While I was researching what to do in Lviv, Ukrainian restaurants and Lviv nightlife were definitely high priorities for me. I knew that Lviv was famous for having many themed bars and restaurants, and I couldn’t wait to check them all out and see just how weird things could get.
As it turns out – very weird.
One of the first results that came up when I googled ‘Lviv nightlife’ was a place called ‘Masoch Cafe,’ a BDSM themed bar dedicated to the so-called ‘founder’ of masochism, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (after whom the term ‘masochism’ is coined).
After reading a handful of reviews online, I decided I had to visit Masoch Cafe and see what all the fuss was about, but first, a bit of background…
Who Was Leopold von Sacher-Masoch?
Born in Lviv in 1836, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was a writer, journalist and professor who was an advocate for women’s rights and worked against local anti-semitism, as well as writing history books about his homeland, Galacia.
However, what he is most known for is his private life, in which he had a strong desire to be dominated by women. In 1869, he and his mistress, the Baroness Fanny Pistor, signed a contract making him her slave for a period of 6 months, with the agreement that she must wear furs regularly (this was depicted in his novella, Venus in Furs, which I discuss in more detail below). They took a train to Venice together (with her in first-class and he in third), where she could treat him as cruelly as she wished without anybody recognising them. You can read this contract, as well as the one he later made with his wife Wanda, here.
His other fetishes, which he made public in his famous letters and books, included pretending to be a bear and running away from a woman wearing furs and carrying a whip, who would inflict lots of pain upon him after catching him.
However, despite making his sexual proclivities so public, he wasn’t impressed when Austrian psychiatrist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing coined the term ‘masochism’ in his book, Psychopathia Sexualis, naming Sacher-Masoch as the inspiration.
Venus in Furs
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch made part of his personal life public in his erotic novella, Venus in Furs, which is possibly one of his most famous works.
Venus in Furs tells the story of an unnamed man who dreams about speaking to the Roman Goddess Venus about love while she wears furs. The man confesses his fantasy to his friend Severin, who recommends that he reads a manuscript entitled ‘Memoirs of a Suprasensual Man’ in order to overcome his fascination with dominant women.
The manuscript tells the story of a man, Severin von Kusiemski, who is so infatuated with a woman named Wanda von Dunajew, that he asks her if he can be her slave and encourages her to mistreat and degrade him. The two take a trip to Florence together (not Venice, as in Sacher-Masoch’s real life), where Wanda treats Severin as her servant, and recruits a trio of African women to brutally dominate him.
However, Wanda then meets a man that she would like to submit to, and, feeling humiliated, Severin loses his desire to submit to her, concluding that in the present day, a woman can only be a slave to man, and never his companion. He says that women’s rights will have to improve in the spheres of education and the workplace in order for man to finally be able to submit properly to a woman.
Masoch Cafe Lviv
Whilst in Lviv, my friend Nadia and I went to Masoch Cafe a couple of times, and we weren’t disappointed.
Outside Masoch Cafe is a statue of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (you can actually put your hand inside his pocket and feel his willy inside – something that parents were encouraging their kids to do while they laughed hystrically and took pictures), and apparently it is the only statue of him in the world!
Once you pass the statue and enter through the keyhole shaped door, Masoch Cafe doesn’t look that different to any other bar. It is decorated in quite an old-fashioned, classical style, with some erotic artwork hung on the walls and ladies’ underwear hanging from the light fittings, and small groups of Ukrainians and Poles (Lviv is a common holiday destination for Polish people) sitting around chatting and drinking cocktails. It isn’t exactly the most scandalous of places.
‘Is this is?‘ we thought.
I couldn’t believe that this was all there was to Masoch Cafe, and so I went off to investigate, startled as a handsome waiter with a flogger spanked me as I walked by.
Heading towards a winding red staircase leading down into a basement, my heart began to quicken.
This must be it.
Sure enough, as I began to descend the stairs, I heard a man yelling out in pain and what seemed to be crowds of people clapping and cheering.
So this was where the party was at!
Turning around, I hurried back up the stairs to grab Nadia, and we both made our way into the dungeon to see what Masoch Cafe had in store…
What happens in the basement of Masoch Cafe?
Downstairs in Masoch Cafe is definitely more risque than the ground floor. Bras and handcuffs are draped across red and black leather seats, heavy chains are tied to hospital-style beds, and softcore retro porn plays on the televisions (as well as random footage of politicians fighting?!?).
The menus, thick black and red booked bound with chains, feature bull penis in minestrone broth, Bloody Mary soup with vodka and braised bull’s testicles, as well as cocktails with names such as ‘Submission’ and ‘Lady in Fur.’
Feeling glad that we’d already eaten, Nadia and I opted for some of Lviv’s famous craft beer and got comfortable in our seats as we watched four young Ukrainian women being made to bend over by the waitress as she flogged them, making them ask for more in between spanks and fits of laughter.
Later, a guy who was out with his girlfriend and a few friends volnteered for the same treatment, and so a blonde waitress wearing a corset and heels, made him take his shirt off before blindfolding him and tying him to a wooden chair in the centre of the room. As everyone watched and cheered on, she emptied a shot of vodka into his mouth, before dripping hot wax and ice onto his bare torso. As the cocky guy grinned, enjoying his treatment, the waitress forced him onto his knees and proceeded to whip him, making him thank her for each spank, much to the delight and amusement of his friends.
However, despite how x-rated this all sounds, the atmosphere at Masoch Cafe is much closer to a burlesque or cabaret show than anything else. The server’s costumes are more like something you’d wear to a fancy dress party than a fetish night, and the people who volunteer for spanks and humiliation do it more for the free vodka and hilarity rather than for sexual gratification.
Moreover, the clientele at Masoch Cafe isn’t what you’d expect either. Masoch Cafe attracts groups of students, couples on quirky first dates and BFFs catching up over cocktails. It’s the kind of venue where you go to enjoy the novelty of such a naughty theme in a very safe and mainstream environment, and if you visit Masoch Cafe in the hopes of experiencing a seedy fetish night then you’ll be sorely disappointed.
I really enjoyed the nights that I spent at Masoch Cafe. Whether you want to go for a cheeky afternoon tipple, or get drunk in the basement at 4am, Masoch Cafe has you covered.
They have really honoured the BDSM theme at Masoch, and I loved the attention to detail in the decor, the staff’s uniforms and the items on the menu (however unappetising some of them looked!). The whole place really is an ode to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, with his portrait on the wall, his statue acting as doorman, and his quotes about female supremacy littering the menu. Masoch Cafe is also incredibly cheap, which is surprising for such a gimmicky venue.
In addition to this, I feel as though Masoch Cafe is really good for Ukraine. Ukrainian society is very conservative and serious, and having such a garish display of sexuality and kink right there in the city centre is a big deal. Masoch Cafe brings sexuality out of the dingy underworld of strip clubs and massage parlours, and makes it mainstream and fun. It is a place where men and women alike can loosen up and enjoy the ride, and the fact that parents actually encourage their kids to pose with the statue of Sacher-Masoch makes it clear that they view Masoch Cafe as nothing more than harmless fun.
What did you think of my experience? Are you planning a trip to Masoch Cafe in Lviv? Let me know how you find it!