San Francisco’s only cafe and education space serving the kink community has shuttered its brick-and-mortar space to become an online-only, Patreon-supported enterprise.
A well-known LGBTQ-owned business in the city’s historically queer western SoMa neighborhood, Wicked Grounds is inside the footprint of the LEATHER and LGBTQ+ Cultural District and just outside the perimeter of the annual Folsom Street Fair.
Its mission of “Kink Education. Everywhere” has been a linchpin of the local revival of fetish culture, and for more than a decade, Wicked Grounds had been a place for LGBTQ+ to gather, drink lattes, host discussion groups and play board games—like many cafes, only with a slightly greater likelihood that some patrons might be wearing leather puppy masks.
Over the years, it expanded to include sexual workshops in its upstairs space and online, and its booth was a regular presence at street fairs. The announcement of its closure came quietly last week, just as the city was gearing up to celebrate Pride Weekend.
“This is not the end. It is just a moment of transition,” a sign posted on the window said. “We will continue to teach locally and on the road, and to bring kink education to local organizations and events.”
Owner Mir Bilodeau told The Standard that Wicked Grounds had nine events scheduled for the coming week alone, and it was simply time to adapt.
“We are transforming so that we can become what we really are,” they said. “There are a lot of places in the world to get coffee, but we are leaders in BDSM education—not just in San Francisco, but worldwide now.”
Still, the loss of a physical space that has hosted memorials and been the site of marriage proposals is significant for SoMa. In spite of its thriving bars, large-scale festivals and historic preservation efforts, the neighborhood has seen a steady loss of LGBTQ-owned businesses.
Across SoMa, business closures have accelerated recently, from Whole Foods on Market Street to the Mexican-Chinese restaurant HRD, which wound down operations after seven decades on Third Street.
With more than 900 Patreon sponsors, Bilodeau hopes its network of support may be enough to sustain the business’s next incarnation. Previously, Wicked Grounds had made fundraising appeals to the Bay Area’s LGBTQ+ community, in hopes to keep the cafe open.
This time is different, partly because SoMa has seen less foot traffic and Wicked Grounds’ core supporters are so geographically diffuse.
“Our main job is to be kink concierges,” Bilodeau said. “Selling coffee was a means to that end.”
Astrid Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org