The Sexist

Steep Price: Gay Sex Club Closes After Fatal Injury

Sex Club
Throwing in the Towels: Men’s club death leaves city grasping for answers.

Early in the morning of Oct. 4, a member of a private Logan Circle “men’s social club” fell to his death. According to a D.C. police report, the 47-year-old man was discovered in the stairwell leading to the basement of 1618 14th St. NW, the victim of “blunt impact injury of head.” Police believe the man may have tumbled down the stairs; the organizer of the club told the Washington Blade that the man likely fell on a “cement floor,” where he “possibly hit his head on a metal pipe or a brick wall.”

The man’s injury was sustained during the regular activities of the club, which include nightly gay sex events called “Men’s Parties,” as well as meetings of the “Jack Off Enthusiasts of Washington and Baltimore.” The accident has drawn public scrutiny over the private meetings, as well as a defense: Following the death, the club’s organizer told police that his establishment provides “a safe place for gay men to have consensual sex.”

How does a club meant to provide a “safe place” end up hosting a member’s death? By working off a creative definition of “safe.”


At Men’s Parties, safety doesn’t mean ensuring that the apartment’s stairs, surfaces, and exposed metal pipes provide a secure sexual landscape for party attendees. It doesn’t even mean encouraging members to engage in protected sex. At 1618 14th St., “safe” means ensuring anonymous sex for a group of gay men sporting wedding rings, sensitive careers, or shame.

For a “men’s social club,” the regularly scheduled activities included little socializing. “There is very little to none, in terms of conversation,” says one visitor to the club, who says he has attended Men’s Parties over a dozen times in the past six years. “Everything is kept strictly anonymous. No one asks for phone numbers, and no one ever really leaves with someone else,” he says. “People come there, do their business, and leave.” The club reinforced the anonymity with a cover of darkness. “The steps leading down to the basement floor were very, very dark,” he says. “I think your eyes, under normal circumstances, could adjust. However, the place was still very dark and the steps were very steep.”

Unfortunately for Men’s Parties, police and city officials operate on a more traditional definition of “safety.” The man’s death marks the second major incident at the club to draw the scrutiny of the police, city officials, and neighbors. In 2005, a candle ignited a mattress in the building’s upper floor, causing $5,000 in damages and bringing fire officials inside the club. According to the Blade, the emergency response revealed an establishment with “exit signs, a reception desk, a row of gym lockers, and signs stating the hours the place was open”—but no certificate of occupancy or business licenses. In November of that year, five months following the fire, ads for the parties read: “We are expecting to move soon. Please call for more information.”

But the most heated safety concerns surrounding the Men’s Parties lie outside the scope of city regulation. According to the frequent visitor to the club, “The most dangerous condition there was the lack of condoms.…There are no bowls of condoms upstairs or downstairs, where most of the sex takes place,” he says. “To me, this was always a recipe for disaster.”

At first, Men’s Parties attempted to weather the unwelcome scrutiny of police, city officials, and neighbors. The evening following the death, the club had reopened for business. On Oct. 9, a regular half-page ad ran in the back pages of the Blade, inviting readers to come “socialize.” The same issue contained a news item on the man’s death. But within a week of the incident, the club had shuttered under the weight of exposure. The front gate, typically left ajar to signal that the party is on, had been locked. A message left on the advertised phone number now informs callers, “We are temporarily closed until further notice.”

blog_parties-1
A typical advertisement in the Washington Blade.

For years, the club had thrived under a thin cover: organized snacking. In an interview with NBC 4, self-identified “volunteer” Skip Miller described the activities of the club: “We have videos. We have sodas. We have snacks,” he said. In a Logan Circle ANC meeting addressing the death, 3rd District police Lieutenant Vanessa Moore said that the head of the club “does not take money per se. He does take donations for chips, dips, and soda. And we’ll leave it at that.”

Club memberships were easy to come by. All you had to do was show up at 1618 14th St. and provide a donation at the door. The club received plenty of donations in recent years, thanks to the shuttering of gay clubs displaced by Nationals Park. As the city’s above-board clubs struggled to secure properties and licenses in new neighborhoods, Men’s Parties reaped the benefits of their closures, under the table, courting business with ads that read: “The spirit of Southeast lives on.” That spirit included a little bit more than light snacking. “No one pays $12 to eat stale pretzels and off-label lemon lime soda,” the visitor says. “The snacks are placed in large communal bowls and grabbed by hands that have been up asses.” The club’s main activity required little overhead. “Many are having bareback sex, but some are only masturbating or receiving oral sex,” he says.

Twelve dollars may be a bit pricey for stale pretzels, but it’s a small price to pay for anonymity. And no one has benefited from the club’s secrecy more than its organizers. In a 2005 item on the fire, the Blade declined to print the organizer’s name because “he is not openly gay at his regular place of work.” The Oct. 4 death prompted the Blade to get a little bit more specific: “The organizer of the men’s parties…asked that he be identified only as David.” Even the run-down conditions of the club may have benefited the organizers. “A lot of people, gay and straight, don’t know the place exists,” says the partygoer. “Among those that do, there is such shame attached to go to the place—not because of the sex, but because it is so dirty, grimy, smelly—that most don’t talk about it openly.”

Records show that David J. Butler incorporated a domestic nonprofit called the “D.C. Wrestling Club” at his Foggy Bottom apartment in 1994. The club’s members were described as “sports enthusiasts, especially of collegiate wrestling.” Butler, 68, is listed as the club’s president, treasurer, and registered agent. The club’s secretary, Robert D. Meza, listed his residence as 1618 14th St. NW. For a time, the incorporation lent an air of legitimacy to party organizers and provided an easy explanation for donation cash flow. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has since revoked the Wrestling Club’s corporation status.

Butler did not return several messages left at the club’s advertised number, nor did he respond to a note left at his Foggy Bottom residence. Knocks at 1618 14th St. were unanswered.

If Men’s Parties remains closed, its clientele may be left without a place to meet up. Communication among this crowd of anonymous sex seekers, after all, has always been a bit awkward. Several years ago, a flier appeared in the neighborhood that read: “If you had sex with Skip at Men Party 1618 14th St You need to get tested HIV.”

hivwarning

UPDATE: District of Columbia files lawsuit against Men's Parties

D.C. Police Describe Men's Parties Location: Used Condoms, Glory Holes, and a Crucifix

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • C

    My guess that the definition of "safe" they are using is that patrons won't be robbed or stabbed like if they were trolling for outdoor sex. And people with enough self respect for themselves to insist on safe sex are unlikely to be found in this type of establishment.

  • James

    I see Club 2120 reopened just a couple of weeks ago, does it have the same amenities as before minus the porn for sale?

  • Cash Dollars

    The business license of Crew Club should be revoked.The city has turned a knowing blind eye to these joints for years. Men's Party and its sister ship, Crew Club, should be thoroughly "scrubbed". Both represent huge amounts of cash transactions that I'll bet don't pass muster as to taxes, etc.

    Crew Club operates unders a MOU with the Logan Circle neighborhood that it has flagrantly violated for years.
    I recommend that the Logan Circle ANC demand a full "accounting" of Crew Club and in the meantime the business license should be at least suspended. I for one am tired of closet cases from the 'burbs using my neighborhood as a toilet, gay or not.

    The "safe sex" gambit is a sham as well. That is the ruse Crew Club used to get opened - that and a careful manipulation of gay political sensibilities spearheaded by $teve Michael$. Jim "Taxi Cash" Graham was all over that as well.

  • KG

    Thanks for reporting on this. Good to see some real information. Besides from the fact that this just allows more people to be in the closet and continue secrecy (see the movie outrage), it's is deplorable to support unprotected sex in a city with a high rate of HIV infection. Good riddens! As a gay neighbor, I'm happy to see this place closed down. As long as the gay community can only be themselves in private, we will never achieve equality...

    I totally agree with cash dollars too. The worst is that it probably is the "burbs folks" that come in to the city. I often see VA plates on the cars that people get into and out of...

  • Rats

    Darn, Peter Rosenstein was planning a Clark Ray fundraiser there next month!

  • Willig

    OMG, gay men, having sex!!! Anonymous sex!! OMG. Won't someone think of the children??!!?!?!

    Bunch of puritanical prudes. People have sex. So, what is wrong with a place where they can go and have sex? Just because you wouldn't go is not enough of a reason to deny others from going.

    God, I can't wait to move back to Europe. Pathetic country.

  • SS

    It is interesting that the commenters are blaming these types of establishments for the high rate of HIV infection in the city when other cities (Philly, NY, Tampa, Chicago) have a greater number of these types of establishments and a lot lower HIV rate than DC has. They are right out in the open in the middle of the "gaybourhood"

    Gay guys are going to find a place for anonomous sex. Would you rather it be inside of a building like this where it is at least discrete or in the alley behind your house at 3:00 in the morning? The city needs to revamp its zoning code to license, tax, and regulate these types of establishments versus pushing this underground into unsafe locations. Maybe the guy who died here would still be alive if the city allowed legitimate bathouses to open?

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  • steve

    KG,

    You say, "I often see VA plates on the cars that people get into and out of…"

    How do you know that the cars at this establishment are from VA, unless you are a patron as well?

    Question goes to you, too, Cash Dollars - how do you know the customers of this establishment are from the burbs? Do you go there, and check out their license plates like KG? Probably......

  • kodiak

    bring back bath houses!!!! enough!!! closing them down has done little to combat aids, or other stds. at least bath houses had places to wash up-sex clubs are less hygenic overall, and, while there is nothing disgraceful about that, we should have a choice. i was at steamworks in chicago, what a beautiful place, great staff, well maintained, best clientele ever. here in ny, i don't go. tales of rude staff,poor facilities, and expensive, plus guiliani fear based sex codes. c'mon people, let's talk about sex!! yeah, you are gonna run into bare backers, turn away and get your rubbers on, if that's your thing. stop moralizing and get over your negative sex self! nothing wrong with sex, just what you bring to it!!!

  • Rick Mangus

    First I would like to say something to WILLIG that dumb ass from Europe, you came here for a reaason to our country so go back to that xena phobe continent you come from, we sure in the hell will not miss you.

    I am a gay man who has lived in DC for the past fifteen years, our so called gay paper (The Blade) if you noticed buried this story on page 39. Could it be because this unsafe and illegal sleaze hole bought a half page ad every week? With the highest rate of HIV in the US it time we as a community to be more responsible.
    And a few words to KODIAK, read the book 'And The Band Played On'.

  • Cash Dollars

    To Steve: No, I don't go there, I don't want to die drowning in a puddle of santorum. Call me old fashioned but I don't like squalid for sex, may have something to do with healthy self esteem. I know that most of the clientele are imports because having lived in the neighborhood for 20 years I have observed that it is not a Logan Circle or really urban type going in and out. This is the desperado crowd.

    To Rick Mangu: Right on about the Blade. Same reason they have buried the Jim Graham graft and corruption story, etc. City Paper has been excellent on this while The Blade has treated it as a non-event. I had some hope for the new regime at The Blade but their idea of honoring 40 years of Balde is apparently to go backwards. The editor lives in Baltimore for crying out loud.

  • Right On

    Great article. I hope it makes to print. And right on Rick Mangus and Cash Dollars -- you speak the truth!

  • UncleErnie

    This tragedy would not have happened if the city would allow legitimate bath houses to operate. There is nothing wrong or dirty about men meeting in a club to have sex anonymously with other consenting adults. Most bath houses in other cities are kept very clean, and also provide condoms and information on safer sex practices. I agree that this place was a disaster waiting to happen, but allowing licensed sex establishments to operate openly would be a step forward in preventing similar incidents.

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  • http://www.back2stonewall.com Wolf

    Well considering The District government sized by eminent domain the Area on SE O w/the Follies, DC Club and other places that were much safer and well maintained and even though they are legally obligated to help the businesses relocate if they seek assistance, whuch THEY DID, but DC HASN'T of course places like this are going to pop open.

    http://www.back2stonewall.com/?p=10098

  • Rick Mangus

    After reading some of these comments I have to say something. First Bob Siegel, NEVER gave back to the GLTB Community, not one dime! He made money and money from you guys, but that was about it, I know this for a fact! He is so dishonest that he lied on his business license application back when he tried to move to NE and was shut down by the city for it! I remember him cry about poor me and the poor gay men I can't exploite just to hold out for more cash. He got more than a generous price for his properties. So don't paint him as a saint. David Butler and Stephan Jaffe I sure did nothing for us either.

  • DC

    Let common sense prevail. Men are going to have anonymous sex with each other. I agree with the posts that argue for a safe, legitimate, legal place to do so. Maybe it would be better for such places to operate during certain hours, like 10 am to 9 or 10 pm. It seems that a lot of the bad behavior comes from people entering in an altered state. The 47 year old that died last week was apparently drunk. Sex clubs should exercise the right not to allow intoxicated patrons to enter. I think post #7 has the right idea. Without a legitimate place to go, men will find parking garages, alleys, etc. to engage in sex. A place with limited hours may not eliminate all such behavior, but I think it would do a lot to minimize it. I also believe the high incidence of HIV in DC has more to do with how men in this city view themselves as gay. Many men still want to ignore the fact they are and end up disliking themselves, engaging in risky behavior, and generally lacking in self esteem and confidence. Places where men have sex with men do not have to be the sleaze holes exemplified by 1618A.

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  • Neo

    i was there that night. this article pisses me off. it's so judgemental. who is she writing too. that guy, rest his soul, they needed to fix those stairs. i want to write a contration. i need to write an contration. because i was there. the condoms on the floor is a good thing. let's see her bedroom. let's see her tampons on the floor. i mean, come on. she didn't say anything about the dead guy. didn't mention his name. i swear, sometimes.

  • KG

    i know that it is people from VA because as i walk buy crew club i see people leave and get into their parked cars with VA plates. that's what made me make that comment. granted, i haven't inventoried everyone that has used crew club, but it was a general idea that i supported with some, granted limited, experience.

    those that comment about a legal place have a good argument. but the argument for this being closed down is a separate one. this place was shady by all stretches of the imagination. this places does nothing for the individual or the community. call me moralizing, i'm fine with that. i think it's disrespectful to oneself, and the community.

    i still don't see the argument for why this place should be allowed to operate illegally and unsafely. someone explain to me why it should?

    i mean, can't people just use manhunt or grindr? really...it's not hard (no pun intended)....

  • Blinches

    Don't hate the player. Hate the accident.

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  • Attendee, glad to NOT BE anylonger

    Let's just get one thing clear about attendees at "The Men's Parties"; nearly every gay that I've ever talked to at "legitimate" venues such as "Omega", "Appex", "JR's" and other such "social clubs" have ALL FREQUENTED or ATTENDED either "The Men's Parties", "Crew Club" or in its day "Follies".

    These places exist, and will continue to exist; closing one will only create another. Remember, the Men's Parties themselves began as a priate party which revolved from one private home to another each week, and thus could not be regulated by DC business regulations. Sex-party circuits exist now, and with the closure of the Men's Parties, will no doubt increase -- perhaps in your own condo building, or at your neighbor's townhouse. JUST THINK OF IT -- RIGHT NEXT DOOR AT ALL HOURS.

    Closing "The Men's Parties" is a good thing don't get me wrong -- I'm glad it's gone. Going there for "hook-ups" was, and is an addiction for many. Unfortunately I bet the DC and Park Police will now see an increase in those frequenting outside venues for their annonymous sexual encounters. AND an arrest for such activity on your record will affect your job, your prospects for landing a new job, and maybe your ability to keep custody of your kids (if you're going through a divorce).

    THERE IS HELP!!! Attend an SCA meeting; you'll be surprised how soon you don't miss venues like "The Men's Parties" or "Crew Club". . . AND oh by the way, try going home with someone rather than going to an annonymous setting. It's "old-school" I know, but guess what it's really quite nice waking up next to someone in the morning and getting to know him over a cup of coffee and scrambled eggs rather than having to "wash-up" your blackened feet after a "sticky" night at the former "Men's Parties".

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