For those interested in kink events primarily targeted towards a queer male-identified audience, there are a number of great ones out there. Most people have heard of Folsom Street Fair and International Mr. Leather (IML). In Washington, DC in January, there’s another big kink event that draws a lot of attendees and participants: Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend (MAL).
I’ve attended Folsom, IML, Dore Alley, Mr. International Rubber, and Rubbout. But there’s a first time for everything, so this year I decided to attend MAL for the first time. Here are my thoughts, and a guide for those who might consider attending in the future.
There are really only two choices: the host hotel, which is the Hyatt Regency, or the hotel across the street, the Liaison. (The Liaison really sounds like a more appropriate name for a hotel for this event!) I stayed at the Hyatt and had a good experience. The rooms aren’t huge on amenities (would have loved a better coffee maker and a mini-fridge) but it’s a great, convenient space for tourist activities and for the event. DC is a great tourist destination and I recommend taking a few extra days or at least a little time out of your weekend to hit a museum or two.
The Hyatt’s elevators get very busy and clogged up during event prime time, so given that, the Liaison is almost equal in terms of travel time. However, the Liaison is not exclusively booked for MAL, so you have to deal with and pass by non-kinksters eating at the restaurant in the lobby, who may be in town for something else. The Hyatt is pretty much a 100% kink crowd.
I felt very lucky in that we narrowly avoided a blizzard that struck three days after the event. The weather was cold, but not awful, and there were a couple of days that had highs in the 40s, which is unseasonably warm for the area. That said, pack and dress warmly!
Depending on when you arrive, after you pass the sign before the downward escalators that indicates “PRIVATE EVENT,” you’ll be greeted by a deluge of men in leather, rubber, sports gear, minimal attire, and occasional other fetishes (there were a few suited-up furries there). It’s a constant party in the lobby, with drinking, socializing and music and where you’ll spend a good portion of your time at MAL.
This is both the best and worst thing about the event, and something that was exactly reminiscent of IML. I’d been told that MAL is both smaller, friendlier and more play-oriented than IML, and I didn’t really get that sense about it. It’s possible that’s due to the layout, but MAL’s hotel lobby was absolutely packed during the busiest times, with Saturday night actually having a line outside to get into the lobby. There’s a lot of standing and modeling and some cliquishness, and if you don’t know people or you’re not outgoing, it can be hard to break in.
That said, I found people were generally receptive if you said hi, cruised, or whatnot. If you’ve never been to a big event like this, it’s amazing to jump into a sea of hot men and see what happens. At its best, there are moments that feel fantastical and otherworldly, like you have stepped out of your own life and entered into an adult Disneyland, such as when you enter an elevator and it’s populated by a bound-and-gagged fellow at the knees of a daddy and a muscular human pup looking for attention.
The other big space you spend a lot of time in is the vendor mart, which is where various kink vendors have gear, toys and accessories for sale, everything from harnesses to cock rings to slings. MAL had a very impressive array of vendors, including mainstays like Mr. S Leather and Fort Troff, as well as other, lesser-known vendors. I was struck by Wolfstryker Leathers in particular as they had an array of superhero harnesses that I was really drawn to. Definitely a lot of fun shopping to be done here!
Just as with IML, there are two groups of people who attend. Some people are very interested in the Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather contest, and buy a package that includes contest tickets and an event called Leather Cocktails. Others are there to join the party and only buy a weekend ticket for the vendor mart. I was part of the latter, so I can’t comment on those other official events. I definitely respect the contest and its history but I know from past experience that it’s not something I am interested in. That said, I never felt like I was bored during the weekend.
I did attend two smaller events as part of MAL. One was a Mr. International Rubber meetup, which was fantastic and hugely well-attended. The other was a superhero meetup, a much less formal gathering in the lobby. It was fun to see costumes, from traditional (a few Batmans and Robins) to out-of-the-box (there was a fellow with a full lizard-type alien costume). I felt the MAL experience worked better for me in these smaller groups, and there were events like that throughout the weekend such as dances and room parties.
Was It Worth It?
Overall yes. Despite reports to the contrary from friends, it didn’t really feel that different from IML, which I had attended three times. However, I vastly prefer the Hyatt Regency over the Congress, IML’s current home hotel.
I definitely enjoyed the social scene, and there definitely were all sorts of opportunities available. I’m not sure I could handle attending both MAL and IML every year, but may be worth it to alternate back and forth in future years.
Have you attended MAL or any other kink events? What’s your favorite? Let us know in the comments!