jerk off enthusiasts sex club
Throwing in the Towels: Men’s club death leaves city grasping for answers.

Early in the morning of Oct. 4, a member of a private Logan Circle “men’s social club” fell to his death. According to a D.C. police report, the 47-year-old man was discovered in the stairwell leading to the basement of 1618 14th St. NW, the victim of “blunt impact injury of head.” Police believe the man may have tumbled down the stairs; the organizer of the club told the Washington Blade that the man likely fell on a “cement floor,” where he “possibly hit his head on a metal pipe or a brick wall.”

The man’s injury was sustained during the regular activities of the club, which include nightly gay sex events called “Men’s Parties,” as well as meetings of the “Jack Off Enthusiasts of Washington and Baltimore.” The accident has drawn public scrutiny over the private meetings, as well as a defense: Following the death, the club’s organizer told police that his establishment provides “a safe place for gay men to have consensual sex.”

How does a club meant to provide a “safe place” end up hosting a member’s death? By working off a creative definition of “safe.”

At Men’s Parties, safety doesn’t mean ensuring that the apartment’s stairs, surfaces, and exposed metal pipes provide a secure sexual landscape for party attendees. It doesn’t even mean encouraging members to engage in protected sex. At 1618 14th St., “safe” means ensuring anonymous sex for a group of gay men sporting wedding rings, sensitive careers, or shame.

For a “men’s social club,” the regularly scheduled activities included little socializing. “There is very little to none, in terms of conversation,” says one visitor to the club, who says he has attended Men’s Parties over a dozen times in the past six years. “Everything is kept strictly anonymous. No one asks for phone numbers, and no one ever really leaves with someone else,” he says. “People come there, do their business, and leave.” The club reinforced the anonymity with a cover of darkness. “The steps leading down to the basement floor were very, very dark,” he says. “I think your eyes, under normal circumstances, could adjust. However, the place was still very dark and the steps were very steep.”

Unfortunately for Men’s Parties, police and city officials operate on a more traditional definition of “safety.” The man’s death marks the second major incident at the club to draw the scrutiny of the police, city officials, and neighbors. In 2005, a candle ignited a mattress in the building’s upper floor, causing $5,000 in damages and bringing fire officials inside the club. According to the Blade, the emergency response revealed an establishment with “exit signs, a reception desk, a row of gym lockers, and signs stating the hours the place was open”—but no certificate of occupancy or business licenses. In November of that year, five months following the fire, ads for the parties read: “We are expecting to move soon. Please call for more information.”

But the most heated safety concerns surrounding the Men’s Parties lie outside the scope of city regulation. According to the frequent visitor to the club, “The most dangerous condition there was the lack of condoms.…There are no bowls of condoms upstairs or downstairs, where most of the sex takes place,” he says. “To me, this was always a recipe for disaster.”

At first, Men’s Parties attempted to weather the unwelcome scrutiny of police, city officials, and neighbors. The evening following the death, the club had reopened for business. On Oct. 9, a regular half-page ad ran in the back pages of the Blade, inviting readers to come “socialize.” The same issue contained a news item on the man’s death. But within a week of the incident, the club had shuttered under the weight of exposure. The front gate, typically left ajar to signal that the party is on, had been locked. A message left on the advertised phone number now informs callers, “We are temporarily closed until further notice.”

A typical advertisement in the Washington Blade.

For years, the club had thrived under a thin cover: organized snacking. In an interview with NBC 4, self-identified “volunteer” Skip Miller described the activities of the club: “We have videos. We have sodas. We have snacks,” he said. In a Logan Circle ANC meeting addressing the death, 3rd District police Lieutenant Vanessa Moore said that the head of the club “does not take money per se. He does take donations for chips, dips, and soda. And we’ll leave it at that.”

Club memberships were easy to come by. All you had to do was show up at 1618 14th St. and provide a donation at the door. The club received plenty of donations in recent years, thanks to the shuttering of gay clubs displaced by Nationals Park. As the city’s above-board clubs struggled to secure properties and licenses in new neighborhoods, Men’s Parties reaped the benefits of their closures, under the table, courting business with ads that read: “The spirit of Southeast lives on.” That spirit included a little bit more than light snacking. “No one pays $12 to eat stale pretzels and off-label lemon lime soda,” the visitor says. “The snacks are placed in large communal bowls and grabbed by hands that have been up asses.” The club’s main activity required little overhead. “Many are having bareback sex, but some are only masturbating or receiving oral sex,” he says.

Twelve dollars may be a bit pricey for stale pretzels, but it’s a small price to pay for anonymity. And no one has benefited from the club’s secrecy more than its organizers. In a 2005 item on the fire, the Blade declined to print the organizer’s name because “he is not openly gay at his regular place of work.” The Oct. 4 death prompted the Blade to get a little bit more specific: “The organizer of the men’s parties…asked that he be identified only as David.” Even the run-down conditions of the club may have benefited the organizers. “A lot of people, gay and straight, don’t know the place exists,” says the partygoer. “Among those that do, there is such shame attached to go to the place—not because of the sex, but because it is so dirty, grimy, smelly—that most don’t talk about it openly.”

Records show that David J. Butler incorporated a domestic nonprofit called the “D.C. Wrestling Club” at his Foggy Bottom apartment in 1994. The club’s members were described as “sports enthusiasts, especially of collegiate wrestling.” Butler, 68, is listed as the club’s president, treasurer, and registered agent. The club’s secretary, Robert D. Meza, listed his residence as 1618 14th St. NW. For a time, the incorporation lent an air of legitimacy to party organizers and provided an easy explanation for donation cash flow. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has since revoked the Wrestling Club’s corporation status.

Butler did not return several messages left at the club’s advertised number, nor did he respond to a note left at his Foggy Bottom residence. Knocks at 1618 14th St. were unanswered.

If Men’s Parties remains closed, its clientele may be left without a place to meet up. Communication among this crowd of anonymous sex seekers, after all, has always been a bit awkward. Several years ago, a flier appeared in the neighborhood that read: “If you had sex with Skip at Men Party 1618 14th St You need to get tested HIV.”

UPDATE: District of Columbia files lawsuit against Men’s Parties

D.C. Police Describe Men’s Parties Location: Used Condoms, Glory Holes, and a Crucifix

Photo by Darrow Montgomery