For some, MAL is about the legendary Leather Cocktails, the event from which the weekend born. Then there are those who look forward to the pageantry and entertainment of the title competitions, where this year Sandra Bernhard will take the stage. And as always the dancers take the opportunity to hit the floor at the Reaction Dance or the new-this-year Parade Rest Military Ball.
But over the years, one of the most popular destinations of the weekend has been the Leather Exhibit Hall, a free-admission social scene that brings together diverse elements of the leather community -- as well at the entire GLBT community -- as they peruse the booths offering clothing, toys and other accoutrements from mild to wild.
"It's turned into something more than just an exhibit hall, it's become a social gathering place," says Bailey Walker, a Centaur MC member and coordinator of this year's exhibit hall. "An energy developed there far beyond what anyone anticipated."
A vendor from MAL 2004
Take a spin around the hall at the Washington Plaza with its more than twenty exhibitors and "you'll see a little bit of everything," Walker says. And it's true -- visitors find a vast cornucopia of all things leather, bondage, S&M, rubber and lots of other things that appeal to those with seriously playful sexuality.
The exhibit hall has become so popular with both visitors and vendors that the number of booths has to be limited. With that in mind, they've focused on making sure the exhibitors that are on hand contribute to a diverse experience. While they don't want too many booths providing the same floggers and whips, says Walker, they also want to make sure that "the standard, old guard leather is represented because that's the backbone of the event."
For those who are curious about leather, or looking to explore a bit beyond what they know, the Leather Exhibit Hall provides a comfortable opportunity.
"It's become a major focal point of the weekend, and attracts a lot of people, both people registered for the weekend as well as people who may be curious," says Larry Barat, MAL 2005 chair.
Barat recalls his own first visit to MAL as a visitor to D.C. who wasn't registered for the main events.
"I just hung out in the lobby and met people," he says. "It's the casual atmosphere, it's a friendly environment. If you're new, you can go and get lost in the crowd and mingle and meet people."
Both Walker and Barat say that the growing popularity of the exhibit hall and the ongoing social gathering in the Washington Plaza's lobby bar has presented it's own set of not-unwelcome challenges. Last year, people were turned away from the lobby bar because the hotel had exceeded its capacity. With a uniform dance on Saturday night this year, they expect to lessen the crowd a bit.
"There have been some rumors that we're not letting non-registrants into the lobby, which isn't true," Barat says. "But if it's near capacity it will have to be limited to people registered, and then we'll form a line."
Because of the crowds that can form at the exhibit hall, Walker recommends people stop by on Saturday morning or early afternoon, or on Sundays, when the number of bargains to be found increases.
Even with all the goods and services on display, though, Barat says that the weekend is about more than the clothes themselves.
"When I first got into leather at 19 I was a starving medical student, and the only leather I owned was boots and a belt," says Barat. "It's not what you're wearing but who you are that makes you a leatherman."
The Leather Exhibit Hall is open Friday, Jan. 14, 4 to 10 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 15, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 16, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free of charge to people over 18 years of age.
|Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend 2005 Features|