Over dinner in Monte Carlo, a Russian oligarch’s spokesman characterized America’s great cities. “L.A. is about looks and money,” he says. “New York, money and power.”

And D.C.? “Just power,” he says.

Washington, D.C., is a notoriously orderly place. But, while manicured lawns and federal agencies scream control as professionally as possible, beneath their spotless exteriors lies an underworld that is all about power, submission, and stretching control to its limits. Because for many in the city, “just power” will never be enough.

B.D.S.M., which stands for Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism, provides an outlet for the power-hungry, a way to blow off the week’s steam and exert dominance at the same time.

The B.D.S.M. catchall, “kink,” involves far more than the whips and chains that first come to mind. “Medical blood play” and “knife play” are confined to specific stations at the Crucible club, a nondescript warehouse in Northeast Washington favored among the D.C. kink crowd.

The Crucible club, a favorite of the D.C. kink crowd. One hopes it looks better at night.

The Crucible, which opened in 1997 and now counts 2,500 paying annual members, is the Studio 54 of the kink scene. It’s where D.C. locals spent their pre-pandemic Saturday nights, and where they are eagerly returning now that the club has reopened. After indoor dining and regular dating, it seems like the one thing people missed most during lockdown was … group kink.

In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to visit D.C. right now and not overhear something kinky. “I went out with a girl who had a trunk full of whips and chains,” one person tells me. Another person I spoke with casually said he was into knife play. Someone else claimed not to have been to any kink parties, “but I could see the appeal for repressed Republicans.”

Studio 54, but Make It Kink

Whether it’s through nightclub parties, the Black Rose—a teaching group for the B.D.S.M. community founded over three decades ago—or the monthly Dungeon 101 outreach class, more than 10,000 locals are estimated to be involved in D.C.’s kink scene. And at first glance, it seems anything goes.

Crucible attendees hail from all walks of life and include Prius drivers.

“We don’t have a dress code,” the Crucible Web site states. “We are not your mother.”

Events are currently capped at 50 masked participants. As they are open to those 18 and over, alcohol is not served. Equipment is cleaned frequently and supervised by “Dungeon Monitors.” Recording of any kind is strictly forbidden—no phones, pictures, or filming, except if you ask for permission to take a picture of yourself. (The Crucible did not reply to Air Mail’s request for comment.)

“Medical blood play” and “knife play” are confined to specific stations at the Crucible club.

According to a 2015 interview with then Crucible owner “Uncle” Frazier Botsford, who died in 2019, D.C.’s kink culture caters to “outcasts.” But the strict rules in place across all of D.C.’s kink clubs, which verify names against the National Sex Offender Registry, also protect the identities of congressional representatives, foreign-service agents, college grads—and undergrads!—and everyone else who attends the parties.

Shared experiences are almost too pornographic to print. One night, an anonymous political candidate walked into a room with a woman who was tightly bound in Japanese-style ropes, passing between two people wearing leather masks. Another woman had hooks pressing deep (and what looked to be very painfully) against her body. At a third station that night, two women, sprawled facedown in a ball pit, were involved in a sex act with a third, transgender female.

“Uncle” Frazier Botsford, the man behind the Crucible’s success.

Other stories of hot wax and flogging will sometimes crop up on local news outlets, much to the reticence of those involved. But that night turned out to be the first time the candidate had ever seen a transgender person. The candidate’s campaign during the last election cycle saw a change in proposed policy around the transgender community.

Shared experiences are almost too pornographic to print.

Inclusivity is stressed. L.G.B.T.Q.+, “poly” (polyamorous) couples, and Burning Man “burners” overlap with the counterculture of kink. Certainly, it is something Washington could learn from. Wouldn’t Jared Kushner like to address those Internet rumors about his sexuality? Couldn’t Dan Crenshaw admit to being a man of science? For some, places such as the Crucible are providing a safe space against even their own political rhetoric and the deeply stratified world of partisan politics.

Speaking of the tension between left and right, the candidate agreed that the kink scene belied the admittedly frustrating contradiction of public and private personas. Kink, in contrast, is almost refreshing. “How much hypocrisy are you willing to stand?” the candidate asks. “How honest do you want to be?”

But as transparent as the location, hours, and thoroughly regulated events may appear, the institutions that make up D.C.’s kink scene still retain their privacy. They do not recruit members and have in recent years stopped responding to inquiries from the press.

In the meantime, rules keep the “kinksters” as safe as possible, with Dungeon Monitors ensuring safe words—“yellow” (caution), “red” (stop), “safe word” (immediate outside attention required!)—are all enforced.

“Everybody travels at their own pace,” the Crucible Web site states. “You can come in and just watch, for as long as that may take. You don’t have to get naked, you don’t have to participate in any way.”

Then the site transitions to all caps: “UNTIL YOU ARE READY.”

The Crucible is open Saturday evenings from 7:00 P.M. until 11:00 P.M.

Alexandra Bregman is a New York City–based journalist