It was just past midnight in a private mansion off of Mulholland when I watched my first Minotaur get a blowjob.
And yet somehow, within the walls of the Sanctum Club, L.A.’s secretive high-end sex party, Minotaur fellatio would turn out to be both the most esoteric and the most pedestrian of the voyeuristic sights I’d feast my virgin eyes on.
Shielded from the press for the past few years, the Sanctum Club occupies a curious space in L.A.’s X-rated nightlife scene. Tickets are expensive and black tie is mandatory if you make it through a rigorous application process and onto the guest list. Locations are kept secret until just before a party, which is when gorgeous creatures, swinging couples, fetishists, and the deep-pocketed descend on a private home in the hills in masquerade masks—all the better to fuck in front of strangers with anonymous abandon.
And yet, with a new rebranding to the modified “Snctm” on Instagram and Facebook—the original portal to entry when the Sanctum Club was founded in 2013—Sanctum is struggling to evolve into more than just a gimmicky erotic party. It’s even got a Yelp page, as antithetical as that sounds for a taboo-breaking secret society.
With its hint of Eyes Wide Shut intrigue and pseudo-pagan sex cult motif, I was half-hoping for a virgin sacrifice to invoke the second coming of Sodom and Gomorrah upon my first visit to the Sanctum Club.
What I discovered stepping into its mid-sized hillside mansion digs last weekend wasn’t quite the Salo-esque bacchanalia I’d anticipated: eardrum-blasting EDM and $17-44 cocktails are, perhaps, not the most conducive to embarking on a probing personal voyage into one’s most forbidden sensual impulses. Not that the trappings of the L.A. club scene stopped anyone from getting down.
Half erotic theater, half posh sex party, Sanctum serves as a mildly deviant playground for would-be Christian Greys and well-heeled Angelenos looking to cross boundaries beyond the usual velvet ropes.
On Saturday night, as guests trickled into the party, they were greeted by two female performers fingering and licking each other seductively in the main room. Elsewhere, an elite Sanctum member dubbed “The Bunnyman” bound a woman to a chair in intricate Japanese shibari rope bondage.
Wielding a bottomless case of sex toys like Mary Poppins’ carpetbag, he teased her between her open thighs as partygoers in tuxes and Louboutins gathered around and intermittently gazed, drinks in hand, murmuring softly to one another until she came and the show was over.
Then there was our Minotaur, a tattooed stud sporting a teeny-tiny loincloth and bullhorns. One minute he was receiving languorous head in a downstairs bedroom designated as the party’s “Petting Zoo;” the next, he and a female performer were pounding away atop a padded ottoman next to couches reserved for bottle service patrons, giggling at one another in some shared secret joke as onlookers gawked.
Those who preferred to do more than just watch could cash in $50 “play tokens” for an interactive experience with the performers who roamed the party. One bubbly blonde moonlighting porn star in leather pig ears and a snout wore nothing on her hairless, tan body save for a pair of pink ankle socks. She flirted with a female patron, probing her about her fantasies as the woman’s boyfriend panted nearby, visions of a threesome dancing in his eyes.
The more adventurous guests took advantage of open bedrooms, stairwells, and padded surfaces to fuck in front of eagerly prying eyes. As the night wore on, these public backroom exhibitions became more frequent and more crowded, throngs of mostly single men flocking en masse to one bedroom or another like it was New Year’s Eve at Jack Horner’s house.
Plenty of others simply surveyed the sensual scenery from a safe distance. I thought I spotted Fifty Shades of Grey producer Dana Brunetti sitting poolside in a mask, just after a scantily clad woman captivated the party by “performing” as a human table. He later revealed via Instagram that he’d indeed paid a naughty visit to Sanctum—fitting research for his next BDSM sequel.
Fifty Shades of Grey is a pretty close parallel to the entry-level sexplorations Sanctum has to offer. What it’s not is a hardcore fetish dungeon or your traditional swingers’ party, founder Damon Lawner emphatically told me when we met for tea days before his May soiree. (Like Christian Grey’s sex life, it’s also a predominantly heteronormative affair for a clientele that’s not quite open-minded enough to embrace dude on dude action.)
Lawner, the son of a musician who started throwing high-end parties while living in Bali, started the Beverly Hills-based club in 2013 as a place for “erotic exploration without judgment.” He admits to a period of growing pains when, getting the business off the ground, the event catered to both its target demo of like-minded lifestyle enthusiasts and more douchey-leaning bottle service bros and businessmen who could afford the pricey admission, which ranges from $300 for a single male entry to $2,500 for an elite annual membership.
Since those early days when critics, he says, rightly spanked him for creating a less than sexy environment, Lawner began limiting his guest list to 200 or so worthy entrants with an emphasis on women and couples. Now, the price of admission includes first applying for the privilege of buying a ticket, submitting one’s sexual fantasies and a few choice photos for consideration. Only then, decked out in tuxedos (or either evening gowns or sexy lingerie for the ladies, naturally) may guests enter the soiree to witness and partake in the spoils of the Sanctum Club.
Downstairs in the first bedroom, curious guests had gathered for an impromptu show. One baby-faced young woman slid off her sheath and stood against a wall in nothing but black panties, illuminated in the crimson wash of a floor lamp. A female dom began administering flicks to her breasts with a black leather flogger with the mesmeric rhythm of a martial arts master. A second instrument materialized in her other hand, picking up speed as she gracefully sent leather kisses flying upon both nipples, floggers whirling in hypnotic synchronicity to both her subject’s delight and the crowd’s.
Meanwhile, a lone wolf I’d made chitchat with earlier peered into the doorway. “You should come down the hall,” he said, enigmatically.
We joined a stream of eager guests wandering toward a second downstairs bedroom where a crowd had jammed up traffic to the mansion’s bathroom. While waiting they were getting quite an eyeful: the first wave of aroused party guests had begun shedding their own inhibitions, along with their clothing.
On one side of a king-sized bed a woman in a thong laid splayed across her male companion’s lap, her lips on his erect penis, which was peeking out of unzipped tuxedo pants. Lost in their own concerns, they paid no mind to the threesome of twentysomethings that was going down on the far side of the bed, where a pony-tailed trust fund type, also nearly fully clothed, was resolutely thrusting away at a pretty blonde who had a second cock in her hand.
A few feet away, two couples sat on a loveseat taking in the scene from the front row as another pair nuzzled amorously in a darkened corner.
One of my close female friends had accompanied me to Sanctum in the name of science—in her words, “to make sure you don’t get murdered”—and we fell into conversation with two strangers, a first-timer in town for a business conference who’d heard Sanctum was the hottest thing in L.A. and a mischievous architect with a Dali moustache. The latter was still high on the time, two parties ago, when he got lucky with a lady he met here and left to bone the night away. Another party had a dazzling fire show but got shut down early by the cops, he lamented to us, before asking my friend to lift up her dress.
Ditching our new pals, my girlfriend and I found a hidden perch under a spiral staircase perfect for voyeuristic peeping but found ourselves trapped when a horny couple sashayed over and blocked our exit. We waited it out as they proceeded to screw against a window overlooking the moonlit hillside to the pulsating sound of a house remix of “Bette Davis Eyes.” Picturesque, to say the least.
From that vantage point we glimpsed a spanking session that had commenced behind closed doors under the command of a tight-bodied older blonde in fetish gear and a military style dominatrix hat. She smiled at a group of inquisitive male guests who stuck their heads out to peer inside, waving a riding crop in their faces. “Do you want to get spanked?” she asked. They balked at the offer, not ready to receive punishment from Ilsa, She Wolf of the Sanctum Club.
Venturing back towards the main room, we found a new brunette in the Bunnyman’s clutches—a female guest in a black cocktail dress, her knees drawn up, bound to the chair. He paused, appraising a large black vibrator as a surgeon would a scalpel, and applied it to the woman’s erogenous zone. She threw her head back and moaned softly. When she finished, she leaned in for a polite thank you kiss.
“That’s [name redacted]; he’s one of our oldest members,” beamed Lawner with an approving grin, glancing at the Bunnyman. Behind us, a willowy blonde guest in lingerie mounted a stripper pole adorned with a carousel horse that had been installed in the middle of the room, showing off expert-level acrobatics.
One of Sanctum’s founding members, a beautiful and vivacious woman in a black teddy joined us, nodding in agreement. “You have to ask him to tie you up and masturbate you,” she told me with a smile. “He masturbated me.”
Upstairs in a private lair with a sweeping view of the party below, a dozen of the Sanctum Club’s elite members had retired for more advanced exhibitionism. On one bed the makings of a gangbang were underway with an enthusiastic nude woman and her three male companions.
On another, a slim brunette was going down on her man as he fingered her ass, which was resplendently pointed in our direction. Occasionally, the two parties glanced over at one another and grinned in mutual admiration—group sex at its most neighborly.
Close to 3 AM, another pair of Sanctum Club members ventured downstairs and took over the ottoman stage with a sensual display of fully clothed, masks-on fondling. Weary guests shuffled out towards home, marveling at the night’s spectacle. “Let’s all go to Mongolia!” one guy shouted, jovially attempting to keep the party going.
That’s around the time when, Lawner later told me, he switched the unrelenting house beats pounding out the party’s soundtrack to the mellower rock tunes of Led Zeppelin, a gentle indication to the remaining guests that the night was winding down. This particular party had gone well, he assessed via phone days later.
“They’re getting progressively more right,” he said of the handpicked mix of guests he’d curated for the night, already looking towards his next June bash. After his first rocky year, he says he made personal vetting of his partygoers and an increased emphasis on women top priorities, resulting in better, sexier parties. “I can see the efforts I’ve made to make it what it is really paying off.”