Credit: Courtesy of Club ZŌ

D.C. residents can’t wait to enjoy their favorite meals after the pandemic. Once it’s safe to do so Washingtonians will be able to enjoy a provocative, “sex positive” brunch with a side of S&M. Club ZŌ founders Thom Naylor and Christopher Peters promise French toast will be the last thing on customers’ minds. The K Street NW venue will pair mimosas with entertainment in the form of nude dancers, cabaret, and exhibitions of sexual kinks.

The club, which will also serve as a nightlife spot, can’t get going until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, but Peters is hoping for a grand opening in the coming months. He’s confident he’ll garner a large customer base. D.C. might project an image to some of a “white-collar, prim and proper city,” he says, “but behind closed doors, a lot of people are very into the kink scene. This city has some crazy, crazy stuff going on that everyone pretends not to see.” 

He adds, “I think there have been studies that show doctors, lawyers, people in the military, high-up officers, what have you, are into some very different kinks, legal but very taboo.”

A peek at the club’s Instagram page hints at what to expect: harnesses, restraints, masks, piercings, and cages. Peters says he’s familiar with more extreme fetishes. He joyfully ticks off a couple, but the most printable example is people wanting to be chained to toilets. He’s noticed a correlation between how demanding one’s career is and how kinky one’s fetishes are. “Well-educated people with prominent jobs,” he says, enjoy “highly intense play.” 

Club ZŌ aims to be a safe place for the LGBTQ community and others to indulge their fantasies and let off some steam. Find it on the basement level of long-running gentlemen’s strip club Archibald’s Gentlemen’s Club at 15th and K streets NW. On the ground floor you’ll find Archibald’s main area, while the top floor has smaller “champagne suites” and rooms for private dances. While Club ZŌ will have a permanent subterranean presence, the plan is that on brunch days it’ll take over the full establishment with different music, lights, and ambience on each floor. Peters’ mind is overflowing with different themes to try out. 

Peters is only 24 but already has years of experience in the nightlife industry in New York and Pittsburgh, as well as in D.C. “Younger people are hungry for something like this club,” he says. “They want debauchery that’s not found anywhere else.”

“I like brunch, but every weekend is the same,” Naylor adds. “It doesn’t look or taste or smell different. I want a brunch that can get fucking crazy, where you forget about what you’re eating because of the performers and the plating and the lighting and the music, not another boring brunch sitting outside watching the sun shining.”

The duo met at The Dirty Goose, a gay bar on U Street NW. Peters was bartending and Naylor was a customer. They quickly found they had plenty in common when it comes to nightlife and what they think D.C.’s scene is missing. 

Naylor was wistful for the underground gay nightlife of years past in dark spaces where sexual liberation was front and center, unlike the bar and club scene today. He describes most of today’s clubs as “white-washed, very brightly lit, gentrified, over-sophisticated bars.”

Peters had enjoyed secret clubbing events in other East Coast cities, the kind with minimal rules other than being hip enough to know the password to get in. That’s how the idea for Club ZŌ came about. It’s a chance to indulge that euphoria in a sexually tinged atmosphere that could still be accessible and appealing to the straight brunch crowd.

While some people might clutch their pearls, Peters and Naylor envision a welcoming and non-threatening environment that’s just as accommodating to patrons who know nothing about alternative lifestyles. Their goal is to destigmatize kink through their one-of-a-kind brunch. “A lot of people aren’t willing or are scared to go into strip clubs, and our brunch can be a good introduction,” Peters says. “We think we can break down barriers through brunch.” 

Although the staff at Club ZŌ might be provocatively dressed, there’s no actual sexual activity allowed. “It’s all visual and mental, there’s nothing of an actual sexual nature,” Naylor clarifies. In other words, look but don’t touch.

“We look at the space universally as a safe zone, but also a creative space where you can be whoever you want to be for the time you’re here,” Naylor continues. “There’s no shaming, no one to judge you, we’re all just here to have fun.” 

The opening food menu will likely feature French toast, an andouille sausage Cajun scramble, and shrimp rémoulade. Naylor is open to switching it up. “If you think French toast sucks, I’ll serve you whatever you want to eat,” he says. Look for a lobster claw Bloody Mary and a “ Keeper” Cinnamon Toast Crunch shot rimmed with crushed animal crackers.

They’re using the hashtag #crosstheline in their promos for the club, including flyers of people seductively licking the Washington Monument. The phrase is taken from the Pet Shop Boys’ song “Monkey Business” and the lyric: “Bring me margaritas, Champagne, and red wine. We’re gonna have a party where we all cross the line.”

Naylor says #crosstheline “means showcasing something different in our queer space, acting sexy in a different way.” That’s why, he says, they released an ad campaign sexualizing iconic places in D.C. Then the pandemic hit, causing them to slow down. 

Graphic courtesy of Club ZŌ

Archibald’s has encountered the same restrictions as other nightlife spots as a result of the need to slow the transmission of COVID-19. The decision to prohibit indoor dining until at least Jan. 22 means the grand opening of Club ZŌ is on hold until the ban lifts. But once it’s safe and legal for Club ZŌ to finally launch, the duo behind the kinky brunch hope they’ll succeed with their goal of creating something that becomes a local cultural highlight—a recurring event long fondly remembered by anyone who attends.

“It’s not just about the party,” Naylor says. “It’s the mood, the lasting memory. Twenty years from now, if someone’s walking down the street and sees this building, I want them to remember that time they had brunch at the ZŌ when they saw two girls whipping a guy in a cage.”

Club ZŌ, 1520 K St. NW; dczo.club