Monday Confession: Velvet Rope Fills Void in PDX
Monday, September 07, 2015
Club Sesso used to be the downtown swingers club that provided a metropolitan experience of “The Lifestyle.” Bolstered by an endorsement from celebrity owner and porn legend Ron Jeremy, the establishment was a happening bourgeois dance club with loads of extra space for private or public consensual adult play. But in June, the club closed due to alleged fire code violations.
The closing meant that Portland’s most centrally-located venue for the sex-positive community was gone, leaving residents of the city scrambling with their respective junk in their hands. Husbands had wives that needed gangbanging, and “subs” found themselves with rope, but no one to tie it. All eyes in the lifestyle were turned to The Velvet Rope as Portland’s last salvation for swing.
Upon entering, one is greeted by check-in attendants whose friendly, smiling faces could just as easily be bagging your groceries or handling your money at the bank. The font lobby is casual and low-key, not unlike the lobby of a small, independently-owned office.
On this particular Saturday, the theme has been supplanted by cake. It’s one of the owner’s birthdays, so instead of a costume/outfit-oriented theme, the club simply offers cake as an option at its buffet. And yes, the sex club does have a buffet.
Once you’ve gotten through check-in and you’ve entered the actual club, the first thing you find yourself looking at is a large hot tub. It is perhaps not the most savory element to the club, but then again, when you’re going to a place designed for public sex, there’s sort of an implied assumption that you’re not allowed to be a germaphobe. Plus, the tub offers a little bit of that classic European bathhouse feel, which no lifestyle club is complete without. The VR also has showers and plenty of cleaning supplies neatly stashed here and there.
Once you’ve gotten used to the immediate sight of any number of naked strangers in a bubbling hot tub, it’s time to explore the rest of The Velvet Rope. This is no small task, since the place is designed a little bit as if the Marquis de Sade, M.C. Escher and Dr. Seuss designed the floor plan together.
The labyrinth aesthetic of the place is actually one of the most appealing factors. The VR is a veritable cornucopia of dance spaces, casual lounges, “couples only” areas, and home theaters with porn playing constantly. There is no accurate way to convey how the zig-zagging stairways, winding corridors, and private play spaces are laid out.
Starting from the hot tub/locker area, the most linear path takes you directly to the dance floor where, at least on this Saturday night, the room is full of vivacious dancers moving and shaking to a DJ who pumps Hip-Hop and dance tracks, all while fervently keeping up his own bodily rhythms moving. The room feels like any well-established dance club, with attendees smiling and moving with little regard for how they are perceived.
One female who was in attendance on Saturday, we’ll identify her as “Rosa,” had frequented Sesso a number of times, but was at The VR for her inaugural experience. When asked how she would compare The VR to Sesso, she said, “Laid back… kind of a more authentic version of what I saw (at Sesso). Better music and things like pool tables to keep it casual and fun even when you’re not hooking up.”
And thusly, the true appeal behind The VR is revealed, just upstairs from the dance floor. The main room has a stocked bar, two pool tables, and the walls are lined with large, plush booths, not unlike any other restaurant or bar. The place is populated with people who are obviously regulars, greeting and socializing with one another as familiarly as they would their neighbors. It’s clear that this is more than just a business, more than just a “meat market.” Surveying the relaxed lounge area, one is reminded that The VR is a venue which exists to facilitate a vibrant community.
And lest we forget, that community is full of sexual enthusiasts, fetishists, and general freaks of the most delightful variety. As you take it all in, try to remember that each turn of your head might bring images of scantily-clad women being towed around by a collar and leash. Try not to be shocked when you’re on the dance floor and the folks next to you have parts of themselves inside each other.
A short walk past the gender-separated bathrooms brings you to what can only be called the “home theater area.” Here are several couches, a booth, and even a professional massage table. There’s a large, theater-style television screen with undeniably adult content playing at all times. Keep wander through the room, past the television and around the corner, and there’s a giant bed. in case you need to take a nap.
Onward from the “home entertainment” center, there’s a hallway with a line of private rooms. This upstairs hallway has a handful of small, sterile rooms where couples, triples, or more can escape to for an intimate, less exhibitionistic experience. The private rooms throughout The VR are stocked with condoms, cleaning wipes, closing doors, and even windows for those who want to put on a show, without inviting anyone in. You keep the door open for that.
Downstairs, from the dance floor there are more private rooms, except these are reserved for couples and single females only. More expansive and diverse, this winding corridor has a wider selection of differently-styled rooms and at the end of the hallways is the “couples only” lounge. The lounge is like a burlesque bar meets the champagne room of a strip club. But the “no sex in the champagne room” rule definitely doesn’t apply here.
By the way, this room also has a very sturdy-looking, trapeze-style harness hanging from the ceiling. It looks more than capable of supporting a human body. For exercising, obviously.
While The Velvet Rope may have more of a down-to-earth, inclusive aesthetic than Sesso did, it is missing some of the transparency and clarity-of-conduct that Sesso did really well. The VR is just as adamant about insisting on respectful, consent-based play as any other good lifestyle venue, but it could benefit from clearer signage and explanations of etiquette.
Rosa told us that she really appreciated how un-presumptuous the place was, saying that “The dancing was just about having fun… not necessarily about being sexy or showing off.” She said that the rules and expectations become pretty obvious eventually, but described a learning curve that she thinks could be avoided..
Otherwise, The Velvet Rope is just the right mix of safe and shocking to make it an enticing endeavor on any night. Those new to the lifestyle can gain the insight they seek and thereby gauge their own capacity for fruitful pursuit of passion and pleasure. While seasoned veterans to the lube-soaked battlefields of the lifestyle are sure to find comradery at The VR.
The first time they visit, couples can either purchase a one-year membership or opt for the pay-as-you-go option. The membership costs $40, in addition to the nightly door fee, and pay-as-you-go tallies up to $60. Door charges vary on different nights, along with a rotating ensemble of nightly themes. The Velvet Rope is open Thursday to Sunday at 9 PM at 3533 SE 39th Ave.
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