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Is Cleveland The Nation's Bathhouse Capital?


Frankly Rich
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For many years, starting in 1975, I was a fan of gay bathhouses. My first was Man's Country in Chicago, where I presumably still have a lifetime membership, bought for $1. I remember being so scandalized upon my first visit. At that time they had a ballroom on the top floor where people danced, and mattresses surrounded the edges.

 

I moved on to San Francisco and the Ritch Street baths, my favorite place. Of course, AIDS brought many of these places to a close under the mistaken idea that they were spreading HIV, when, in fact, they offered a great opportunity to educate men on the new virus.

 

I haven't been to a bathhouse in years as I doubt I'd be too popular with the twenties set. (I once brought a friend to the the Third Street Baths in LA, and they wouldn't let him in as he was too old. He was 46.)

 

Now, The Guardian newspaper in its US edition takes a look at declining places such as the Hollywood Spa, once famous, now closed. In Cleveland, the bathhouse has added a hotel and night club to try to stay popular!

 

Read more:

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/aug/23/gay-bathhouses-us-face-uncertain-future

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I moved on to San Francisco and the Ritch Street baths, my favorite place. Of course, AIDS brought many of these places to a close under the mistaken idea that they were spreading HIV, when, in fact, they offered a great opportunity to educate men on the new virus.

 

I read my first article in Time magazine on AIDS in 1983 in a bathhouse in Silver Lake. I had just bought a new car, life was good, and I was feeling a little invincible. I remember just sitting there in disbelief when the conclusion of the article was, "This disease is 100% fatal, and at this time there is no known cure". I think up to that point in my life, I believed that scientist/doctors could cure anything. Then friends began to waste away.

 

I haven't been to a bathhouse in years as I doubt I'd be too popular with the twenties set. (I once brought a friend to the the Third Street Baths in LA, and they wouldn't let him in as he was too old. He was 46.)Now, The Guardian newspaper in its US edition takes a look at declining places such as the Hollywood Spa, once famous, now closed. In Cleveland, the bathhouse has added a hotel and night club to try to stay popular!

 

Many of the bath houses were discriminatory. The old "8709" baths on third street in LA, were well known to reject based looks and age.

the greatest beauty is

Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things,

the divine beauty of the universe.

Love that, not man apart from that,

or else you will share man’s pitiful confusions,

or drown in despair when his days darken."

 

- Robinson Jeffers

 

B e l i e v e

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I am surprised the article doesn't mention 'East Side Club' and 'West Side Club' in New York. Both places have been around for ages. There are also the underground 'parties' you can go to. But I agree with the conclusion: the owners need to do more than just offer a towel ...

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Of course, AIDS brought many of these places to a close under the mistaken idea that they were spreading HIV, when, in fact, they offered a great opportunity to educate men on the new virus.[/url]

 

While I agree wholeheartedly with the second half of your sentence, the first half left me dumbstruck.

 

It's a little like saying the concentration camps weren't killing the Jews. They just need education about how to work harder.

 

The bathhouse culture undeniably played a large role in the early spread of HIV. Granted, it wasn't isolated to bathhouses, but they were an

easily identifiable source of spread. Yes, intervention and education would have done a lot more to stop the spread of the disease, but don't

forget this was a time of great anxiety and misinformation. And honestly a lot still wasn't known about the disease at the time.

 

Public heath has repeatedly shown that if you can identify the conditions that lead to the congregation of people who spread communicable

disease and eliminate that source, it will slow the spread of the disease. Public health has also shown that you have to go into those

environments and educate, educate, educate. Not nearly enough was done on that part of the equation, I agree.

 

Nonetheless, as much as I hate to admit it, I honestly believe that the closing of bathhouses saved many, many young men's lives....including my own.

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I'm not really much of a fan of the venues here in SF because they are not full bathhouses, but instead limited-amenity "sex clubs", but have enjoyed bathhouses in travels and had a great time. The article mentioned Flex in Atlanta, which I had the privilege of visiting this past spring with a fellow Forum fellow. They'd been doing upgrades and it was a nice place, starting to feel more like a resort than a seedy spot. OK, well resort may be a stretch but they were definitely making an effort to upgrade and it showed. Fun crowd, nice venue, pool, deck chairs - I want to go back!

 

And then Steamworks in Chicago, wow. I've always had a great time when I've visited, including this past month in conjunction with the forum weekend. Nice venue, well maintained, and a nice and varied crowd.

 

That Cleveland place sounds pretty amazing. Could be worth a trip just to check it out, and I'm told Cleveland has many other delights to offer.

 

I think it's helpful that in the current mode of the bathhouse, the availability and visibility of safe sex provisions is front and center. Both the rooms and common areas are well stocked, and the clientele know the drill. Some will want to deviate from safe practices, but the guys I've met have never had an objection and indeed the condoms come out as a matter of course. My only complaint is those little lube packs just don't do the job. But to touch on the remarks about education, I think having the safe sex stuff so visible and accessible is helpful, especially to people who may not have had direct experience with the stuff or may not be so good about following safe practices.

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That's interesting because you don't hear about guys making trips to Cleveland the way they do for the strip clubs in Fort Laud and Montreal.

 

Do people go to these joints entirely for sex or do some peope just relax in the jacuzzi? I'm a huge jacuzzi fan and would pay a good amount for entrance into a coed or all-female jacuzzi joint. Spa Castle is opening up a location in Manhattan, but the one in Queens is known to be pretty dirty.

I've looked at life from both sides now

From win and lose and still somehow

It's life's illusions I recall

I really don't know life at all

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I've been to Flex Spa in Cleveland as recently as two weeks ago - during the Gay Games in Cleveland. Being a guest of Flex does allow you to enter the attached bar / club without paying a cover charge. Flex in Cleveland is based in a former UPS facility (IIRC). It is large and clean.

 

All of this being said, I have to agree with the conclusion. With the gay community being more out and accepted and proliferation of online hookup sites, it will be difficult to baths to survive. I do agree that the baths that survive will be in locations that lag in LGBT acceptance and cities with very large numbers of men who have sex with men.

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Do people go to these joints entirely for sex or do some peope just relax in the jacuzzi? I'm a huge jacuzzi fan and would pay a good amount for entrance into a coed or all-female jacuzzi joint. Spa Castle is opening up a location in Manhattan, but the one in Queens is known to be pretty dirty.

 

There is a bathhouse in San Jose called the Watergarden with an outdoor pool and jacuzzi. From time to time they'll promote themselves as a way for fogged-in San Franciscans to escape the freezing summer weather and get some sunshine in sunnier SJ. I haven't been there in a long time but recall the pool and jacuzzi were pretty nice - nicer than the indoor facilities.

 

There is a Steamworks in Berkeley too, with a nice big jacuzzi tub. It's definitely easy for the hours to fly by in these places, between jacuzzi and steam room, and the many distractions.

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While I agree wholeheartedly with the second half of your sentence, the first half left me dumbstruck.

 

It's a little like saying the concentration camps weren't killing the Jews. They just need education about how to work harder.

 

The bathhouse culture undeniably played a large role in the early spread of HIV. Granted, it wasn't isolated to bathhouses, but they were an

easily identifiable source of spread. Yes, intervention and education would have done a lot more to stop the spread of the disease, but don't

forget this was a time of great anxiety and misinformation. And honestly a lot still wasn't known about the disease at the time.

 

Public heath has repeatedly shown that if you can identify the conditions that lead to the congregation of people who spread communicable

disease and eliminate that source, it will slow the spread of the disease. Public health has also shown that you have to go into those

environments and educate, educate, educate. Not nearly enough was done on that part of the equation, I agree.

 

Nonetheless, as much as I hate to admit it, I honestly believe that the closing of bathhouses saved many, many young men's lives....including my own.

 

You are welcome to your opinion, and, if you need to hype it, add that stuff about concentration camps. In the context of what I wrote, the baths were a fun place when we didn't know anything about AIDS- had never even dreamt of it. We were living in what we thought was a time of sexual freedom, so excuse me if I went with the flow. Once we learned about AIDS, it seemed folly to close the baths when they offered such an opportunity to reach the exact target market they needed to reach and educate them on safer sex. Men were not going to stop having sex, and even now we know that some men will have unsafe sex. Whether they do it in the baths or at home is irrelevant.

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