Gay Bathhouses Across America Threatened By Lowered Attendance, Outdated Public Opinion

70sBathhouseOriginally conceived as important bastions of sanitation in urban centers, American bathhouses became meccas for gay hook-up culture and entertainment in the 1960s and 70s. At that time, nearly 200 bathhouses were open around the country; now only 70 remain, and owners are scrambling to alter their image and attract youthful crowds of a new generation.

ABC News reports:

"Bathhouses were like dirty bookstores and parks: a venue to meet people," said Sykes, who still owns the smaller North Hollywood Spa. "Today, you can go to the supermarket…"

Privately run, gay-owned bathhouses proliferated in the 1970s, offering a haven for gay and bisexual men to meet. Clubs like New York City's Continental bathhouse and Los Angeles' 8709 Club saw a steady stream of patrons…

Amid the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, bathhouses were vilified for enabling promiscuity and helping spread the disease, and many either closed voluntarily or by legal pressure. Those that remained were stigmatized, and now many younger gays see them as anachronisms.

BathIn an effort to regain appeal, many bathhouses offer cheap admission prices for the younger set and amenities beyond the standard towel. Ohio's Cleveland-based Flex Spa, for example, contains luxury hotel rooms and nightclub venues; as such, it has become a fixture of gay culture beyond its sexual and social connotation, serving as the location for the Gay Games and the city's gay pride parade.

[Flex Spas CEO Todd] Saporito said more progressive views on homosexuality aren't evenly spread across the country, underscoring the need for modern bathhouses in some areas. Still, he takes nothing for granted, regardless of the location.

"Bathhouses at some level will go extinct if you don't offer something more than a towel," Saporito said.

And there is community, safe sex, and companionship to be found as well.

"You're either hooking up online or you are here, or you go to bars in West Hollywood, get drunk and hook up," said [22-year-old Brett] Sparks, acknowledging that although the bathhouse crowd skews older, it's not as risky as going home with a stranger. "Here it's a safer environment — there's condoms and other protection."

Here's hoping that bathhouses overcome the stigma and become important communal fixtures once more.

Comments

  1. SLH says

    It takes a rebel in the gay culture to not be promiscuous. I’ve never understood why safe sex didn’t include monogamy. In my opinion this kind of life leads to low self esteem. I think gay men are growing up realizing they do not have to fit into this stereotype and discovering they can actually fit into a traditional relationship and be very happy.

  2. ColinATL says

    Flex in Cleveland is the exception. Flex in Atlanta appears to be the skeezy anachronism that everyone thinks it is. Why would you hope that these become “important communal fixtures”? What’s wrong with a bookstore, a bar, or even an online community? Bathhouses will likely never go away completely, but I seriously doubt they will all suddenly become respectable and legit. But I won’t stand in their way if they do…

  3. says

    “It takes a rebel in the gay culture to not be promiscuous”

    No it doesn’t. But if telling yourself that makes you feel better than do what you need to do. if you need to insist that people having different/more sex than you must have low self esteem, again…if you need to tell yourself that to feel better, go right ahead. won’t make it true, though. people have different approaches to sex and their own sexuality – but SLH, your brand of projection is just that: projection.

    Time and Place – they’re simply not as relevant now. There will remain sex-parties and the like – but we’re living in a world where more and more of us simply don’t, and won’t, *HIDE*. that’s the biggest game changer.

    safer-sex can include monogamy, just as unsafe-sex can include monogamy – just ask anyone got who HIV, or another STI, from their supposedly-monogamous partner.

    @Crispy – the death of an elderly fella in my friend’s apt meant his unit was gutted out, and all belongings put in boxes on the street. COPIOUS amounts of vintage porno – blue boy magazines from the mid early-mid 70s. the sheer volume of ads in the Back Pages was staggering – ads for nearly every city, in every state in the Union. And they were heartbreakingly sad. snail-mail hopes at love and companionship – the vast majority of which riddled with the words and terminologies (of course) of those still crippled by internalized homophobia.

    there are fewer now, for the same reason there are fewer baths in operation: nothing to do with so-called morality or “traditional values/relationships” – everything to do with the glorious exploding onto the streets of the liberation movements. more and more progress means more and more people who don’t need Secret Outlets to be gay in. that’s the change.

  4. gregorybrown says

    Bath houses still serve important positive social functions where they exist. I addition to offering discreet places for closeted men to meet other men, they are also frequently contact points for public health outreach and education, testing for HIV and other STIs. As noted above, they are safer than many bars: I’ve never seen violence or aggression in one.

    The disregard for bath houses and their patrons seems to come from younger men whose outlook is formed by some knowledge of the AIDS horrors and the supposedly easier access to sex available from online sources. Some of it originates (understandably) with older men who actually lived through the worst years of the plague. Part of it comes from those who think monogamy and heteronormative behaviors–usually assumed to be in fact as pure and stable as the propaganda Puritans present it–are the only ways to go. Not all of us want to be monogamous, coupled or enfolded more deeply within the American sexual behavior standards.

  5. says

    “It takes a rebel in the gay culture to not be promiscuous.”
    100% false.

    the issue is not with promiscuity, not traditional anything, no so called morals. it’s that more and more and more people don’t need a “secret outlet” to be gay – embracement of sexuality, and publicly identifying as gay, means there’s simply less of a need for a Gay Sex Speakeasy.

    Sex parties will continue to run. Those who choose an adventurous sexual life will find outlets – but we’re no longer hiding in the dark. Well, some of us aren’t. This is simply about the glorious exploding into the streets that the last few decades of liberation have done.

    there are fewer baths in operation for the exact same reason that there are fewer “photo-less back-page personal ads” – more and more of us are coming out, without shame and fear, and don’t need a discreet and secret avenue in which to meet guys.

    as for “important communal fixtures” – there’s an element to that that i don’t disagree with,…in a way. i don’t dig sex-shaming: many of us do, in fact, bond with our gay brothers on a sexual level. i don’t do meaningless empty sex – i look at my friends and the reality is that a lot of them are guys i initially met over otherwise sexual circumstances. thing is – before we “hooked up” we exchanged more than just “basic stats” – some of us don’t wanna sleep with a republican with racist preferences and a mind that doesn’t enjoy literature – we all hook up differently, and we all have a different approach to sex AND our sexuality. lovers become friends, hookups become lovers and more, and the glorious spherical overlap with friend and lover becomes a combination.

    my rambling point? i’ve actually made some of my most beloved and trusted friends at venues that, to the pearl clutchers, must seem overtly sleazy and seedy. truly, though, they weren’t – they were simply a place for like-minded guys to get together. and get together we did. for more than just a quick meaningless shag. NOW – this wasn’t a BathHouse environment, per se, but i have a problem with this neutering of ourselves, and the faux-piety in some people who seem to have such disdain for the sexual lives of others.
    some of us connect sexually before we enter into our new roles as Lifelong Friends – and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

  6. oncemorewithfeeling says

    I’m not anti-bathhouse, but “here’s hoping”?

    Here’s hoping cars are just a fad and horse-drawn carriages make a comeback.

    Here’s hoping I can find a really cool new 8-track tape player.

    Here’s hoping Pia Zadora is the number one box office attraction in 2015.

    I don’t want bathhouses to completely disappear, but if they do that’s not a bad thing, that’s just life.

  7. says

    Saunas are a ways from being extinct in Montréal–there are a number still running. But, in general, as with gay bars and bookstores, the times have changed, as have the ways of meeting people. When you have way more channels, there tend to be way less viewers for each one.

    For those seeing a hookup, there are apps for that that didn’t exist not so long ago. But I don’t really get those who wouldn’t think twice about meeting strangers on Grindr but who consider bathhouses unsafe and dirty. Compared to what? A stranger’s apartment?

    There’s already a lot more pressure on young people to assimilate and bathhouses aren’t really part of that picture. Though after a night on the town, men will still find themselves there at 2am. And for some older guys, they’re a better alternative than youth-centric apps.

  8. says

    edit- forgive the repost, site was acting funny.

    ONCEMOREWITHFEELING – i am HOLDING OUT for that Pia Zadora revival!!!

    i just showed some of my BabyGays Butterfly, The Lonely Lady, and Voyage of the Rock Aliens. the poor dears didn’t know what hit them. “BETTER THAN SHOWGIRLS” was the final declaration.

  9. peterparker says

    Here’s hoping towleroad overcomes the stigma of terrible writing/boring subjects/mindless viewpoints and becomes an important communal fixture once more.

    Where the hell is Andy Towle?! His blog has gone so far downhill it isn’t worth reading anymore. I’m abandoning this blog for Joe My God.

  10. Derrick from Philly says

    Bath houses were never my thing (I’m too cheap to spend money). I loved the great out doors (a part of Fairmount Park that we called “Gay Acres”). But think that the bath houses have their place. As long as there are safe sex procedures available–well, it’s all right with me.

    I have an acquaintance who is a world traveler. The first thing he checks out before he goes abroad are the locations of the Gay bathouses (Bang Kok, Sydney, London, Paris, Brussels, Rio, etc). I never criticize him even though he claims he wants a long-time relationship with someone. I wouldn’t know what to criticize him with.

    It’s Gay diversity, ya’ll.

  11. GregV says

    The only bathhouses I’ve ever been to are the ones in Japan, where you go with your friends, your co-workers or your grandparents, go to the male or female side respectively, get naked and then have pleasant conversation while going through a cleansing and relaxation ritual that leaves you feeling refreshed, and then meet your opposite-sex friends or family members on the other side of the door for a cold beer or sake.

    From everything I have heard about the very different type of bathhouse referenced in the article, nobody talks to or meets each other, people pretend like they don’t know any friends they might see there, and drunk and high people (many of whom are too ashamed of being gay to actually meet other gay people in public) are often engaging in risks to themselves and to strangers that they would, when sober, have normally avoided.
    I know guys who, in “real life,” will say, “Before we do anything, I carry the herpes virus which I caught at a bathhouse from a guy who didn’t warn me; do you still want to do this?” But in a bathhouse where nobody says anything, that same guys engages in things he’s ashamed of the next morning, having observed the “no talking / no discussion about risks” unwritten rule.

    “Here’s hoping….” What???
    Finding “community” and “companionship??” No thanks, Joseph Ehrman- Dupre, I find community and companionship with people I can communicate with in a thoughtful and respectful way, and in a healthier venue.

  12. Gigi says

    @SLH — You said, “I’ve never understood why safe sex didn’t include monogamy.” I don’t understand why you think that it doesn’t. I’m glad you said this was “IMO” because that’s what it is: your opinion. Do you wanna know what leads to low self esteem? Disenfranchisement, rejection, bullying and the lack of love and support. While I’m sure that some people are promiscuous due to low self esteem, many others like sexual intimacy, and aren’t interested in a committed relationship. It’s that simple.

    I’ve been with my partner for more than two decades in a monogamous relationship. That was our choice. Neither one of us were what one would call promiscuous before we met, but it wasn’t because we were rebels. We’re just not wired that way.

    You said, “I’ve never understood why safe sex didn’t include monogamy.” I don’t understand why you think that it doesn’t.

  13. says

    although, GregV, to be *fair* – you do readily admit that you have zero experience with them. So…….with all due respect, the only opinion one is entitled to is an informed one. And you admit off the bat you have zero personal experience regarding these things. So…. I mean, I’m not a bath-house guy, but i have frequented sex parties. And not only was there conversations, but like i said – i ended up meeting some guys who became my best most loved friends. And, for what it’s worth, my boyfriend.

  14. Profe Sancho Panza says

    “Here’s hoping that bathhouses overcome the stigma and become important communal fixtures once more.”

    The fact that someone could write that with no apparent trace of irony disturbs me.

  15. kipp says

    In my experience, bathhouses have about the right reputation. Almost all of them are fairly seedy sex gyms (I say that in a non pejorative way) – where all the amenities like weights and espresso machines get very limited use. They serve their function… I’m not sure they need to be any more “legitimate” or culturally relevant or whatever it is this article seems to hope they become. For a majority of their users, bath houses are sources for casual sex (again, non pejorative). When geo-location services and apps like Grindr turn every cellphone into a casual sex diving rod, the bathhouse loses customers. I see this as progress.

  16. crispy says

    I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who thought that “Here’s hoping…” line was the laziest, most inexplicable sentence ever published by Towleroad.

  17. jamal49 says

    For those who weren’t there and didn’t experience the bathhouse subculture, spare us your assimilationist opinions because you are opining (or whining) about something you know absolutely nothing about.

  18. B says

    So many judgmental people on here. While the internet and apps like Grindr are changing the way people hook up, the point is, people still hook up. How you live your life is YOUR business and it isn’t anyone else’s to pass judgement on. Being sexually active is not a bad thing. Telling yourself you’re a sleaze because the right-wing Christianists say so, is just buying into their crap. There is nothing wrong with consenting adults finding pleasure with each other.

    @GregV
    Catching an STI is not because you were in a bathhouse. That could just as easily have happened in a Grindr hookup or in a dark bar or in a committed relationship.

    When the sexphobes closed down the bathhouses in the 80’s and 90’s they did noting but vilify people who were exercising the freedom of living their lives as they wanted. They didn’t stop or even slow down the AIDS crisis. All they did was drive people underground. Gay men will always find ways to hook up.

    For those of you who have never been to a bathhouse, one of the major reasons for doing so was to just have fun. Sometimes they were to socialize and rarely you might have met someone to date, but it was just for fun and celebrating your sexuality in private. We’re quickly learning how Grindr is betraying its members to the Uganadan and Russian government. So much for modern technology.

  19. Jack M says

    Now we have apps like Grindr, so we can avoid socializing and only focus on the guys we think are hot. Now that we have cell phones, we can all live in our own isolated little bubbles.

  20. woody says

    Well, the day and night saunas in amsterdam are really nice places. There is a nice bar in each where you can buy a beer or a cappuccino or have a small dutch sandwich. These venues are so different from US bath houses. We could really take a lesson from the Dutch and probably reform a relic. What’s nice about those bars in the Amsterdam saunas is that they aren’t separate. They are just part of the sauna. Just wander in in a towel. It’s bright and clean and people definitely hang for coffee, a heineken and conversation or watching the TVs. And there is always someone working the bar. It’s not the reception person running over from the door to help you…

  21. says

    I enjoyed bathhouses back in the day. But they’re vanishing from the landscape for the same reason that bars are. We’re in a new world where people can be “out” more than in the past. Not everywhere, but certainly it’s the case in major cities where bathhouses thrived.

  22. Buckie says

    If bathhouse culture can no longer support bathhouses, it’s pretty safe to say that culture is dying. And that’s because of progress.

    In the past there just were not many places one could go and feel reasonably safe.

    The sex-judgmental stuff I do not care much for, however there’s no denying that the kinds of social stresses gay people experience, and how we responded to those stresses have profoundly changed, and as a result, the way we express ourselves has changed.

    Sometimes recognition of that comes off as judging the past, a silly and unproductive futility that causes people to desperately revise the past to fit the inherent contradictions of their new fake moralities.

  23. JohnAGJ says

    “Here’s hoping that bathhouses overcome the stigma and become important communal fixtures once more.”

    Why? If folks still enjoy partaking of what they offer, that’s their business. Yet I fail to see why I should care that bathhouses are on the decline.

  24. Buckie says

    “Now we have apps like Grindr, so we can avoid socializing and only focus on the guys we think are hot. Now that we have cell phones, we can all live in our own isolated little bubbles.”

    Now you can ignore the fatty in the room under the pretense of being REALLY into your phone app, instead of just being overtly rude…

  25. says

    The best bath house in San Francisco was Ritch Street. Restaurant, nice sleeping cubicles, weekly rates, saunas, pools, black rooms, live entertainment (Bette was there a few times, can’t remember if Manilow accompanied her then). Gone now. The biggest change for me has been the departure of gay bars. SF was notorious for having gay bars in every neighborhood. Now they are few and far between but this is because being gay is much more accepted and you can go to any bar, hit on or cruise most guys, without risking a pummeling or physical threats, and oftentimes pick up a guy would would never consider same-sex until he tried it. I’m not a drinker so going to bars is not something I do a lot of other than to meet a friend(s) before going out to do something else. Bath Houses are still alive in SF but I know of no one within my 30-something group of gay friends who attends. Won’t be long before we say stuff like “remember gay bars? remember gay bath houses?” only to have the other ask ‘what’s a gay bath house?’.

  26. throwslikeagirl says

    Loved the tubs. Always had fun, always had safer sex. Met my husband at one twenty years ago. Stopped going when we decided to be monogamous, but still have fond memories.

  27. Pandion says

    Bathhouses were and are breeding grounds for all sorts of STDs. And it’s bs that they’re no different than Grindr. It’s hard to meet more than one sex partner per night using Grindr, but it’s very easy to have multiple partners in bathhouses (you can argue that in fact that’s their purpose).
    They’re commercialized promiscuity, operating for greed without regard to the public health consequences for our community. Really a shame.

    Hopefully they’ll end up in the dustbin of history.

  28. BrokebackBob says

    Ah, the old days of the skeezy bath house. Why are there so few left to remember those days. HIV/AIDS….from the bath house. I just threw up a little in my mouth.

  29. The Milkman says

    There are plenty of people who prefer casual sex, both gay and straight. That has always been true, and always will be true… whether the assimilationist gay morals scolds like it or not.

    This sex will happen in whatever venue will allow it. Right now, the fad is to use apps and meet in people’s apartments or whatever. How many times have you seen news items reporting on some poor soul being bludgeoned to death by a guy he brought back to his place for a hookup? Too often, if you ask me. While the bathhouses have their pros and cons just like any other activity, it’s exceedingly rare to see or hear of their patrons coming to a violent end.

    People are afraid of bathhouses because they were blamed for the AIDS crisis. (Never mind that there are no such bathhouses in other countries in which the disease still rages… it’s always easier for uptight Americans to blame the sexually libertine. No matter what happens to them in life, if it’s bad, it’s because they weren’t monogamous. That must be comforting for those who don’t have the cognitive wherewithal to appreciate nuance.

    Yes, I like bathhouses. I go to them once in a while, maybe a few times a year. I like sunbathing nude, and the bathhouse sometimes includes a space for doing that. I also enjoy spending the occasional few hours in an environment in which no one is just there to use the phone… it’s liberating to be free of pretense once in a while. And if I do decide to hook up, then I’d prefer to do so in an environment that makes violent attacks rather unlikely.

    That doesn’t make me any better or worse than anyone else. If you find bathhouses creepy, then for God’s sake don’t go. But don’t think that Grindr, Scruff, Manhunt, gay bars, or gay-people-in-a-straight-bar scenes are any safer, any more virtuous, or any more acceptable to those who wish to hide us, penalize us, or regulate us.

    We are not the same as straight people. I choose to celebrate that.

  30. Doug says

    “Here’s hoping that bathhouses overcome the stigma and become important communal fixtures once more.”

    Yeah, Joseph Ehrman-Dupre, you despicable turd, those important communal fixtures are responsible for tens of thousands of early deaths and pandemic levels of disease. And that was true even before HIV made its appearance. Go to PubMed and take a trip down memory lane. Go and look at articles on gay male health in the 1970s up to 1981. What you will find in these staid, academic journals is barely contained shock and alarm. Every STI was raging at epidemic levels. Over 80% of gay men who haunted these “important communal fixtures” had enteric amoebic infestations. Hepatitis B, which largely affected hospital workers, was epidemic for gay men and killed 5,000/year. And this is before we even talk about HIV or about the destruction of self-esteem, the devastating impact of the lack of love and genuine social connection that endures over time, the increased use of drugs and alcohol that correlate with multiple partner sex, and on and on.

    This is what was pushed on us for decades. It was vile and disgusting and beneath us then and it is today. Today we have real options in life and we are not going to toss them aside in favor of the debased, cruel path of 40 years ago. Joseph Ehrman-Dupre, please take your depraved disregard for gay life, health and happiness, go back to the 70s and leave the rest of us to live life in the 21st century.

  31. throwslikeagirl says

    I frequented the baths often– from a couple of times a month to a couple of times a week– from the mid-eighties to the mid-90’s. It was usual for me to hook up with at least a half dozen guys a night. I always practiced safer sex, always had fun, and never did anything to get a STD. I did get lice once. Yuck. Sex is what you make it. No one put a gun to my head and said I had to do something I wasn’t comfortable doing. If the tubs aren’t your thing, don’t go to them. Why pass judgement on others?

  32. Derrick from Philly says

    Thank you, THROWSLIKEAGIRL for your comment…after that “Fire and Brimstone” comment that proceeded yours.

    And I do believe that preachy comment was from an alias of you-know-who. I wish we Towleroad folks could take up a collection and send him a year’s long membership to a Gay bathouse in Iceland…and send him there.

  33. Frank says

    Well if you ever want a taste of the old days, come to Europe, because the bathouses there are very busy. In faCT, durring Amsterdam gay pride weekend, the line is out door.

  34. KidJ/NYU says

    Seems to me that in the early 1900s to the 1960s, every gay man was forced into a life of anonymous sex if he wanted to have a sex life at all. You couldn’t have a relationship without risking losing your family, friends, job etc. so you either ended up in a fake hetero marriage or celibate or seeking out sex with strangers. There were exceptions, but they often were the product of luck or extraordinary individual character. For most gay people, a life of loveless sex with strangers or near-strangers is all that was open to them.

    In the 70s, we had a chance to build something new and different. A window opened and we had a chance to create something entirely different. But we failed. We basically took what existed before and continued it. Instead of leaving the prison that society created for us, we just decided to run the prison, expand it, improve the food, make it a bit more comfortable and charge a membership fee. But it was still a prison.

    It is so funny that the people who defend these places accuse others of being anti-sex or being “heteronormative.” In fact, these places are extremely anti-sex, reducing its value and meaning to nothing. And they are the ultimate palaces of heteronormativity, since they embody exactly what the worst heteros think gay life is about.

    These bathhouses, even the ones with plush seating, validated parking and amenities, are not communal fixtures. They are prisons. They represent a failure of vision and self-respect. I am so very happy that they are dying out. Should have happened a long time ago, but better late than never.

  35. says

    “Today, you can go to the supermarket…”

    Who’s having sex in the vegetable aisle?

    I’m sorry, but I’m with Kiwi and Milkman and Derrick. Baths are thriving in Montreal, sometimes with lines out the door. Most are likely much cleaner than your average pickup’s apartment, and there is NO risk of violence or coercion. People are mostly extremely polite, if you decide to decline. Condoms are everywhere.

    It’s sad that people project onto them stereotypes that mostly come from straight society, without even realizing that’s what they’re doing.

  36. says

    “And they are the ultimate palaces of heteronormativity, since they embody exactly what the worst heteros think gay life is about.”

    Um, that statement makes no sense. If bathhouses worked for straight men, incidentally, they’d be thrilled. But, commercially, they’re not hetero-friendly.

    Well, some expected melodrama and histrionics in the posts, as expected, but also some great, sensible comments. Thanks @TheMilkman @ThrowsLikeaGirl and others …

    Bathhouses play a role in some people’s sex lives, just as apps do, just as relationships do … You can police your own sex life, but policing the sex lives of others is a futile quest.

  37. KidJ/NYU says

    Nice attempt at a derail, Ernie. We are talking here about the morality and ethics of bathhouses, not whether they should be legal. You and I aren’t islands. We don’t develop on our own, without input from a broader social environment. Society has incredibly powerful tools – a system of incentives and disincentives – to channel us in one direction or another. For many, many decades we were channeled into anonymous, loveless hookups. After a while, some people concluded that this way of life must be homonormative. In fact, it reflects heteronormative policy choices, heteronormative social mores, heteronormative views of gay people.

    Gay bathhouses are no more homonormative than a reservation is an expression of Native American norms or a high-crime, inner-city ghetto is reflective of African-American norms and values. They are the results of dominant group choices and it is a good thing when both phenomena die out.

  38. Troye says

    KevInVt –

    Kiwi and Derrick are the same person. Tyler will probably show up here at some point, and he is also a sockpuppet. Full disclosure: I knew Kiwi, aka Raymond Miller, casually some years ago. He made a pass at me, which I rejected. Even back then, when he looked a lot better, he was creepy, angry and kinda weird. Not a happy guy and most def not someone I would take advice from on how to be happy in life.

    I am from Toronto and frequently go to Montreal. You are grossly exaggerating the popularity of bathhouses there. They might be in a bit better shape than those in the US, but they are all in decline. In 10 years, they will all be gone.

    The issue isn’t whether people are polite or whether the staff cleans the premises. The issue is whether these places are good for gay people. I really don’t think they are. Not saying that it is a “sin” (I am an atheist) and am not saying that one visit will ruin you. But allowing your sex life to become decoupled from feelings, from love, is seriously damaging. Some corporation sets up these flashy places and markets them and lures people in and spits them out less healthy, less capable of love, and more lonely. That’s not anything I can support or celebrate.

  39. Mikey says

    lol! So Ernie, the sad man who identifies with female celebrities who die of overdoses, is giving out advice?

    Take a look at his Tumblr, where he shows off his amateurish photography skills. It’s 78 pages of photos and nearly all of it is bereft of any human presence. There are no pics of family. No pics of a loving partner. No pics of friends. No children. It is page after page after page of pics of plants, brick walls, insects, plastic mannequins, and animals. Human beings only show up in a few pics of decrepit drag queens and bizarrely dressed people at a Pride event.

    That’s a window into how Ernie relates to the world. It is no surprise that someone who identifies with tragic death and is alienated from people would be a supporter of bathhouses too.

  40. says

    Troye – your obsession with me is mildly terrifying. But keep on lying – if i had your crap life i’d likely need to invent stories and convince myself that they’re true, as well.

    I am not Derrick, I am not Tyler, I’m me – raymond. “Troye” is, of course, the same mentally deranged closet case who begs for my attention via various names, every day. Sorry sugar, but I’m gonna do what your dad always did: ignore you. Because you’re nothing

    unless you wanna prove you are who you claim to be and show yourself. fat chance though 😉 #wimp

  41. Derrick from Philly says

    @ TROYE,

    LOL You are absurd that Little Kiwi and I are same person. I wish WAS thirty-something years old…and a Canadian.

    No, I’m from the inner-city of Philadelphia, and I went through hell for being noticably feminate Gay male.

    Little Kiwi Tyler (and Levernd Cox–I’m sure she’s a reader of Towleroad sometimes) simply understand my history. And I appreciate their empathy.

    And also, Little Kiwi could never imitate my NATURAL ebonics.

  42. Billy says

    I have a friend who’s main goal in going out to bars is to find some guy to hook up with, and he has this extremely negative view of bathhouse. It’s so funny he looks down on people who go to bathhouse, but he’s just as bad. So I understand what this article is trying to say.

  43. calpoidog says

    In recent years I’ve been to a few dumps but also to a few gleaming well-lit palaces, especially ex-US. Not everyone has the right app, language skills or time to meet people and in any case we all know how accurate the photos people use online are….I think they still serve a purpose, if only to escape the prudish thinking exhibited in many of the messages here.

  44. SpaceCadet says

    I personally believe there will always be bathhouses of some sort for gay men just as there have been whorehouses for straight men for like thousands of years now! Ha!

  45. Frank says

    So many prudes in America. We are afraid to even shower in frot of each other, it’s no wonder people have such a negative view of bathouses. Boy, the Puritans landed on Plymouth rock 400 years ago and we’ve been paying for it ever since.

  46. gregorybrown says

    This has been a decent chain of comments, mostly. It’s good to see that there ARE different opinions about the merits and demerits of bath houses, bar and apps. Uniformity of opinion would be unhealthy.

    A bath house can be what you make of it. I’ve been in some sleazy places and some that are very Ozzie and Harry. I’ve met good people there, dealt with fools and trolls, been made to feel good and bad. Some folks look at me and decide my use-by date has passed; others seem to like maturity with dents and rough edges and signs of wear.

    For me: I don; like bars much, and think apps are largely dehumanizing. Sometimes I just like to be among naked men of all ages and body type.

  47. Zlick says

    I have no dog in this race, as I’ve never been to a bathhouse and don’t much care whether or not people enjoy them in enough numbers to keep them going.

    But two things seem to be simply matters of common sense, at least to me. 1) The heyday of bath houses is behind us. It’s no longer the only outlet for a world of closeted gay men – so naturally the numbers of patrons have declined. They seem very anachronistic to me, admittedly as an outsider. I think the decline will continue.

    2) I think KIDJ/NYU makes very valid points about gay baths being largely a construct of a heteronormative world of the past that funneled queers into this hidden corner. That’s not to say it didn’t turn out pleasant for many gay men, and that they wouldn’t choose it for themselves if it hadn’t been pre-arranged for them by the straight world. I just think it’s illuminating to see that bathhouses served a purpose which no longer exists. But it’s fine, of course, if they serve other purposes that some people still have. To each their own.

  48. Zlick says

    I have no dog in this race, as I’ve never been to a bathhouse and don’t much care whether or not people enjoy them in enough numbers to keep them going.

    But two things seem to be simply matters of common sense, at least to me. 1) The heyday of bath houses is behind us. It’s no longer the only outlet for a world of closeted gay men – so naturally the numbers of patrons have declined. They seem very anachronistic to me, admittedly as an outsider. I think the decline will continue.

    2) I think KIDJ/NYU makes very valid points about gay baths being largely a construct of a heteronormative world of the past that funneled queers into this hidden corner. That’s not to say it didn’t turn out pleasant for many gay men, and that they wouldn’t choose it for themselves if it hadn’t been pre-arranged for them by the straight world. I just think it’s illuminating to see that bathhouses served a purpose which no longer exists. But it’s fine, of course, if they serve other purposes that some people still have. To each their own.

  49. says

    @”Mikey”: You’ve made the exact same silly presumptions about my personal life under various names on various threads. And the bizarre female celebrities idea? Huh? False presumptions aren’t arguments; yours always amuse my husband, though!

    @KIDJ/NYU: Attempt at derail? No. I simply find your definition of heteronormative ludicrous. Of course bathhouses were in part a response to societal pressures, and as those pressures have changed, so too has the role of bathhouses. They were also a response to gay men wanting to get together for sex and pleasure in an exclusive space. That desire will continue whether or not bathhouses disappear. Now there’s pressure for gay men to get married and have families, but it doesn’t mean they’ll only do so because heterosexuals demand it. We have agency over our own lives and the capability to create spaces that suit our needs and fit our times. It’s just that now we have many more options; we can even mix and match, who knew? That’s a positive thing. If bathhouses go the way of gay bookstores, c’est la vie. Some people will miss them, some won’t.

    @Troye: Haha, just no. If Kiwi and Derrick are the same person, I’m also the Queen Latifah.

  50. says

    Obviously some of you haven’t been to places where bathhouses are for everyone: Russia, Hungary, Turkey…

    Gay men have been thriving in baths and turning them into their own safe spaces for centuries, even millennia. It has nothing to do with heteronormativity and being forced into some kind of ghetto. You’re around naked men, you’re willing, he’s willing, they’re willing, and ta-dah! Casual sex happens.

    If anything is heteronormative, it’s the idea that gay baths are immoral and unethical and should be stigmatized (of course: because gay men have sex in them!)
    The idea that sexual pleasure has to be connected with (naturally monogamous) love and feelings is also heteronormative. Just add a dash of women must be virgins and prioritize love over sex and you have the whole package.

    And re Montreal baths: some are in decline, some are very much flourishing, as in, you have to wait, sometimes for 1/2 hour or more. Derrick: they’re also pretty damn cheap, compared to US prices, come on up!

    Trolls are so silly sometimes, especially when they think they know more about commenters lives than they really do.

  51. andrew says

    I think U.S. gay bathhouses are a relic of a past closeted gay social scene. Today most gay men meet out in the open. No more sneaking around parks, bathhouses and dirty book stores for hookups. Its a psychologically healthier way to live. Some of these 70 bathhouses may be in backward areas of the country, where it is the only safe place for gay men to meet. In those places it serves a purpose, but when we are all free to live open lives, these closeted hookup houses should go.

  52. says

    @Andrew: I’m not sure why you assume that gay men who visit bathhouses in 2014 are closeted? Sure, some are, just as some guys who use Grindr or go to gay bars are … But there’s no reason to presume that a gay man walking through a bathhouse door is “sneaking around.” Chances are just as good he’s out and simply wants to get laid in a safe environment.

  53. Dback says

    I was at Steam in Portland just this afternoon for 2+ hours. I’m in a relationship and wasn’t looking to fool around with someone on the side; I messed up my lower back this past weekend, and wanted to be able to relax in a hot tub for awhile without having to worry about a swimsuit and making small talk with straight guys. I also brought a bunch of reading material I was behind on, and sat outside on the deck for about an hour (it was over 90 today) enjoying the warmth before another dip in the hot tub, followed by a cool shower. Lovely.

    My partner and I have also been to this club together and messed around–several times just us, once with someone else. The facilities are clean and welcoming, the safe sex message is omnipresent, and there are a wide variety of guys there–young and hot, older and bearish, and everything in between. Ironically, in my younger years I never went to a gay bathhouse even once; now, over 45, I find that at least this one in my city is a really nice place to hang out once in awhile. It’s just what you make of it, no more, no less.

  54. Troye says

    KevInVt,

    Your response was so utterly stupid, and shows such a jaw dropping ignorance both of gay history and Asian cultures, that I feel no obligation to engage with you further. Except to say that it is mildly frightening that you interact with young people and purport to teach them even as you spread your racism and internalized homophobia. Heaven help them.

  55. Fox says

    The marketing genius in me believes these things are cyclical; yet due to obvious external reasons, this sort of thing went into decline. But this doesn’t mean they couldn’t flourish on a more limited basis again at some point in time. Speaking of which, some sort of “bathhouse” for men to meet and engage in sex has been around for many more centuries than the last one.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_bathhouse

    After this many hundreds of years, it seems to go toward fantasy. It could be totally reinvented again at some point in the future. – jmho

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_bathhouse

  56. SpaceCadet says

    I also want to point out that young gay men still go to bathhouses so they are not just relics of the past. For some, they see it as a rite of passage, for others it’s the tittilation, and finally for others it feels comfortable and just part of the scene. I know couples that like to go together so it’s not all about anonymous, closeted sex, but something exciting and something to spice things up. And this is even in the age of Grindr and sometimes I see people advertising on Grindr about meeting up at the bathhouse so that’s why I don’t think they are going anywhere anytime soon. I live in Chicago and Steamworks seems to be thriving. I remember seeing a few years back a line out the door to the entrance in broad daylight during IML weekend. I’ve never used their facility unless you count going for a free HIV screening which is actually a nice service they provide but I’ve heard good reviews about the place. The only time I’ve actually really been to a bathhouse was last year in New Orleans. The friend I was with was drunk and thought it would be fun. I was going to go in but he paid for me so I felt obligated. It was dark, and dingy, and seedy inside. The guys were kind of unappealing too. Definitely not like in my fantasies! My friend quickly paired off and I was quite content to just walk around the place in circles until he was done but then an actual attractive couple approached me and wanted to hang out. Turns out they were gay cops and frequented the place on occasion. It was nice to actually chat some before we messed around. They mostly just did stuff to each other so I barely had to do any work! Haha. I’m definitely not a bathhouse person but I’m glad I got to satisfy my curiosity.

  57. Derrick from Philly says

    I’m not sure that “Andrew” is the same “Andrew” of a year ago.

    Andy, this blog is becoming too confusing for my 56 year old…which is probably more like 86 years old in queen years.

    I guess I’ll have to retire from my posting comments career.

  58. Great Suggestions says

    Gay bathhouse owners have minted money like McD’s minted $20’s and some owners are responsible members of the community in giving back.

    There is still a valuable place for these businesses today…something very alluring about the here and now interaction of meeting and speaking with others without the back-and-forth wall of the internet or smart phone.

    But like any business, one must welcome some change, and many of these institutions have gotten complacent and failed to adhere to a ‘good customer experience’ to grow their businesses in an evolving landscape.

    So here are some ideas for these owners/managers:

    1. Nothing is more disappointing than a front window cashier who says “It’s busy tonight,” only to arrive and pay to find the place near-empty after paying full price. This is why many don’t risk stopping by outside of Friday and Saturday nights, or sometimes avoid the weeknight promo events.

    It’s counter-intuitive to the owners who think they’ll lose money, but how about posting the attendance number every hour on a web site, and offering 60-80% off the admittance for the first 25-40 patrons?

    It’s an incentive to get people in early and build the crowd. Once the attendance falls below a number, you go back to a discounted rate. You’ll make it worthwhile for more people to pay SOMETHING rather than avoid going, and thus build a crowd during slow times.

    2. Facility upkeep and renovation. In a market in L.A. where there are many facilities, it’s sometimes frustrating that one has a great jacuzzi and pool, but no gym. The one with a cool g-hole area has no jacuzzi and a bad-smelling steam room, which never was the same after its renovation.

    3. One of my friends who fell asleep at one place was rudely awakened with a wooden paddle slammed against the furniture when the staff person was doing a 5am cleaning. Another place with straight staffers has all the t.v. monitors changed to bi-sexual channels in open areas to show women and have the volume up when a majority of the patrons are gay men and get turned off by the sights and sounds of such.

    4. Hire some eye candy to pose as patrons and just walk around. I’m not talking about some of the strippers or shower boys you have on promo nights, but more like ‘fantasy hottie customers.’ They don’t have to do anything but move around the facility and be friendly (they can make an excuse not to play if approached.) It would be great for word-of-mouth, as well as serve as spotters for some of your bad, rude employees.

    5. In/Out privileges. A few places have done this with success.

    6. Easier locker-to-room upgrades. It is such a hassle to grab items, exchange locks and keys. One place has got the right idea – install so many lockers that you can just grab a key to a room upgrade and leave your shoes and things in the locker if you like.

    :)

  59. james says

    Club New Orleans closed this week but it wasn’t because it didn’t make money. The owners were older with health issues and sold the building. I went there with hookups instead of my home. I am kind of lost now that its gone.I have been going there for 30 years.Just going there gave me an excuse to work out and stay in shape. Who wants to look bad naked… It was southern decadence this past weekend and it was slammed in there with lines out the door. There were plenty of younger guys too.

  60. TonyJazz says

    There were several appropriate times in my life that a bathhouse was good for sexual release. I don’t see any shame in it, and it was safe and fun.

    In fact, I am more offended by prudes than I am by sexual explorers….

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