It’d be a hard argument, debunking Richmond’s rap for conservatism, but the city is not without its seamier side. When Richmond magazine went searching for it, it was, in fact, remarkably easy to find. Here’s just a small sampling of what lurks just below our city’s conservative sheen — if you care to look.
Amateur Ultimate Fighting: Called Vale Tudo (which means “no rules” in Portuguese), Amateur Ultimate Fighting is the legitimized cousin of the violent bloodsport found on pay per view. Practitioners enjoy Vale Tudo because it demands knowledge of many forms of martial arts and better simulates hand-to-hand combat. “It’s growing by leaps and bounds,” says Gary Miles of Midlothian’s American Karate Center, adding that up to 1,000 spectators attend the events. The controversial nature of the sport often has organizers releasing times and locations (ironically, places like the Westover Hills Elementary school gym) at the last minute. Contact the center for upcoming events.
The Old Dominion Club: A favorite of those who simply cannot stop partying, members-only ODC is the after-hours club of choice. Tucked into the first floor of a nondescript brick warehouse near First and Broad streets (7 E. Broad St.), with an entrance in the alley, this is as close to a modern-day speakeasy as it gets. Seven nights a week between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., the shadowy dance floor throbs with heavy backbeats; and the pool tables stay busy all night. The crowds run the gamut — from frat boys in their ball caps to leather-bound scenesters. Annual membership is a must and can be purchased for $50 at the door Fridays and Saturday nights. Call 643-0636 for more information.
Dog Fighting: A longtime target of animal-advocacy groups, dog fighting is still a “huge problem” that’s very prevalent in the state, according to Jeanne Bridgeforth, president of local animal-welfare group SOS (Save Our Shelters). According to Bridgeforth, 25 percent of dogs in the city pound at any given time show signs of having been fought, and court records also seem to support her claims. Since July 2003, there’ve been a handful of convictions, including that of Pittsylvania County resident Philip Reynolds, publisher of American Game Dog Times, who was fined $10,000 and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.
The Queer Liberation Front Space: The QLF Space, as it’s known, or “Queer Paradise,” is quickly becoming the premiere arts space for the local activist set. Though the nature of the events can be deceptively benign — dances, art installations, even crocheting classes — the QLFers are decidedly political. The needlepoint, for instance, is an adamant push for economic self-sufficiency. Located at 319 N. Adams St., the QLF clearly promotes a radical vibe. Flyers in the VCU area announce monthly shows, or check their Web site: www.queerspace.org.
Amateur Wrestling: Wrestling diehards and those otherwise in the loop know that Richmonders harbor a huge affinity for amateur and semi-professional wrestling. Why wait for the WWE to descend on the Coliseum to get your fill? Local events, from the UCW semipro circuit right down to tossed-together backyard wrestling bouts, are happening all the time. Richmonder Amy Dumas recently graduated to the WWE, and several locals, among them local bartender Kyle Bowles (a.k.a. Humphrey J. DuPont III), continue to work the amateur circuit. “Richmond is actually a very cutting-edge town,” says Bowles, commenting on the sport’s local popularity. “People don’t realize it, but wrestling’s a very smart sport. Richmonders see the humor in it, the intellectualism.”
Virginia Friends: Swinging is back, ’70s-style, and for several years now a local group called Virginia Friends has been leading the charge. This sex-based club hosts monthly mixers, including November's “Fantasy and Fetish Ball,” and revelers often commandeer entire floors of a local hotel. Events are highly organized, right down to the newcomers’ seminar offered to couples with more than a budding interest in “The Lifestyle.” The club is awash in secrecy to protect its privacy and the future of the club itself, but not so secret that its Web site isn’t readily available: www.vafriendsonline.com. Organizers say average attendance tops 85 couples, but the Halloween parties bring the biggest crowd.
Godfrey’s Drag Brunch: Upon first hearing about Godfrey’s Sunday drag brunch, one can be so taken with the oddity of it that you forget to ask yourself why you’d ever want to attend a drag show over bacon and hash browns. Nevertheless, Godfrey’s queens bring packed houses to the edge of their collective seats nearly every Sunday with impeccable lip-synching, superior boob jobs — and, of course, the great food. “The performers here are some of the best in the country,” says owner Jeff Willis. “This started out as a way to get people in to eat, but it’s just so much fun.” The one problem? After the meal, the rest of your Sunday can seem pretty darn bland. Brunch is held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more info, go to www.godfreysva.com.
Fielden’s: Along the 2000 block of West Broad Street, just across the median from legendary Pleasant's Hardware, is another Richmond institution, this one famous for throwing some of the city’s wildest parties. Fielden’s is a private, after-hours club that routinely crushes sexual convention underfoot, usually hosting gay dance nights. Annual events such as the Richmond Leather Club’s “Evening of Educational Kink” or the leather-and-fetish extravaganza “Bal de Sade” keep Fielden’s in the news and on the map. It also plays hosts to some great theater productions by the Richmond Triangle Players. Check www.fieldensva.com for more information.
Ancarrow’s Boat Landing: Just across the river from where the now-gone Annabel Lee riverboat used to dock, Ancarrow’s Landing is where slave ships docked in the 1700s and 1800s to bring their human cargo to market. These days the memories have yielded to this out-of-the-way picnic ground/boat landing. Get there by crossing the 14th Street bridge, then passing back through the floodwall gate and following the road east. The road winds past the water treatment facility and down to the water to one of the spookiest little nighttime haunts in the city limits. It takes the cake for the single best place in town to do the things you don’t want anyone to know about.
Graffiti Bridge: Just beneath the Boulevard Bridge, in the shadow of the Diamond, is just the kind of seedy place your mother always warned you about. This underpass is popular with local graffiti taggers, and six feet up the walls, on every piece of available concrete you’ll see their marks, as well as elaborate cartoon figures and more. While it’s darn near impossible to make out what any of it says, this collective graffiti is a sight to behold. But do keep in mind, this ain’t the Canal Walk. This is downtrodden territory, an anything-goes, dirt-and-track sort of spread, replete with several large cardboard boxes along the walls that look recently lived in.