wares for Sale

The ability to turn kink from bedroom romp to lifestyle enhancement is a far jump for many. We struggle all the time with deciding for each of ourselves how much time and space this thing we enjoy will take up in our “real lives.” But I had come to find that the more space I had allowed it to take up, the more I chose to live every day with my kink life as intertwined with my “real life,” the ability to date whom I wanted, be friends with people with whom I could be wholly honest, to have even the cafe where I regularly spent my work days be one with a leather flag on the wall… the better my life became.

The more time I spent being who I was in places I could practice being my kink self out loud, the closer to I got to becoming the kind of person I wanted to be.

It is safe to say that Wicked Grounds is one such place, and I worry now that it won’t be available for others to do the same if we don’t rally to keep it here. Fighting back against rising rents, cost of living increases for its team and clientele, and a rapidly changing dynamic in San Francisco was far from easy. I have a deep and loving admiration for the work that it takes to keep this little kinky cafe afloat, for the agony of the choice to have to possibly close it down.

I think it’s easy to see in full context why the closing of the US’s only kink cafe would have been so deeply affecting. Many other coffee shops, bars, and community centers hold this same kind of dual purpose. But only Wicked Grounds is as far as I am able to find, the only coffee shop that is specifically for and about its city’s local kink community.

Munch Sampler

And it’s not hard to see why this matters. Wicked Grounds is home to dozens of munches every month, countless more events, a small shop where artisans and authors can consign their wares, the most entertaining billboard in San Francisco, it still serves more than anything as a community center. There is even a little corner where you could get a cup of coffee for nothing if you were having a hard time.

But it is this dual role, as business and community resource, that makes it hard for spaces like Wicked Grounds to live. As of this writing, it will take continuance of all existing monthly Patreon contributions to close the gap left by the difficulty of maintaining a cash-positive business in San Francisco real estate. The gap that’s harder to close in my own opinion, is the one of our kink community recognizing that this vibrant space and scene that lets us find ourselves is not free.

People must be paid for their labor, and too many times I watched too many people decline to patronize the cafe during munches. I know not everyone seeking to connect with a kink community can afford to compensate a venue by purchasing something, but too many that could did not. As a group it was and remains our responsibility to invest in a place so central to all of our lives, and as a group we failed. But we still have time to make it right.

As when something goes wrong in our kink lives, community loss (and even threat of potential loss) too requires a special amount of aftercare. I hope that in looking back we can be kinder to those who put so much on the line to keep San Francisco a kink capital that lives up to its reputation. I hope that we can be kinder to those who need a space where they feel comfortable, even when they may not feel safe in a dungeon, to put on femme clothes in a public space, to dress up for fun and desire to be looked at without feeling threatened. I hope we can be kinder to those for whom Wicked Grounds is simply a place where they can look and be as they are, and feel safe holding someone’s hand.

I hope we can be kinder to ourselves, to the belief that our individual actions and patronage matter in our constant struggle to keep our community whole. I hope that you’ll join the Wicked Grounds Patreon as I have, or purchase something from their online boutique, and know that whenever you’re next in SF, a comfortable seat and a milkshake will be waiting for you too.

We love you too. Photo: Brittany Hopkins/Hoodline

Join the WG Patreon at the link below:

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