NINE: THE HISTORY OF CLUB M4

We will be celebrating our 9th Anniversary at Club M4 on Saturday Night (June 10th) and they have been 9 wonderful and interesting years. As I reminisce, I thought I would write down some of the history of the club, our trials, tribulations, the lengthy process we went through to get open and some of the reasons that we have evolved in the way that we have. I hope you enjoy reading it and enjoy the club.  It is our baby and was created with hard work, heartache and love!

It was late May 2008, about two weeks before we were to open and I had a call from Mike, my contractor: “You’re not going to believe this but there are about 500 people outside the club on  Lakeshore Blvd. protesting!”

Protesting what? I said. I could hear Mike open the door to the street and the crowd noise came through the phone.  “Us” he said. That was the first shot in what was to become a very public and controversial opening to our business.

A year and a half earlier Jen and I had started to consider getting into the Lifestyle business. We had been approached by Schlomo and Aurora of Club Wicked to finance their move from Church and Richmond to Queen West.

Almost everyone I know who is in the lifestyle at some point wants to own their own club. It is sort of like a person who eats out all the time wanting to own their own restaurant. I was no different. When they approached us about being partners we were very intrigued. I’d done some parties in Tampa and knew a little about the business side of it. At that point Jen and I had been together about 3 years. It was a long distance relationship. I was still in Tampa and she in Toronto. One or both of us traveled every other weekend. I knew that if we were going to continue as a couple that I would have to commit to Toronto and I knew that if I came up here with nothing to do, it would not be healthy for either of us. So the idea of becoming partners in Wicked really was interesting for a couple of reasons.

The other factor was the Supreme Court decision in late 2005. I did not want to put a lot of money into a club only to have it shut down before it opened. The decision legalizing swinging seemed to take that risk off the table (I would soon be proven wrong on that front!).
Schlomo and Aurora presented us with an intricate plan detailing the build out and marketing of the proposed new club. It featured elaborate leasehold improvements including Roman Baths and a fine dining restaurant. I however, was more interested in their website: Fling InThe City. When I asked him about the site, he said they were getting a million hits a month. “What are you doing with all that traffic?”
“Nothing” he said.
It gave me pause. I had felt for a long time that the Internet was the key to a successful club. When Jen and I first started dating I took her to Miami Velvet. I had been a member there for seven years but coming in with Jen I needed a new membership card. My new member number was something like 30,000. I thought that in 7 years as a member, I had never gotten anything more out of Velvet than an occasional email about upcoming events.

Why not create a site that is not only informational but provides a meeting ground for people to chat, become friends and eventually meet up at the club? The Menage site is a direct result of the light going off in my head. It is one of the smarter things I have done.

NEXT: We decide not to be partners in Wicked and begin searching for our own location.

Saying No to Wicked:

I’m not quite sure why I backed out of the Wicked deal. I had pen in hand and was ready to write the cheque. It was January 2006 and I was scheduled to leave for China the next day. I thought, “I’ll review the material one more time on the plane and if it still seems right, I will wire the money from Beijing.”

Sitting next to me on the plane was a Chinese business man. I wondered what he thought as I flipped through the business plan Schlomo and Aurora had given me. It was filled with pictures of naked men and women in various forms of entanglement and chapter headings in big black lettering screamed out, “SEX ROOM or GLORY HOLE”. But my seatmate didn’t blink an eye. In fact in our 15 hours together he neither looked nor spoke to me. I don’t think he was a swinger.

When I landed halfway around the world, I knew this was a deal I wasn’t going to do. Wicked was Schlomo and Aurora’s baby. It was designed in their image and what they wanted a club to be. I would just be an investor and I wanted more than that. I have owned a lot of businesses and pioneered a few minor industries. But none of them gave me a chance to express myself in the way the club did. If I was going to take the financial and personal risk of being involved in a Sex Club, I wanted it to represent my values.

I had a couple of practical priorities:  first I wanted to cater to on-premise swingers.  We were on- premise swingers and thought that the future was in providing a clean and comfortable environment for people to play on site.  Second we wanted to be open as many nights a week as possible. For those of you who were around seven years ago those were pretty radical ideas; off- premise dominated and clubs were mostly a one night a week experience. One club owner in explaining to me why he would never go on-premise said, “On-premise is dirty and disgusting”. He now proudly touts his on-premise lounge. Another owner said, “Toronto swingers are too ugly and fat to get naked and take showers in front of other people. You won’t last 3 months.” (ughh… that those were his exact words…). At a party I told someone who was pretty heavily into the scene that we planned on being open 3 nights a week and eventually hoped to go to 7 nights. He said, “You’re a fool. Toronto can’t support the clubs it has one night a week. Your club will die an inglorious death.”

I guess they were wrong….

My vision for the club included a few other things: I wanted the club to be affordable.  I didn’t want members to have to check their bank balance or credit limits before coming out.

But more than anything I saw the club as a place where almost everyone would feel at home. I wanted the club to be a place where a wide swath of people with varying sexual interests and play levels could come and be comfortable.  There would be no velvet rope policy at M4, and you would be welcome regardless of your age, your weight, how much you made, what your sexual preferences were or what swing level you were at. Our motto was going to be (and continues to be) “While we are not the place for everyone, EVERYONE is welcome.”

Shlomo and Aurora opened later that year, on West Queen without us and they went on to be successful for many years.  Do I have any regrets about Wicked?  Never.  I am happy for them that they did so well but I am very proud of what we have created.

Next:  We find our own location and discover how difficult it is to do business in Toronto.

Toronto Proves a Difficult Place in Which to do Business:

We applied for our Liquor License in May of 2007.  The city had been slow walking it for seven months but the low point came in December:

It was Christmas Eve 2007. I get a call from Jen. “Zoning has denied our application”! What???? How can that be? Jen reads me the letter: Pursuant to Section 458 of the Bylaws of the City of Etobicoke you are hereby informed that you are not in compliance with section A-5. Therefore your application is denied.

Fuck! At this point I have invested about $100,000 and am personally guaranteed for another $300,000 of lease payments. It was shaping up as a bad Christmas. “Give me their number” I say to Jen. I am going to call them right now. Of course they were gone and the message on the machine said they would not be back until after the New Year. It was going to be a long two weeks….

From Christmas to New Year’s I did my research. Our application was not out of compliance with the code. In fact the section which we had been told we were in violation had nothing whatsoever to do with our business. When I first began the application process back in May 07 I made the decision that I was going to be completely upfront with Licensing, Zoning and the AGCO. No tricks or slight-of hand, I was going to tell them in graphic detail what our business was and how we planned to operate. I did not want someone coming back 6 months after we opened and closing us down because we were not completely truthful on the application. I knew this could slow our application down, but I felt better dealing with the problems sooner rather than later.

On January 3, 2008 I began speed dialing Zoning. Finally I got through to the person who wrote the letter. “Can you explain to me why our licensing application has been denied”? Yes, she said. You are not in compliance with the code.”

“Ok”, I said. “Can you read to me the section that says that?”

She pauses and says, “Well, not off the top of my head. I will have to go find it.”
“I’ll wait”

She puts me on hold and is gone for about 10 minutes. “I couldn’t find it, but I know it’s correct. Mrs. “X” actually wrote this up and she handles all the zoning applications”.
“Ok, go find Mrs. X and then come back and read it to me. I have all morning.”

This time I am on hold for about 20 minutes. She comes back on the line. “I checked with Mrs. X and she apparently made a mistake.” And then she says very softly, “I am very sorry about this. If you come in today at 1pm I will expedite your application. Don’t ever repeat this, but there are a lot of people over here who don’t want your business to open….”

It took us another 4 months of continual battles to finally get all of our approvals. We were extremely fortunate that one city employee stepped in and moved our application over the finish line. Without his help we might never have opened. At the end of April we were finally awarded our Liquor License, 11 and 1/2 months after we had started.

Now all we had to do was build the club, advertise and open up…..all in six weeks! Yikes!

Next: We open and the City comes after us with Guns Blazing.

Grand Opening Night:

We open at 8pm. By 9pm the front bar was full and people were lined up on the steps all the way out to the street. We were serving a full dinner and by 9:30 we were completely out of food. “Bring more food” I heard the chef yell into his cell phone over and over again that night.
Ok…I admit it seven years later….we were clueless. Jen has a degree in Computer Science. I am an English Lit major. What made us think we could run a swingers club? The first night was such a disaster. The air conditioning proved totally incapable of handling the number of people. The DJ sucked (House music all night long!), the lines at the bar were 4 deep and our carefully constructed check-in/tour procedure crashed immediately under the weight of too many people. People couldn’t find the place and I finally settle on this for directions: “keep driving down Lakeshore until you see a bunch of half-naked people standing in front of a door way. That’s us!”

When we conceived the club we had a real vision of what we wanted it to be. That vision smacked into the reality of what it took to run a club. We had thought we were in the swinging business…we weren’t. We were in the bar business, the food service industry, the Internet business, the DJ business, promotions, party planning, part-time employees, customer relations and clean up. And, although we didn’t know it yet, in ten days’ time we would be in the legal business fighting to survive.

Our challenge was going to be to run a successful business that neither of us had any real training for, and at the same time mold the club into an expression of our philosophy of what the lifestyle should be. I know that we haven’t always been perfect and have made many mistakes, but in a lot of ways I think we have been successful in making the club special and unique. I am really proud of it.

The saving grace of that first night is how many people went to the back to play. There were piles everywhere. It may have been too hot, too noisy and the music sucked…but people still had a great time. We left that first evening at about 6:30 am. The sun was coming up and it was a beautiful Sunday morning. Little did we know there was a storm approaching.

Side Note: At about 1am a young man came to the back bar in a towel. I was behind the bar because our bartender was outside smoking. “What will it be?” I asked hoping it was going to be something simple. “10 waters,” he said. “What!” “That’s right, he said, we have about 10 couples in the first room and it’s pretty hot in there. They sent me out for water.” I am pretty sure that I gave him the “10 water bottle discount”. It was the first and only bar sale I have ever made and it turned out that my customer was Matt, who is now and has been for the last 7 1/2 years, my business partner.

And as I saw Matt walk away clutching 10 water bottles I shouted out. “Welcome to M4!” I think I heard him grunt as he disappeared around the corner.

Next: The City tries to shut us down:

It was Monday morning. We had gotten through our Grand Opening and had two pretty successful weekends in a row. I was sleeping unusually late for me (10am) when I got up to check my phone. Besides all the missed calls there were several text messages, “Turn on the News!!!”

And when I did, Mark Grimes and M4 were the lead story. Talking to the media
about M4 Mr. Grimes said:

“My residents are going wild,” Grimes told reporters. “And I don’t blame them. They have every right to be upset.
“You’ve got kids walking to school, kids walking to daycare, it’s on a main street – it’s just something you don’t want happening here.”

That afternoon Mr. Grimes was able to convince the Toronto City Council to pass a resolution directing the agencies of the City to look for ways to close us down.  It passed by a vote of 33-2.  Here is what the Toronto City Council approved:
BAN SOUGHT FOR TWO SWINGERS CLUBS; Toronto Star June 25, 2008

PROPOSED MOTION TORONTO CITY COUNCIL:
(passed June 23, 2008 33-2)

  1. That the City Manager in consultation with the Chief of Police, City Planning, Toronto Buildings, Public Health, Fire Services and Municipal Licensing and Standards act on the mechanisms available to stop the establishment of entertainment facilities and private clubs whose main focus of business is operating a “swingers club.”
  1. That the City Manager in consultation with the Chief of Police, City Planning, Toronto Buildings, Public Health, Fire Services and Municipal Licensing and Standards act on the mechanisms available to stop the re-issuing of licenses to adult entertainment parlours that have not operated specifically as such on a continual basis.

Wow…..Welcome to Toronto!

For the next several days we were the biggest story in Canada. We were on the front page and the evening news. Every paper and politician had to weigh in and say how disgusting and dirty swingers were and how a club would drive crime and prostitution in whatever neighborhood they were located.

For the first day or so I was really taken aback. We had done everything by the book. We hadn’t tried to deceive anyone, we had been up-front from the very beginning about who we were and what we intended to do. I spent thousands of dollars having our lawyers argue our cause in front of zoning, licensing, planning and the AGCO. Why were they doing this?

By the beginning of the second day though I was pissed. Fuck it! We are not doing anything wrong. What we are doing is totally legal. If they had not wanted us here, they could have denied our licenses. So I went on TV. I allowed myself to be interviewed in the press. I wrote editorials to all the major papers. I consulted with my lawyers. From a legal standpoint the City and Mark Grimes really had nothing to go on. We were a legal business in compliance with all the regulations necessary to operate our business. Moreover, the Canadian Supreme Court had addressed the issue of the legality of swinging in a commercial setting and that was something that could not be ignored.

But what they could do was harass us and that is what they did.

Next:  Police raids, harassment and light at the end of the tunnel:

Maybe I was naive but I was surprised that the city would harass a legal and licensed business….but that is what they did. That first Saturday after the Council vote a Police Cruiser pulled up in front of the club at about 9pm. It sat there for two hours with its lights going. Maybe they were just enjoying Pizza Pizza….but I don’t think so. I remember sitting outside on the sidewalk and watching car after car pull up to the club, see the police lights, and drive away. The week before we had about 150 people. The first “Mark Grimes” Saturday we had 17.

For the next four months we were subjected to continual “inspections” from the police, AGCO, Health and Licensing. Often they would all come in together, 6 or 7 officers at a time. To their credit, they were never rude to us. They were often apologetic and we got to know some of them quite well. They were taking a lot of heat from the higher ups.

It came to a head in early November on a Friday night. It was our very first YSS event. We probably had 15 people in the club. I was at the front door. A man and woman entered.  They asked questions about the club, wanted to see a membership form, and inquired about what went on inside the club.  I answered all their questions and they told me they wanted to go outside and discuss it before coming in.  A few minutes later I saw the top door open and the two of them come walking down the steps.  They were followed by a large group of people. Hmmm I thought, maybe this will be a good night!   When the couple opened the door they had badges out and open.  “Police!” they shouted and they and the 20 or so people behind them were all part of a “raid”. There were cops; uniformed, plainclothes and detectives as well as health and licensing inspectors. Some of the cops were in riot gear! There were more than 20 people. They spent 45 minutes going over every inch of the club. Finally I said I needed to talk to whomever was in charge. I think he was a Captain.  I said, “Can you tell me what you are doing? There is nothing illegal going on here.” What he said surprised me.
“You know what, you are right. This is a colossal waste of Police resources and taxpayer money. I am tired of having our Detectives get pushed around by politicians who just want to get their name in the paper. You have my word that from now on the only inspections you get are going to be ones that are regularly scheduled. You will never see me again here.”

And he was absolutely true to his word. We still get inspected by the AGCO on a regular basis, but it is no more or no less than any other Licensee. In seven years we have been a model citizen and a great addition to the neighborhood!  The neighborhood which Mark Grimes represents!

Next: We Struggle but adapt to a changing market.

Addendum to the Mark Grimes story:

Just a side note to the Mark Grimes story. About 8 months after all this had happened, Jen and I were at the Grille. It was late, 3 or 4 in the morning. We saw Mark Grimes and a few of his buddies come into the restaurant. Not knowing who we were and probably thinking we were likely voters he came by our table to shake hands with us before going to his seat. Jen had a camera phone and we discussed whether she should go over and flash him or better yet, sit down and start making out with him. We thought it would be a great picture and caption to send to the Toronto Star:

“Councilman makes out with Swing Club Owner!”

But in the end we decided it wouldn’t be a very nice thing to do to Mr. Grimes or his family so we quietly finished our breakfast, with the Councilman not knowing how close he had come to being very embarrassed!

 A Day in the Life:

Almost everyone I know in the lifestyle has at some point expressed an interest in owning their own club. It is not easy and certainly not glamorous.  I thought you might enjoy seeing what a typical day at the club looks like.  I’ve written it in the first person because a few years ago it was mostly me doing the work.  Now it is Matt and he does a much better job than I ever did.  Here goes:

On the weekends the club closes at 3am and by the time we settle the cash drawers, sheet the beds and prepare the club for the cleaners it’s close to 4am.  There aren’t many places to eat at that hour; either Chinese downtown or The Grille on Queensway.  The Grille is closer so we ended up there more often than not.  Most of us haven’t eaten since a late lunch and we are starved.  Three cups of coffee and a greasy breakfast later I’m headed home as the sun is starting to peak through the clouds.  I’m not much of a sleeper and with several hours work ahead of me and the light coming in through the curtains I’m usually up early and out the door by 9:45am.

The LCBO and Beer store open at 10 and I want to be there early to avoid all the people bringing back empties on the weekends.  A typical buy on a Saturday morning is about 12-14 cases of beer and about 800-1000 dollars’ worth of liquor from the LCBO.  I’ve experimented with making large orders during the week to avoid needing to buy on Saturday but it never works out.  No matter how much you buy you always need something.  Over a long period of time people drink to a pattern.  But on a specific night you will run low on certain items. You might have a group drinking exclusively Orange Coolers or Johnny Walker Black or Stella, items that we don’t stock in quantity, and then those need to be replenished.  I’ve also found that spot buying gives me a much better sense of what our customers are drinking.  It is one thing to look at a spread sheet and see that you are selling 5 bottles of Grey Goose per week.  It is another to pick them off the shelves and put them into your cart.

My trunk and back seat are now completely full of beer and alcohol.  I pull up to the club and cross my fingers that the space by our front door is open.  If not, I have to park further away and each step when you are carrying 18-20 cases is more work.  In the summer it’s not so bad unloading but in the winter when I have to step though snow and ice it’s a daunting task.

In my next life I’m going to rent a space which is at street level.  Being 15 steps down is great for discretion but terrible when you are carrying two cases of Canadian. I’m pretty careful and in seven years have yet to fall but I always tell Matt that one day he is going to come by the club and see me splayed out on the floor surrounded by broken beer bottles.

After bringing down all the alcohol and putting the beer in the refrigerators it’s time to settle out last night’s business.  It might seem like a relatively easy task but it is not and always takes me at least an hour.  We have three cash drawers as well as coat check and the door that need to be counted and settled.  All the drawers were counted the night before but what you count at 4am and what is actually in the drawer in the light of day are often different.  If all I was doing was making deposits I’d use the bank machine but because we go through a ton of change every weekend night I have to physically get in line at the Bank in order to make change.

This is easily my least favorite task in the morning.  If I arrive and there is no line I feel like I have hit the lottery.  But too often the lines are long and the bank understaffed.  Thirty minutes is my average time at the bank and by the time I leave I am always grumpy and my back is killing me.

Back at the club the cleaners are getting the club ready.  In the early days I did the cleaning as well which for one person is a monumental task. People don’t realize how big the club is and how much work goes into getting it ready for the evening.  Think about a party at your house for 250 guests and how much work that is.  We go through at least 1000 towels every week and have 4-6 sets of sheets for every bed and on a busy night almost all of them get used.  We have a service that does our towels but washing 100-150 sheets on Saturday morning takes time and effort.

The club now opens every weekend at 3pm so I really have to hustle to make sure everything is in place.  The cleaners are just finishing, Gord will be there at 2:30 to open and I’m off to lunch and then a quick nap.  At 8pm I’m back and the day begins again….

We Experiment with Bi Nights:

I was sitting in a Starbucks in Tampa 9 or 10 years ago when I noticed a friend of mine from the Lifestyle. He had recently broken up with his long-term girlfriend and was now listing himself as a single on all of the Florida Swinger Sites. Interestingly though, he now publicly identified himself as bisexual. Nine years ago in Tampa that was a pretty daring move. At that point I’d been in the lifestyle for 7 or 8 years and knew how tough it could be as a newly single guy. The friends you once had as a couple disappear. New friends and playmates are much harder to find. Listing yourself as Bi had to be the social kiss of death.

“So, are you meeting people on any of the sites?” I said, expecting him to tell me how difficult it was. “You know what Rich, I can’t keep up with the number of people who are contacting me. I’m getting 10-15 emails a day.”
“What!” I said, “That can’t be right. Who’s emailing you?”
“Mostly it is coming from couples, but it is the guy of the couples. They want to meet me alone without the wife knowing. And I am getting a lot of emails from single girls. There are so many girls who want to see two guys together. It’s amazing.”

I was flabbergasted. This was a pretty upfront guy who I knew would not bullshit me. It was a conversation that stuck in my mind for several years.

When we opened the club I wanted to eventually be open 7 nights a week. None of the clubs in Toronto were open nights other than Friday and Saturday and for most of them their Fridays seemed to be just going through the motions. But I felt that in order to be open more nights, you had to reach out to a wider demographic than just the weekend swingers. In January of 2009 I thought back on my conversation of several years earlier. Without telling anyone else, I put an ad on Craig’s List for a bi-swingers party. In a period of a couple of days I got 400 hundred responses. I knew from reading the emails that there was a market out there that no one else was reaching. I told Jen, Matt and Sara that we were going to host a bi night in early February on a Sunday afternoon. They looked at me like I was crazy.

I picked Sunday, because in my misguided research, I thought that bi meant gay. So I conflated a bi event with the bathhouse scene and their busiest time was Sunday afternoon. I could not have been more wrong. I advertised mostly on Gay sites (again showing my lack of understanding) and got a ton of replies. A lot of men who replied said that if there were any women on the premises, they would turn around and walk out. Hmmm…I thought. These bi-guys are pretty militant.

So on the afternoon of our first event, we had an all-male staff except for Jen and Sara who were supposed to stay hidden in the background. But instead of throngs of guys we only had 6 single men show up and they all sat at opposite corners of the club. After about an hour of this, I rounded them all up and asked that they come to the bar for a drink. We had an amazing conversation and this is what we learned.

1) Everyone who came to that first event was either married or in a long term relationship with a woman.
2) None of their wives knew that they were bi or had thoughts of bisexuality.
3) Most were in long term sexless relationships.
4) Many of the guys we spoke to had never met or spoken to another bi male before.
5) Their biggest complaint about the night: No women. If they were going to play, they wanted women around. If they only wanted to meet guys, they could go to a bathhouse.

It was a fascinating evening and even though the night was a failure, I knew that we had really tapped into something. Moreover it fit perfectly with our philosophy that we wanted to be a club which was open to everyone. It took us a few months to get the formula down, but bi nights have become one of our signature events.

That is not to say that bi nights have not caused us problems. A number of our “Saturday Swingers” abandoned us over the next year or so. They could not be comfortable having sex at a club that allowed bisexuality even if it was limited to Sunday nights and they were Saturday couples.

I knew we would get some blowback for the bi nights but didn’t know that it would be so severe. But all things considered I would do it again in a heartbeat. Opening our club up to a wider swath of people has made our club and our members so much more interesting.

Next:  Single guys on a Friday Night

Single guys and the rebuttable presumption: 

Should Single guys be allowed on Friday Night? Six years ago this was an ongoing and hotly contested debate between Jen, Matt, Sara and me. We opened as a couples-only club and by the end of our first year Saturday nights had become very successful. Why screw around with the mix? Our decision to allow single men turned on two things. First, was our success with bi-nights. Single guys were allowed to come in on those nights and the guys that we got were great. They were well dressed, respectful and really a pleasure to have at the club. Our preconceived notion of problem single males went out the window once we had done several months of bi nights. Second, we needed to diversify. Couples who are only looking for other couples are a large group but not enough to fill a Friday and Saturday night. We had experimented with many different formulas and promotions to kick-start Friday.  We did speed dating, Karaoke, two couples for the price of one and a complimentary romantic dinner at the club.  None of those worked. The only thing that brought customers in was to radically reduce the admission price.  But the trade-off was that we would have an ok Friday and a lousy Saturday. We were competing against ourselves. I was ready to make the switch but the others were not.  Matt came to me and said give me one more chance with Friday and if it doesn’t work, I am on board with letting single guys in.

He and Sara promoted it everywhere for an entire week, but we had another mediocre night. At midnight Matt called and said, “Ok, I’m convinced”.

Fridays with single guys opened up a whole new demographic for us. All of a sudden we were not only getting single guys and the couples who liked to play with them, but a whole bunch of single women. In a period of a few months our Friday’s went from 15-20 people to over 100. Six years later we average over 230 people on Friday evenings.

There is always a lot of single guy bashing but the reality is that the VAST majority of them are decent guys. We made a conscious decision a long time ago to try to incorporate single men into the social network of the club. I know this is contrary to the policy of most clubs but we thought that if they were going to come to the club, whey not have them take an interest in the club doing well? We have many single guys who help out as tour guides, clean up, towel volunteers, bar backs and anything else that the club needs. My feeling is that people who feel that they are actively a part of something are much more likely to embrace the culture that we promote.

I know that some clubs claim that they screen single guys or they only take a “select” few.  I don’t think that is possible.  How can you determine how someone will act in a five minute phone conversation or by doing a quick once-over at the door?  Moreover, screening someone means that you are making a value judgment about that person’s worth without having any valid information to go upon. That whole process just rubbed me the wrong way. So we instituted what I call the “rebuttable presumption”.  The presumption at the club is that when you walk in the door, you are a mature, well-behaved adult and entitled to be treated as such.  If you rebut that presumption, you can no longer be a member of our club and you will be asked to leave. That goes for single guys, couples and single women.

One other tweak that we did was to make sure that there were monitors in the play area. As we have gotten busier we have gradually increased the number of employees in the back from one to four people on Friday night.  We also use an all-female staff in the play areas. We have found that there are far fewer confrontations with female monitors than male. It may be silly but men don’t like to be told what to do by other men especially when there are women present; but when a pretty girl tells a single guy he has to leave it almost always resolves itself without incident.

I have never looked back on our decision 6 years ago.  We are a more diverse and interesting club.  Other clubs have determined to not allow single males and I am sure that works for them, but for us it was a very positive change.

Next:  The Club takes a toll on our personal life:

Almost 3 years after Jen and I opened the club and nearly 5 years after we started working on it, she and I split up.  It was an amicable breakup.  She is a wonderful person who has settled into a new life that doesn’t include either the club or the lifestyle. I wish her the best. I can’t say that owning the club directly contributed to our break up but I think the idea of returning to a more normal life was appealing to her.  For any of you who are considering the lifestyle as a business here are a couple of things to consider:

1) Owning the club and playing at the club never worked out for me.  A couple of years before we opened we were at another club when the AGCO stopped by for an inspection.  I remember watching as the bartender pulled the owner out of a bedroom to meet the Inspector.  The owner was in a towel.  As they were talking his towel kept slipping off.  I thought, “hmmm…I’m not sure I ever want to be in that situation”!  But more importantly when the club is open it takes your constant attention.  You are serving alcohol, you have hundreds of guests and employees to whom you have a legal duty of care.

2)  There is no going back.  Being a club owner is a lot different than being in the lifestyle.  You are publicly “out” and in the Internet age where everything about you is archived forever it changes your life.  All of your vanilla friends and family shortly learn what you do.  Every new friend or acquaintance with a computer immediately knows who you are and it affects you in ways that you hadn’t anticipated.   A couple of months after Jen and I split up I began dating a woman who was not in the lifestyle.  We had gone out several times and seemed to be hitting it off.  I had not told her about the club or the lifestyle yet.  Honestly, it is a difficult topic to bring up on the first couple of dates.  She called me and said we had to meet right away. We met at Starbucks on Richmond St.  She brought a printout of an article written about me in the Globe and Mail.  “Is this you?” she asked.  “Of course it is.” “Well” she said, “I’m not a swinger, I can’t ever be with a swinger.  In fact I think it’s disgusting.”  It was the first time in my life that I had ever experienced  prejudice for what I was and not who I was.

3)  I always liken the club business to the “Hotel California”.   You can check-in any time you like but you can never leave.  Unlike other businesses there is no exit strategy.  It is virtually impossible to sell for what it is worth.  Banks won’t touch it and people with the capital to acquire a club are loath to put that much money into what is still considered a very risky venture.  Plan on being in for the long term.

4) You can’t just put your toe in the water.  Back in the days of Sweet Cheeks, Xtabi and Club Abstract, it was possible to take over a bar that was doing poorly on the weekends, call it a lifestyle club, invite a few of your swinger friends and collect door fees.  Those days are over.  Now you need a dedicated space, with a minimum of 7500 square feet. That space has to be built out specifically for a swingers club.  Rents in Toronto are very high, leasehold improvements are capital intensive and the cost of doing business in a big city and in an industry that is heavily regulated are sobering.

In short, to be successful (and more importantly happy) you need to look at a different metric than most businesses. Like every venture you want to make enough to keep the doors open but if your primary goal is to make money then I would suggest doing something else.  You have to love the lifestyle business (not just the lifestyle) in order for this to work.

Personal note:  In November of 2011 (11/10 to be exact) I met Terry.  We had both been in the lifestyle for many years and while I had seen her around we had never really exchanged more than a few words.  We went out to dinner one night and our first date has now lasted almost four years.  She is beautiful, sexy and smart. You get lucky only a few times in your life and this has been one of them for me.

Next:  A few final thoughts on the lifestyle and the club business:

It’s impossible for me to talk about the club without talking about Matt and Sara.  They have been my partners in this business for more than 6 years.  What started out as a part time “boy it would be fun to work at a sex club lark” has morphed into a life built around the club and its success.  For the first couple of years it was mostly me doing the work. That changed to us sharing the load, to Matt and Sara doing almost everything. They are the absolute best.  If you like the club (or love it like I do) it is a result of their efforts.

Final Thoughts

Almost 10 years ago Jen and I sat around her kitchen table planning out the club, what it would be like and how it would affect us. Neither of us had any idea that it would take over our lives, affect our children and strain our relationship. It was years and years of sacrifice, no sleep, 20 hour days, depressing nights and exhilarating triumphs. In short….it was the best of times.

I have changed a lot in the last 10 years. I have grown, learned and become more of a person. As I have matured, so has the club. It has evolved into something that in some way parallels what has gone on in my life. It is a vehicle for change. It is a place for people who want more. It is for those who “will not go gently into the good night”.

If I had to describe the club in one word I would say that it is a place to “become”. To find out who you are, to test your limits, to explore your feelings and desires, to change as a human being. Of course it is about sex, friendship, and fun. But those are only byproducts of each and every person’s desire to want more in their lives.

Where will we be in another nine years….I don’t have any idea. But I do know that if we are still around the club will continue to be a place where normal people get a chance to show how unique they are.

We hope to see all of you at our Anniversary Party Saturday, June 10th

– Rich