London bathhouses remain unable to open due to social distancing guidance
When the UK government announced the timetable for the post lock-down re-opening of gyms, there was some hope that London’s gay saunas and bathhouses would be able to follow suit. However, we’ll have to wait a bit longer before we can once again enjoy the sweat and the steam of our sex-on-premises venues.
Sweatbox, Pleasuredrome, and Chariots have all confirmed that they’re unable to operate under the social distancing guidelines that will enable gyms to re-open. Because of the lay-outs of the premises, London’s three main bathhouse operators have indicated that it’s likely to be August or September before they will be able to re-open.
Obviously, that all depends on what happens with Covid-19 infection rates. In order for bathhouses and sauna to re-open, we’d need to see a further relaxation in social distancing requirements. If community transmission of the virus remains a concern, bathhouses may have to remain closed.
The exception to this appears to be the Covent Garden Spa which has now re-opened. They’re keeping their sauna area closed, but the spa area and massages are available and they’ve started exploring pool-party events.
A guide to London’s bathhouses
You’ll find Sweatbox in Soho.
The address for Sweatbox is 1-2 Ramillies St, W1F 7LN.
Entrance is through the big red door on the corner.
Sweatbox is just off Oxford Street. The closest tube station is Oxford Circus.
You’ll find Pleasuredrome just near Waterloo sation.
The address is 124 Cornwall Rd, SE1 8XE – it’s in the railway arches beneath the tracks, just across from Waterloo station.
You’ll find Chariots in Vauxhall.
The address for Chariots is Rail Arches 63 – 64, Albert Embankment. It’s right next to Vauxhall station.
As the name suggests, you’ll find this bathhouse in Covent Garden.
The address for Covent Garden Spa is 29 Endell Street, WC2H 9BA.
What makes a good bathhouse?
Actual spa features are important for some people – being able to get a legitimate massage, or having a gym.
In Europe, it’s common to have refreshments available.
Entertainment is usually something used as a marketing opportunity to get guys in through the door.
The wet areas are important to many men’s fantasies and arousal – sauna, steam room, pools, tubs, and showers.
Private rooms are important for many. Others find a glory hole set-up a draw.
For a lot of people, cleanliness is key. Although there are those men who prefer places that are bit less polished, more rustic, in a raunchy type of way .
The space needs to also be safe. It can still be a bit clandestine or anonymous but security and safety are key factors.
You also want your sauna to be busy, you need a good number of guys to ensure a congenial atmosphere.
What sort of guys go to a bathhouse?
All sorts. Some bathhouses cater to the Bear/Daddy/DILF demographic. But generally you’ll find a broad variety of all types of guys at bathhouses.
In the age of hook-up apps, some people might think that bathhouses are places for just for older or unfit guys, however that’s ill-informed – lots of young and fit guys really enjoy bathhouse encounters.
There’s some cultural differences depending on where you are in the world. In parts of Europe and Asia, communal bathing and saunas have long been part of everyday life. In Russia they have the Banya, in Germany and Scandinavia they have the sauna, Turkey the hamman, Japan the onsen, and Korea spas are very traditional. That kind of cultural tradition doesn’t exist in some countries or cultures so gay bathhouses are generally only found in the larger cities.
Is are bathhouses or saunas just all about sex?
For most guys, going to a bathhouse or sauna is probably primarily about sex. But bathhouses are also an important communal setting – much like the gay bars and clubs have historically been, except that the bathhouse setting offers the added dimension of sex.
Sometimes, you might meet guys at a bathhouse, build a connection, and they become a regular bathhouse fuck-buddy.
Is the golden age of bathhouses over?
The golden age of bathhouses is generally seen as the 1970s – the period when gay men were becoming more visible and were publicly embracing their sexuality. The arrival of HIV in the 1980s led to the closure of a lot of bathhouses, saunas, and sex-on-premises venues.
But bathhouses are still with us. They’re not the same as they were in the 1970s, they’ve evolved.
The whole erotic construct of bathhouses continues to hold appeal, even in these days of the mainstreaming all that is gay. Bathhouses remain rather exclusive and clandestine.
Your phone can help you find a hook-up, but your phone doesn’t offer the setting or ambience of a bathhouse.
What do I need to know about a bathhouse before going for the first time?
Some bathhouses are cash-only. You will need to pay for entry, and you might want to buy some drinks or snacks while you’re there.
It’s advisable to wear something on your feet. Some bathhouses provide flip-flops, or take your own.
Most bathhouses will provide lockers. If not, a small drawstring gym bag can be a handy way of carrying your valuables.
Most bathhouses will provide lube, but it’s not going to be the best quality. You might want to think about taking your own. Same goes for condoms if you want to use them. Poppers, a cock ring, some toys, or a douche are other things you might want to pack in your gym bag.
Due to drug-control measures, some bathhouses may be very strict about what you are allowed to take with you or access from your locker. Don’t get upset – follow whatever rules the bathhouse is operating under.
Don’t take drugs at a bathhouse, or go to a bathhouse when you’re high. Don’t share drinks with other guys. Don’t get drunk.
If bathhouse staff suspect that you may be carrying drugs, or they find drugs on you, they may be obliged to call the police.
Saunas and sex-on-premises venues are places where words are kept to a minimum. Apart from dance music being pumped through the venue like elevator music, patrons often rarely speak. Most communication is carried out through body language. If verbal communication is required, keeping it brief is essential.
If there’s a lounge or bar area, this tends to be more of a social place. If you want to chat with someone, or talk to the staff – that’s where you should focus your Chatty-Cathy energy.
Take your time. Don’t rush things. Get a feel for the place, see who’s there. Be relaxed – see who’s catching your eye and whether you’re catching anyone’s attention.
A stake-out near the entrance to a dark-room is a great way to eye before you buy. Once you enter the dark space, always let your fingers do the walking before the rest of the body follows.
Don’t be rude when guys you’re not interested in flirt with you. Like you, they’re just there to have a good time. If they flirt – and if they touch or grope – tell them you’re not interested and move on. There’s no need to be mean.
Walking into a private room with someone may attract the eye of a third party. If you’re not into three-ways or group encounters, this situation can be tricky. The old ‘thanks for the offer, but two’s company’ followed by a wink is a civilised way of handling the situation.
You’re not obliged to have sex with anyone unless you want to. If someone can’t take no for an answer, or if you see something that looks non-consensual, let the staff know. That’s what they’re there for.
Often there’s just a few degrees of separation between gay men in many towns, so the chances of running into your neighbour, boss, or even someone’s dad at a sauna can be quite high. Making eye contact with a simple nod or smile is more than enough acknowledgement. The aura of the clandestine environment is important to the scene. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about – everyone is there for the same reasons.
You don’t actually have to have sex. If you don’t want to have sex, you don’t have to. You can also indulge your voyeuristic side and just watch or be watched. If the bathhouse has a pool and gym – many do – you can swim or have a work-out.
Many bathhouses – particularly in South America, Europe, and Asia – also have lounges, video rooms, theatres, video venues, WiFi, massage services, yoga classes, trainers, and even sleeping areas.