Can We Make Gay Bathhouses Cool Again?
Business has not been good lately for bathhouses, the urban meeting places for gay men who enjoy using steam rooms and saunas or getting blowjobs from complete strangers in them. The Hollywood Spa, a long-time haunt in LA, closed its doors this year after decades in business, and the Associated Press recently looked at the decline in the importance of these fabled sex dens.
Now the North American Bathhouse Association (NABA) is using a combination of awareness-building, steep discounts, and social media outreach to entice a new generation of young dudes to put down Grindr and Scruff (the apps that are basically a bathhouse in every gay’s pocket), pick up a towel, and channel the 70s spirit of cavorting with the hottest bods in town. It might be an uphill battle, but it’s one that Dennis Holding, NABA’s 75-year-old president, says that they’re winning.
I recently chatted with Holding, who has invested in bathhouses all over the country since he opened his first club in 1972, about the past, present, and future of the industry.
VICE: How did you end up in the bathhouse business?
Dennis Holding: I worked in the automotive industry at the time on the racing side, selling parts. I was in Indianapolis for the qualifying for the [Indy] 500, and it was raining, so I went out and met somebody. We went to a brunch the next day with his friends, and they got talking about how Indy needed a gay bathhouse. I looked at the demographics and realized there wasn’t one for 100 miles in any direction. And that’s how it came to be. A couple weeks later, I met the principals of the Club Baths chain [which had 42 bathhouses in its prime]. At that time, six or eight guys would throw in some money, and one guy agreed to go build it, and that’s how they were built. It was the 70s, so things were going great guns.