Walking down the stairs that lead to the restaurant I was awkwardly calm, considering I was about to enter the Dungeon. The tiles of the restaurant were an old brown and green pattern seemingly from the 70's and scattered around were couches and chairs seated around heavy black and red tables. People sat around eating from a selection of cheese platter, sandwiches and chips. Not what I had expected from Israel's only sado-masochist (S&M) and fetish club.
It was my first time working at the club and it looked harmless, the people seemed friendly and the place did not look like a club of any kind let alone a kinky sex club of whips, chains and debauchery.
After being introduced to Amos Levy, the owner of the club, I was even more perplexed. He was a short balding man, wearing a black T-shirt and black jeans, with wide brown eyes and a business manner that one would expect from someone working in stocks and bonds. Then he showed me the Dungeon.
Looking to my right after entering through a heavy metal door were small cages with shackles situated next to the main bar. Above, a gallery or private room, depending on its inhabitance at the time, looked down onto the dance floor where one can observe whatever show was taking place, two wooden X's strategically placed around the bottom level. I was told this was to accommodate shows of sado-maso the name for whipping and inducing pain upon someone for their own sexual gratification.
Upstairs there were more rooms with shackle capabilities and the toilets were without toilet seats and had a smell that would put even the strongest stomach to the test.
Eight months down the track, I am finishing my tenure at the Dungeon. There is no longer a restaurant and most of the performers have been replaced with a new crop of talent. The toilets are a little cleaner but the clientele make sure that only lasts for the first half an hour and this Thursday the Dungeon celebrates its third year in operation.
The Dungeon is located in Kedumim Square in the old city of Jaffa. The building was erected 300 years ago when Jaffa was under Turkish control and it was not until 1948 that Israel seized control from the local Arab occupants during the Independence War. For about 30 years the building was a club for the rich and the famous called The Cave, and featured prominent performers Yaffe Arkoni and Yoel Sher. Some years later the club was bought and reopened under the name of Van Gough where again it offered society's elite a refuge from the many clubs that had opened during the 90s around Allenby St., some distance from the confines of Jaffa. Just three years ago it became the Dungeon.
Amos describes the idea for the club spawning from a conversation with a customer at his internet cafe four years ago.
"He said to me, you know what? There is no BDSM club in Israel. I thought that this guy is very crazy. But I checked if there was something in what he said, and I looked at the clubs in London and New York and decided we can do it."
The main difference separating the Dungeon from those clubs he saw in other countries is the people in the Israeli society.
"The people in the other countries, they have a culture of fetish. They come in the dress code and they know the behavior. They give respect to the people who give a session. Here, because most of the people who come are from the outside and not from the community of BDSM, they don't know. It takes time. It was a lot worse and now its better."
Every Thursday the club is transformed to accommodate a different theme. From a pool of chocolate milk during chocolate fetish night and a doctor stitching up skin over a mans genitals during medical fetish night to the regular episodes of dripping hot wax on naked bodies and piercing skin in the most uncomfortable places of the human body. I have found myself continually challenged and becoming more and more desensitized.
According to my mild mannered boss, "Everything is normal."
"It's not a normal place. Inside everything is normal. This is the world. Outside everything is abnormal and if you want to make people feel normal inside you need people that are? A little bit weird."
This philosophy results in a group of employees that create some strange dynamics. One of the bartenders is a former pimp, another used to be a receptionist at a brothel, and until recently there was an internationally renowned transvestite behind the bar. Chuck in some mentally unstable whipping girls and an Australian journalist to clean up after everyone and you have one of the most unique atmospheres that any club has seen.
Coming to the club can be very unpredictable because the shows are the responsibility of those who come on that given day. Most people just watch and are often just there to dance and have a good time.
The most remarkable thing about the club is undoubtedly the mix of people that frequent its premises. Bisexual, homosexual, heterosexual, asexual, and transsexuals from Jewish orthodox, Jewish secular, Arab Israeli or foreign backgrounds all mixing and mingling without hesitation. This is only interesting given the prejudices and marginalization that is evident in Israeli society.
And now as sado-maso turns three in this Jewish State I reflect on my time cleaning up after these enthusiasts of sexual indulgences.
It is a place where even the most socially difficult individual can feel comfortable. A dungeon that they can call home.