Every month in the Mission, there's a line around a corner of Mariposa Street as couples, triads, and local celebrities huddle in the fog awaiting admittance to the Verdi Club. The little-known haunt, which feels like a hip Elk's Lodge, is where Bawdy Storytelling has been playing to sold-out crowds of several hundred people for years.
The show combines two of humankind's oldest art forms — sex and storytelling — then adds some stiff drinks, icebreakers, free vibrators, and a few filthy ukulele songs. The result is one of the best date nights the city has to offer.
Each show is a curated evening of true stories of sexual adventure told without notes by writers, comedians, rock stars, and real people. Past guests include Seattle sex columnist Dan Savage as well as local sex-positive bigwigs like Carol Queen of the Center for Sex and Culture and lesbian werewolf-fiction writer Allison Moon.
Bawdy also hosts events in Los Angeles and Seattle, but it began here in San Francisco. The Verdi Club is an Italian-American social club founded in 1916, and people have been dining, dancing, and schmoozing there for close to a century. Maybe it's just me, but there's something extra naughty about telling raunchy stories in a place where people get married and have family reunions.
An evening runs like clockwork as 200-plus audience members find their seats and wait in line for drinks.
The line at the bar is a little intimidating, but the wait is mitigated by generous bartenders and Bawdy's raunchy bingo-inspired icebreaker: Bang-O.
The idea is to get people chatting about their sexual adventures before the show even starts. To play, attendees must ask questions of their fellow audience members, and check off the boxes where each activity is listed. So waiting in line for a dirty martini can include conversations with strangers about their unrealizable sexual fantasies, or the orgy they had at last year's Burning Man. Fill out your entire card, and you could win a monstrous gift bag of space-age vibrators from Lelo.
The host and founder of Bawdy Storytelling, Dixie de la Tour, takes the stage at 7 p.m. sharp with plenty of Southern hospitality and San Francisco sex positivity. She's been hosting underground sex events in the Bay Area for more than 15 years, and she holds a “Ph.D. in sex-positive culture,” according to the event's website, bawdystorytelling.com.
The show I went to Jan. 3 opened with ukulele-wielding singer-songwriter Rachel Lark — one part Garfunkel and Oates and one part Melissa Etheridge — who premiered a song about accidentally on purpose sleeping with her roommate/best friend.
Next we heard from a drama therapy student whose former life included doing telemarketing for the Republican Party by day, and moonlighting as a gay phone sex operator by night — needless to say, one night he forgot which call center he was at, and an incredibly hot, gay, Republican role-play fetish was born on both sides of the phone line. Other storytellers included a fetish model/mortician, a comedian, and an Emmy-nominated filmmaker. Each performance was a story that you'd be honored to hear in the wee hours of the morning at a drunken party: some poignant, some hilarious, and some truly hot.
De la Tour works with all storytellers, coaching and supporting them by bringing their story to the stage, thus ensuring the stories are brave, bold, and just polished enough for the show to really clip along. Performers only get 10 minutes onstage, and while there's not a vaudeville-style hook to pull people offstage when their time is up, going overtime is not tolerated.
The audience is a mixed bag of San Francisco communities — burners, swingers, sex workers, techies, and even some tourists. The show has become so popular that there are two shows a night: a 7 p.m. show followed by a completely different (and sometimes more explicit) 10 p.m. show.
The show is just raunchy enough to please the perverts of this city, but safe enough for vanilla folks to dip their toe into sex-positive culture for the night. Fair warning: Many people start out as audience members, but find themselves onstage telling all their dirtiest secrets to a packed house just a few months later.