Fetish-party promoter Christiaan Howard is suddenly without a location for his seventh annual Erotik-a, which had been scheduled for July 1 at the Gothic Theatre but was canceled by the venue's owner, Steve Schalk.
"The event definitely dabbles in the gray area when it comes to nudity and all those types of things," explains Schalk, who is also an operations manager with Nobody in Particular Presents. "Just because of the kind of event it is, it definitely encourages scantily clad people and interesting attire that borders on the edge of what's allowed when you have a liquor license."
When Erotik-a was held at the Walnut Foundry last summer, the state decided it went over that edge. Colorado Department of Revenue officer Kurt VandenBoogaard, confident that two "whipping stations" violated the state's liquor code, issued Howard citations for permitting "flagellation" and permitting "a person to touch the buttocks of another person," two charges that Howard has pledged to fight ("Working Out the Kinks," May 19).
Schalk announced his decision to pull the plug after a May 31 meeting at Englewood Police Department headquarters with VandenBoogaard and another revenue officer, as well as a police representative. According to Matt Cooke, executive director of the Department of Revenue, the gathering was designed to inform Schalk of different aspects of Colorado law and how the next Erotik-a might run afoul of that law. Such sessions are fairly common practice, Cooke contends, because the department's philosophy regarding events is "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Although the meeting was convened for the express purpose of discussing Erotik-a, when Howard and his attorney arrived, VandenBoogaard denied them entrance. "I didn't get the benefit of the doubt," Howard says. "I wasn't able to defend myself and explain the different ways I was going to change the party from last year so I could comply."
As far as the state is concerned, though, Howard has already expressed his intentions -- in print. In a Liquor Enforcement Division report, VandenBoogaard quoted Howard's statement in Westword that at this summer's party, "there will be lots of fucking spanking, too."
"The article really broke their back," Schalk says. "Pretty much it's like saying, 'I know the speed limit is 55, but I'm going to go 65, and here's where I'm going to do it. And, pretty much, screw you.'" Though Schalk says he didn't have any problems with Howard or his event when it was held at the Gothic in 2002 (Department of Revenue reports show Howard received a warning for whipping stations that year, as well), he worried that a liquor-code violation could put the Gothic's entire license at risk.
"Christiaan was very good at understanding what he could and could not do, and he wanted to be in compliance. And he did not want to violate any liquor codes or laws," says Schalk. "But at the same time, it's an event that lends itself to pushing the envelope that is not an envelope that can be pushed."
That envelope-pushing is the reason Howard has such an esteemed reputation in the local party-people scene for throwing some of the most sensually charged and original shindigs around. After operating below the radar for years and holding his events in warehouses, he'd made a move to become more legit by booking bona fide venues, including the Gothic and the Walnut. Shortly before his party there last summer, however, a letter from "Concerned Citizens of Denver, With Morals!" arrived at numerous city and state offices. The writer claimed to be representing a group of "approximately 35 citizens" who wished to remain anonymous because they were concerned about "possible retribution," then described Howard's events as featuring nudity, simulated and real sexual acts, and "all manner of perversion not permitted in our city."
Although Howard did not learn of the letter until after the event, last year's Erotik-a party was blitzed by officers from both the Department of Revenue and the Denver Police Department, including one undercover twenty-year-old police cadet who was served an alcoholic beverage by a volunteer bartender.
VandenBoogaard's nine-page report on the night includes some titillating descriptions. "I watched three clothed people on a stage; one male and two females. All three were embracing each other in a standing position while caressing or rubbing each other's body with their hands," he wrote. "Eventually, the male began to kiss the two females and the two females began to kiss each other; everybody was kissing."
Kissing is legal, of course. And Howard points out that exposed nipples and genitalia are not allowed at any of his public events; neither is real sex. He believes the Concerned Citizens complaint letter was a fraud -- but it led to real charges against him for spanking.
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Last month, Schalk's attorney received another anonymous letter, which took shots at Howard and predicted a dubious outcome for this year's event. While Schalk says he considers the letter highly suspect, he couldn't ignore authorities' concerns.
For now, Howard says he'll postpone Erotik-a until he can find the right venue. "These parties have been my dream for a long time," he says. "I will make every attempt to comply with the Department of Revenue's rules because I have no animosity toward them or the Denver police.
"I just hope that local clubs and everyone in the scene will see that this affects them, too," he concludes. "Because I only do these parties twice a year, while there are other promoters throwing things like this every night."
Spanks so much.