Because no one wants to engage in a night of partner-swapping sexcapades on an empty stomach, Wicked Club has introduced a dinner menu—but you don’t have to be a swinger to enjoy it.
“We’ve got showers, beds down the hall and over here are the glory holes,” says staffer Alex while giving a tour of the second floor of the hedonistic Wicked club on West Queen West. He speaks of the dungeon (complimentary handcuffs provided) and rooms with one-way mirrors in a tone similar to a realtor describing a one-bath/two-bedroom condo. Earlier, he was telling me about their homemade ravioli while taking my order at Wicked’s downstairs restaurant (but more on that later).
I was there at midnight but, since it was a blustery Thursday in the middle of January, there were only two twenty-something couples hanging out at the bar that night. They all had towels around their waists, though one couple kept their jackets on since it was -7°C outside. (Thankfully, there’s a hot tub in the middle of the room.)
A bubbly, bustier-clad server was cracking jokes behind the bar while a svelte dancer in black heels and panties bopped along to a remix of “Super Bass,” her pale skin given a pink glow from the red lights overhead. Had she been wearing a proper top—and there not been a dozen beds in the back—the scene wouldn’t seem much different than that of any other nightclub with go-go dancers and patrons looking to get into each other’s pants.
Wicked has fascinated Torontonians since husband and wife Shlomo and Aurora Benzion opened the members-only swingers’ club on West Queen West in 2006. (Its original location was at the corner of Church and Richmond two years prior.) In fact, framed newspaper and magazine clippings hang along the stairwell leading up to Wicked’s second floor, aptly named Shlomo’s Penthouse, where all the “playing” happens. While many articles have been written about the club over the past five years, they all pretty much tell the same story: Wicked is a controlled environment where people live out their sexual fantasies, and not a skeezy free-for-all flesh pile where everything reeks of a cum-encrusted middle-age crisis.
“We advertise openly, have a big sign outside and have always been open to the media,” Shlomo says over espressos at the bar on the main floor. “The more open and more normal we make the hedonistic lifestyle look, it’ll become more accepted in society.”
Born in Israel and raised in Argentina, Shlomo was a personal trainer and aspiring actor before becoming a club owner (though he recently appeared in two episodes of the TV series Body Language, directed by Zalman King of Red Shoe Diaries infamy). When he came to Canada a decade ago, he started to host private parties here and there for the hedonistic community. But after a 2005 Supreme Court of Canada decision declaring that swingers clubs were legal and not a threat to public decency, Wicked came to the forefront, catering to young professionals in their mid-20s to late-30s looking to swap partners, engage in threesomes or just be voyeurs.
“We have people coming in from Cambridge, Hamilton, Barrie, Montreal, Michigan, New York—a lot of people from the states where laws are more strict,” he said. “They’re CEOs, designers, lawyers, doctors and Hollywood actors who come during TIFF or when they’re in town shooting a movie. We’re not forcing people to do anything. You have to ask for permission before you touch anyone and we encourage safe sex. Everyone’s respectful and knows that no means no.”
Still, to make walking through the club’s doors less intimidating for the curious, Wicked introduced an open-to-the-public dinner service six months ago in its first-floor bar and dance club.
“Our clients wanted to have a meal before going upstairs and didn’t want to drive around trying to find parking at another restaurant,” Shlomo explains. “Also, a lot of people who are more mainstream and haven’t been here before needed an excuse to come here. They can come here for dinner and enjoy a cabaret show. In my experience, a lot of them stay and ask to see what it’s like upstairs, which they are welcome to. Some also come in for dinner at seven and leave right after.”
Such as my friend Jess, who lives in the neighbourhood and insisted on eating here after she saw the electronic menu outside of Wicked. Among the dishes advertised: beef empanadas with Yukon gold potatoes and sweet chili sauce; beef tenderloin with roasted mushrooms and chimichurri sauce; and Portobello mushroom caps with spicy Argentinean sausage and provolone. All of the food is made from scratch, save the desserts. During our visit, the chocolate tart came from Dufflet, but the chef has taken upon himself to add a swirl of chocolate sauce, a dusting of cocoa powder and a fruit compote on the side.
The restaurant, called the W Cabaret, is exactly how one would imagine Urban Outfitters would tackle the set of Moulin Rouge: Black walls, blood-red drapery, glass chandeliers, ornate gold mirrors and white couches reminiscent of the Korova Milk Bar. Myself, Jess, her partner and two other friends seated ourselves in a corner under a glittery painting of an androgynous nude kneeling before a group of naked men wearing gorilla masks. There were signs along the walls stating “No Cameras.”
Alex, the man who would later show me the wall of glory holes, was our server. “You have to try the ravioli,” he says. “We make it here. It’s my favourite—if you don’t like it, I’ll pay for it.” The coaster-sized raviolis filled with veal shoulder are like little pillows and have that homey, unevenly cut edge. Not bad. The grilled squares of provolone, the spicy empanadas and garlicky flatbreads are ideal party foods. And in the spirit of our setting, we share a plate of oysters, topped with diced tomatoes, cilantro and a squeeze of lime.
Meanwhile, a lingerie-clad dancer contorts, arches and stretches on the chair and vanity in a boudoir set on the main stage. The smoke machine is activated and green lasers shoot in every direction. Even though there were only five of us in the building, it was an elaborate production.
“Our dancers are trained in jazz, ballet, modern,” Shlomo later tells me. “We hold auditions with our in-house choreographer. They can’t just shake their butts here. They actually spent three hours the other day rehearsing for our Valentine’s Day show.”
Upon paying our bill, Alex gives each of us a one-time pass to the upstairs den and the dancer bids us goodnight. Next time, I’ll be sure to go for the tenderloins.