No Pain, No Gain

The Enclave has Commerce City fit to be tied.

"If it is a bona fide private club and in the appropriate zone district, we don't regulate -- whether they are a bunch of numismatists or Masonics or whatever," agrees Denver Assistant City Attorney Kerry Buckey. "They still are forbidden from doing anything illegal there, but that is regulated by other codes and generally would be a police issue."

But Michael and Deb didn't want to take any chances. "My experience with BDSM clubs is that the city says that until someone complains," says Michael. "We are all private clubs, and intuitively you would think that would eliminate the adult-business license requirement, but the fact of the matter is, people are paying money to attend these functions, and municipalities can see that as a commercial enterprise."

That's why they made sure their renovated warehouse met every possible fire and building code. That's also why they told Commerce City officials exactly what they planned to do at the Enclave. And when both the Commerce City planning department and its city attorney said that even though the Enclave was a private social club it needed a sexually-oriented-business (SOB) license to allow nudity and flogging, Michael and Deb got their operation up and running minus the flesh and flagellation.

Anthony Camera
Deb O’Keefe and Michael R., the Enclave’s owners, enjoy their family ties.
Anthony Camera
Deb O’Keefe and Michael R., the Enclave’s owners, enjoy their family ties.


To hear oral arguments in Enclave v. Commerce, click here.

A year later, they went ahead and applied for the SOB license. "We decided, 'Let's stop lying and hiding,'" remembers Michael. "So they can't sneak in and bust us."

They got busted anyway.

"You all listen up," Michael says to the 65 Enclave members who've shown up for this private party. "For those who aren't reading our e-mails, we've added needle play." There's a whoop from the crowd. This leaves a very short list of no-nos at the facility: autoerotic asphyxiation, bloodletting and other fluid play, fire play and, of course, old-fashioned fornication. ("That is a personal hygienic decision," says Deb. "We are not a sex club, so we think sex is best done other places. People can get titillated and warmed up. It's like foreplay.")

From the crowd comes a wise-ass question: "How about chainsaws?"

Michael smirks. "It's fine until you break the skin."

Members head off to play. In the downstairs dungeon, a mustached man straps a gray-haired woman to a vertical wooden frame and prepares to send her into subspace -- using pain, restraint and other sensations to create an endorphin-fueled high where the standard boundaries of pleasure and pain don't apply. From a toolbox, he withdraws a slender, single-tail whip. Leather connects with flesh, and her muzzled mouth cries out. He pauses, massaging her back. "I'm a sick fuck, aren't I?" he whispers. "What else do I have..." From his toy box, he withdraws an electrical cord, which he plugs into a device attached to his waist. To his fingers he attaches short metal claws, which he runs above her skin. Sparks crackle as she writhes and gasps.

Michael, observing the scene, whispers a secret: "I've felt that on its highest setting, and I get a bigger shock from the doorknob at home."

That doesn't matter when you're in subspace.

Upstairs, a man straps a blindfolded woman, arms outstretched, to a vertical rack in the center of the play room and slaps her with a riding crop. At one point, between giggles and squeals, she reports, "I'm not liking that, sir." He pauses and holds her, whispering in her ear before switching to other techniques.

At a plastic-covered table in a corner, a latex-gloved woman removes small needles from a surgical toolbox and slowly pierces another woman's alcohol-swabbed back. The recipient begins to weep, and her partner hugs her, kissing her face and rocking her back and forth.

Soothing sitar melodies and hypnotic techno beats flow from the speakers, adding to a meditative vibe that's more yoga studio than naughty sex party.

Michael and Deb watch it all, pleased. This is the largest play party they've had in months. "This is how the building is supposed to look," says Michael. "If the city had not dicked with us, this would be an average night."

The dicking began in 2004, when the couple received a letter from Neighborhood Services Inspector Orphie Sitkoski, stating that their SOB license application had been denied because their property was allegedly within a thousand feet of an "Urban Renewal District," a violation of the city's adult-entertainment regulations. But that didn't make sense. Before purchasing the warehouse, Michael and Deb had asked city officials if there would be any problem going for an SOB license, and no one had mentioned any such district. The only land the letter could possibly be referring to was a fenced-off area down the street, a former Superfund site posted with signs reading, "Warning: hazardous contaminants, do not enter." And even if this area was slated for redevelopment, that shouldn't have mattered: A close reading of city code revealed that adult-entertainment facilities could be within a thousand feet of Urban Renewal Districts. They just couldn't be located inside them.

The couple appealed the denial, and at a hearing on their case, Commerce City officials agreed that the Urban Renewal District statement had been incorrect. But they still weren't getting an SOB license. The city had double-checked, and it turned out the Enclave was located next door to a house -- which would also prohibit an SOB license.

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