A couple hundred people fill the dance floor, bathed in bright red lights and psychedelic, paisley blue and yellow projections. The thumping electro-metal of Rob Zombie blasts partygoers in the face as they gather around the stripper platform, where a slender topless dancer shares space with a busty female patron in an elaborate, black Victorian gown.
Apparently, vampires, werewolves, and skeletons kept stepping on her bustle, so she ran for high ground. She keeps pulling her bustier up to contain herself as she bounces to the beat.
Below her, a sea of shiny black vinyl outfits and pasty white makeup writhes en masse. Revelers worm through the sweaty swarm with red plastic cups held high. Body heat turns the room into a thick and heavy rainforest.
A few dozen people are hanging out in the dungeon down the hall. The dungeon includes a giant swing, a playhouse, and several bondage racks, but at the moment, they serve merely as furniture.
In a playroom off to the side of the dungeon, a plump redhead in a black miniskirt is relentlessly being whipped by another girl as a handful of people watch. The rhythmic thwacks of the leather strips on her derriere resonate through the dungeon room, background noise for drunken conversations about the weird bookshelf wallpaper and what that spot is on the carpet.
There's a line at the makeshift bar, where a young brunette is serving a green-faced Grim Reaper who's not happy there's no ice for his absinthe. She explains that somebody went to the store to get some more ice. He consoles himself with the potent brown European beer he brought.
The scene's not that different from any popular club in the Valley on a Saturday night, except that it's now 6 on a Sunday morning — and this is no nightclub.
Basically, it's the biggest house party any of these people have ever seen — held at an opulent estate in the East Valley that began hosting huge bashes in mid-September. You probably haven't heard about it, and, amazingly, neither had the police, 'til Halloween. The property's a private residence on a multi-acre lot, so even when several hundred people are getting soused inside, sound rarely drifts onto the surrounding properties. The place is being rented and run by a group of people who live there and collectively call themselves "The Family."
They call the house Rasputin's Equestrian Manor, and it includes all the trappings of a typical nightclub. But as a private residence, there are other bonuses that can't be enjoyed at the Valley's bars — indoor smoking, liquor service past 2 a.m., B.Y.O.B. privileges, and an invitation to pass out and stay the night.
Parties sometimes don't even start until 3 a.m. and often last past sunrise, like the Halloween fete, which raged until Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies arrived near dawn to find a couple hundred people still shaking their booties to booming music. Deputies politely informed the occupants of the house that they'd received some noise complaints and it was time to wind down the Halloween party. The deputies left without incident, not even a written citation.
The people who live at the Manor refer to it as a speakeasy, even though their alcohol service appears legit. They're going more for the feel of Prohibition-era lounges, the exciting vibes that come from drinking past last call and imagining that any minute, the cops could bust in and confiscate your mint juleps.
Or maybe just politely ask for the music to be turned down.
Pretending to be taboo is trendy these days. Rasputin's is operating at a time when nostalgia for the hidden drinking holes of the 1920s is big all over the U.S., particularly Los Angeles, New York City, and Seattle. All those places have their popular faux speakeasies, where patrons use passwords and sip classic cocktails in retro-looking rooms, but they're still public businesses operating with the proper liquor licenses. If you've got your ID and some money, you can easily find it and get in. It's really just all about the aesthetic.
While there's plenty of naughty behavior at Rasputin's Equestrian Manor, the whole illicit "speakeasy" label — perhaps its biggest selling point — isn't really true.
The term originally referred to any establishment that illegally manufactured or sold alcohol during Prohibition (1920-1933). Since the repeal of Prohibition, true speakeasies became unnecessary.
A speakeasy must serve alcohol illegally to fit the traditional definition of the word, and Rasputin's Equestrian Manor apparently doesn't. Because the property is a private residence rather than a bona fide business, the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control says it doesn't require a liquor license. Spokesmen for local police departments say they don't care how big house parties are as long as no one's breaking the law or disturbing the neighbors.