Over the years, the leather/BDSM/fetish communities have seen a lot of change. The evolution includes ''plushies,'' motocross gear, athletic wear and other twists and turns that are a far cry from your grandfather's motorcycle club. But that's the thing about change: It's inevitable.
This year, MAL Weekend will introduce a couple changes itself: the venue and the admission policy.
As Patrick Grady, Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend Chairman 2011, explains it, MAL's first host hotel, in 1996, was the Ramada Plaza at Thomas Circle. He ought to know – by 1997 the hotel had become the Washington Plaza and Grady was the director of catering. ''I fell for the Centaurs that weekend,'' he remembered in a January 2010 interview with Metro Weekly.
This year, it's time for a staff member of the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill to fall for the Centaur MC, because MAL is moving. Longtime member Larry Barat says it's the result of growing pains.
''For a number of years, we had kind of outgrown the Washington Plaza, both in the number of hotel rooms and the size of the exhibit hall,'' says Barat. ''It took us a few years to get up the courage to make the leap. The Washington Plaza has 360 rooms, the Hyatt 800, but one of the things about D.C. is there's nothing in between.''
In making such a big leap, MAL participants will no longer have a host hotel all to themselves. Barat says that while the entire block of MAL rooms – about 650, with overflow at the Liaison Hotel – have been reserved, that still leaves about 150 for non-MAL guests.
But with MAL rooms occupying entire floors, only the main lobby should see mainstream guests crossing paths with MAL enthusiasts. Accordingly, Barat advises that while in the main lobby participants need to dress appropriately for mainstream surroundings. A floor below, however, feel free to don the chaps and let the moon shine. This new basement-level space is vast and the Centaurs are taking full advantage with a bar, coat check, DJs, the exhibit hall and more.
''There is more exhibit space, which enables us to use the ballrooms for most of our events. We're bringing everything to the hotel except the Reaction dance,'' says Barat, including even the Mr. MAL contest itself.
The second component, admission, has been a long time coming, but Barat says most are understanding. In years past, weekend passes included admissions to the contest, Leather Cocktails and other weekend festivities. Plenty of people would forego the weekend pass and simply enjoy the fellowship flowing at the Washington Plaza for no charge. That, says Barat, has been taking its toll.
''First and foremost, this weekend is fairly expensive to put on,'' he says. ''We looked at it, to some extent, as an issue of fairness. A smaller number of people were kind of financing the weekend for everyone, really not contributing anything to the production of the weekend. We feel like $10 a day is not an excessive amount for people who come to the weekend and want to participate and have fun.
''We're not a profit-making organization. We're a club, completely volunteer-run. None of our club members make any money.''
The passes, available at the Hyatt for cash or credit, are $25 for the weekend if bought on Friday, Jan. 14; with daily passes available for $10.
''Access to events requires the full weekend package, but the Friday opening reception is open to all,'' Barat says of the simple weekend/day pass, adding that the Saint at Large is brining in DJs to spin in the lower level Friday and Saturday nights.
Beyond these two changes, Barat has only one further advisement: ''We're encouraging people who have bought the weekend package and are coming to Leather Cocktails the dress code is sort of formal leather or rubber. We don't really want people coming to a formal cocktail party dressed in a jockstrap.''