January 31, 2024

What is a Gay Bath House?

A gay bath house, also known as a sauna, is a place for men to get naked and enjoy each other’s company. It has a long history in most cultures; indeed, some hammams and saunas even predate bars. In their heyday, bathhouses gave homosexual men a space to connect with each other and indulge in some hanky panky away from the prying eyes of heterosexual society.

During the time of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the decline of gay bathhouses was quick and brutal. AIDS-related public health orders shut many establishments down and intensely scrutinised the ones that remained. However, the spirit of the classic bathhouse has resurfaced in recent years. The movement was sparked by DJ Bus Station John, who began decorating his tiny gritty dive bar Aunt Charlie’s in San Francisco with old bathhouse signs and pictures from vintage gay porn magazines for his weekly Tubesteak Connection party. The trend is now being picked up by clubs around the world.

One of the best-known gay bathhouses is Kaiserbrundl in Vienna, which opened in 1889 as the city’s Central Bath. The turn-of-the-century, classical-style building evokes an earlier, less sexually conservative era. It was once frequented by the openly gay Archduke Ludwig Viktor, brother of Emperor Franz Joseph I.

Aside from the titillating ambiance, gay bathhouses offer their patrons a wide array of services. Often, these include a variety of hot tubs and saunas, as well as small private rooms for rent. Many gay bathhouses also have staff trained to assist men with their needs and provide condoms to all patrons who ask for them. Some have even partnered with ACON to run the Sexpert program, which involves volunteers attending saunas such as Sydney City Steam and answering questions about HIV and sex-related issues.


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