“A lot of people ask if it will look like a sex shop, and I would have to say no, as it’s really hard to translate sex toys into a bar setting.” As the founder of Feelmore, the feminist, queer-owned adult boutique with locations in Oakland and Berkeley, Nenna Joiner is used to answering all kinds of strange questions. But, with the upcoming opening of her latest project, a bar named Feelmore Social Club, she’s facing a new challenge — opening a Bay Area bar that will truly feel sexy.
Slated to open at the 1542 Broadway space previously occupied by the clothing and accessory store Viscera, Feelmore Social Club — which has already attracted the attention of the SF Chronicle — is a statement, whichever way you look at it, Joiner’s way to command the space. “Twitter and Square are right across the street from one another, so Jack Dorsey gets to walk across the street to manage his business,” she told Nosh. “We’ve been told, as women, to wait while men run the world — this is my opportunity to say that I can run the world, I don’t have to wait. But I have to be strategic.”
Opening a small bar that’s a continuation of her existing business, and located within walking distance, is that strategic move. Joiner, who once operated Feelmore from an ice cream truck, promotes sex education and has been featured in the now-defunct blog Repeller, is an avid traveller who’s been to Japan, casually, “for the Penis Festival.” (That would be the annual Kanamara Matsuri). In Tokyo, her favorite spot, and a source of inspiration, is The Vibe Bar Wild One, a tiny place that combines a sex shop with a bar. “I looked at it and thought, It’s really dope,” Joiner said. She hopes to send her Feelmore customer base to the bar, and the other way around, creating lively cross-pollination.
The premise of Feelmore Social Club is a “strip club without the strip”: no carpeting, no nudity, just an electrifying atmosphere fueled by good drinks, small bites and retro decor, such as a vintage sign spelling “The Lusty Lady,” which Joiner purchased years ago at the closing sale of San Francisco’s famous worker-owned peep show, which shuttered in 2013. “Just something really sexy, a collision space where you can meet someone unique, someone of value, someone who can potentially change your life,” she said.
As the Viscera space already has significant infrastructure, including a bar and a skylight, construction will remain minimal, and the soft opening is slated for January 2022. “We have the majority of the bare bones,” says Joiner. The food will follow the concept of nhau, a Vietnamese word that translates as “together” but also evokes a certain type of communal, shared meal, not unlike the Japanese Izakaya concept. “It may be based on my partner’s mother’s table,” Joiner says. “I’ve never had food like that in my life.” The drinks will be on the lighter side, including palomas and other light cocktails, as Joiner plans to open the space during the day.
As a Black, queer business owner, Joiner is hyper-aware of representation, and ultimately wants to “create a space where I myself will feel comfortable.” Gentle references, like a cocktail named after James Baldwin, will make sure that people of color will feel seen at the bar. “We’ll be making sure there’s space-making for queer and Black people,” Joiner assures, “with things that represent and can communicate with our drink culture and values.”
While there’s no shortage of bars in Oakland, Joiner hopes hers will stand out, and not only thanks to its lusty vibes. “It will add a little bit of character and diversity — and add a queer-owned space,” she says. “We tend to go into other spaces to bring the queer dollar, but it’s not just about a “queer night” once a week, it’s 365 to be queer for a lot of people, so we want to provide a safe space without being performative about money.”
Feelmore Social Club is expected to open in January 2022. It will be at 1542 Broadway (near 17th Street), Oakland.