The Resort

For me personally when I think of “Resort” in a gay context my mind soon drifts to those uniquely gay male sex palaces called fondly the “tubs” or simply the “baths”. Bathhouses of course have been around for thousands of years dating back to the Greeks and Romans and most certainly beyond. They may or may not have been a subtle and subversive gay male invention in our distant human past.

The word “Resort” to me implies vacation away from home. A place to get away and relax, unwind and if really lucky get laid. I have never been to what one might define as a resort in mainstream culture. I have though over the years spent countless hours relaxing, luxuriating in the warm waters and steam, enjoying the company of brothers and often getting laid at my local resorts: the Ballpark, The Swim Club (The Empire Baths), Gentleman’s Quarters, The Midtown Spa (The Zuni Baths), The Triple C, on certain nights the Lake Steam Baths and a few others whose names escape me.

So a bit of history on these “resorts”:

“Gay men have been meeting for sex in bathhouses since the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States. In California, as in other states, all homosexual acts were illegal and considered as “crimes against nature.”  As a result, men who were caught engaging in sexual acts with each other were subject to arrest and public humiliation.  Numerous court records from the turn of the century contain cases of men who were arrested after neighbors; landlords, policemen and YMCA janitors looked through keyholes, or broke down doors to discover men having sex with each other.  In an effort to evade arrest, gay men resorted to finding those little known “cruise spots” around town where they could meet for sex and not get caught.  These meeting places expanded as the rapidly growing cities of the 20th century created more and more public places where men could be anonymous and intimate with each other.  The list of meeting places included public parks, alleys, YMCA facilities, public restrooms, train depots, balconies of silent movie theaters, cheap hotel rooms, and bathhouses.  Historical records from the early 1900’s tell the story of how some bathhouse owners tried to prevent their venues from becoming popular homosexual rendezvous by calling the police or hiring private guards.  On the other hand, there were some bathhouse owners who enjoyed the increased profits earned from the patronage of gay men, so they allowed men to engage in homosexual activities as long as they were carried out discreetly.  In fact, one particular 1933 account pointed to the “fat tips” a bathhouse manager could receive from the “patronage of pansies provided their actions do not result in police proceedings.”
From the site:

Our truly own “resorts” took off in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. Many including several locally were true palaces: often clean, well lit and not, steam caves, waterfalls, swimming pools, hot tubs, slings, orgy rooms, glory hole rooms, private rooms, cafeterias, TV’s with porn 24/7, truck cabs, sometimes live entertainment (Continental Baths – Bette Midler/ Barry Manilow) and usually limitless free lube. The Poppers were never free but always available. Attire was flexible most often a simple white towel.

I personally discovered the bathes in the mid-1970’s and my first outing was to a place on Court Street in downtown Denver called Gentleman’s Quarters. As bathhouses go this place was pretty rudimentary and as I recall seemed to cater to closeted lunchtime married guys looking for a quick blowjob. After several visits I decided this was not exactly my cup of tea. I soon though discovered the Empire Baths (now the Denver Swim Club) on east Colfax and I thought had died and gone to heaven.

Sometime mid to late 1970’s the Ballpark on Broadway opened up and soon became world famous, literally. Denver urban legend has it that the impetus for opening that bath was that one of the future owners came to the conclusion that such a safe respite was needed after he was arrested, handcuffed and thrown face down on Broadway after a vice raid in a bar on North Broadway. The Ballpark as with many baths closed as the AIDS epidemic took off. The facility was raised and the lot remains vacant on south Broadway to this day but another urban legend has it that the semi-cab that inhabited the basement of the Ballpark is buried in that lot.

My bath of choice though was the Empire. I was particularly fond of the noontime-married daddies but I would drop by at all hours often dictated by my work schedule. I preferred days off since I felt the best sex was relaxed and repeated, occasionally lounging in a sling. Over those years I met many men and had lots of great sex often developing friendships and “fuck-buddy” relationships that matured outside the tubes and lasted for years, a few to this day.

My peak bathhouse years were from about 1976-1981. In fact from 1983-1997 I did not set foot in one. This was related in large part to a great loving companion and AIDS. I did make two visits to the Swim Club in 1997 that turned out to be sex free. I must say the old “Resort” did not have the same cache or charm. This was as much due to changes in me as actual changes in the tubs I suspect. When I do on the rare occasion drive by the Swim Club at mid-day I still see a fair number of big pickup trucks in the parking lot and I wonder about the daddies who drove them there.

So beyond my own personal drama what happened to this amazing “resort culture”? I suppose it may still exist but it has certainly been affected if not curtailed by HIV and perhaps more so by the Internet. For me Manhunt and Grindr will never replace the good old days. That and the fact that I am now 62 and thought of on rare occasions as one of those daddies I so ardently chased after 35 years ago. Oh and my ass is just not what it used to be.

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