At Powerhouse, the banner would be a rainbow pattern fringed with black leather. By 11 p.m., the capacity crowd includes bearded daddies, shirtless muscle boys, and plenty of average-looking Joes (but no Janes). Video monitors depict scenes you won't see on cable. In one corner, two men explore the erotic potential of the male nipple, while the back room is where customers go to sip punch and discuss world events (or something to that effect). At the bar, a man identifies himself as "Uncle Pete" ("I'm the king of the rhuuumba beat").
"Ask me why I'm here," says Pete. OK, Pete: What brings you? "To flirt with Stefan the bartender, wherever he went. He really blows my skirt up!"
As if on cue, Stefan wanders by, and Uncle Pete makes his move.
Standing nearby in leather gloves and black boots, Jeff says Powerhouse isn't the best place to form lasting relationships -- not necessarily a complaint. Meanwhile, a Swiss man in a tank top stands alone with his back to the wall. His name is Mike and he read about Powerhouse in a magazine. Thus far, he's getting no play.
"I've seen better," he says, "in Amsterdam."
Well Mike, you're in America now. Lose the shy act and talk to somebody, or abandon all hope of fornication.
With that, we continue down Folsom. My Place is another gay leather bar but appears more low-key than Powerhouse. The Feng Shui Martini Lounge hosts an Asian crowd, and the Border Cantina is bursting with Latinos. Then there's the Cat Club, where you'll find, of all things, white people -- with a decidedly dark, gothic edge. Freaky-looking tattooed chicks cavort to industrial music in the back room and to '80s pop up front. Heather's blood-red hair matches her eyebrows, but "that does not mean I'm a hard-core goth," she explains.
Taking it all in are Susan and Maxwell, who met via Craig's List that afternoon. She has that shiny, first-date look in her eyes. "Could be the rum and Coke," she surmises.
Ron's eyes, on the other hand, are the last thing you notice, given his long blond hair, shiny black hot pants, garters, and stockings.
"I'm a fashion whore," he says. "I don't like having to deal with khaki. Most of the people here are in the same boat I am. They all deal with the normality of life and they're just annoyed with it. It's all about escapism."
Further down Folsom, the bi-level Up & Down Club is abnormally slow (house music in the down, hip hop in the up). Cassidy's Irish pub, next door, is as comforting as a hug from a Gaelic grandmother, but we continue on to the venerable Covered Wagon Saloon, where the Friday before Halloween has coincided with the final night of the club Bordello, resulting in all kinds of strange and wonderful accoutrements.
In a crowd that feels like hundreds, girls in wedding veils chat with boys in pirate shirts as the Eurythmics blare from the sound system. One sees cowboy hats, plaid beanies, faux courtesans, and no shortage of Betty Page bangs. Andrea's looking trés chic in her slinky evening dress and satin gloves. Her friend Anshuman looks more like ... a bus driver?
"Fuck off," he says. "I'm a pilot."
In that case, Anshuman, nice costume -- and have a pleasant flight.