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#TBT: Back to the Baths

Originally Posted On The Advocate By Christopher Harrity

Explore the rich, moist beginnings of our bathhouse culture.

Everything is so out in the open now. It wasn’t always that way. Gay bars had mysterious names like Incognito and the Mask — and they rarely had windows. Now there are fewer and few bars in big cities. Everybody is online, hooking up and dropping out of gay locations. Bathhouses are in decline as well, often seen as centers for illicit drug use and transmission points of STIs. The bathhouse has had a long, storied history as not only a place of sexual assignation but a cultural hub and a man-only space (sorry, Bette). Let’s take a trip down the slippery tiles of Memory Lane — be careful not to fall in the wet areas!

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Just a couple of executives looking for a relaxing evening at the baths in Times Square in the 1950s. Sure are big briefcases!

Historical Gay Bathes

The baths in the Bowery about 1910. A bit rough around the edges, but very masculine.

 

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The historic ideal, painted by mid-century physique artist Quaintance. Need a little help drying off, buddy?

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In Russia at the turn of the last century, there were enormous and luxurious bathhouses for wealthy men. Seen here: the Yegorev brothers’ swanky joint.

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Naked attendants washed and massaged the patrons in this Russian bathhouse.

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And Tony Curtis! Don’t forget Tony Curtis, for God’s sake.

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Sir Laurence Olivier gives John Gavin the big eye in Spartacus. Oh, what fun Olivier, Charles Laughton, and John Dall must have had in this 1960 epic.

Hard to figure out who the buyer would be for Albrecht Dürer's Nuremburg Bath House, 1496. The bloggers here tell us: "It is believed that the figure in the center playing the flute is Dürer himself because he is bearded, with only a risqué codpiece covering his genitals. The two men in the foreground are believed to be the very sexually permissive, patrician (the ruling families of Nuremberg) Paümgartner brothers, Stephen and Lucas, who Dürer depicted in the Paümgartner Altar." Please note location of spigot near man's junk on upper left. We had to be subtle then.

Hard to figure out who the buyer would be for Albrecht Dürer’s Nuremburg Bath House, 1496. The bloggers here tell us: “It is believed that the figure in the center playing the flute is Dürer himself because he is bearded, with only a risqué codpiece covering his genitals. The two men in the foreground are believed to be the very sexually permissive, patrician (the ruling families of Nuremberg) Paümgartner brothers, Stephen and Lucas, who Dürer depicted in the Paümgartner Altar.” Please note location of spigot near man’s junk on upper left. We had to be subtle then.

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Flash forward to 1592 and we see Girolamo Macchiette’s Firenze Baths at Pozzuli. A wee bit more modest, especially the attendants’ Peter Pan–style outfits.

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Woodcuts from Daremberg-Saglio, Dictionnaire des Antiquités Grecques et Romaines I (1877) s.v. Balneae

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After viewing a few of the antique images of bathhouses, this 1978 poster for the infamous St. Marks Baths makes a bit more sense.

A few techniques for bathing your boyfriend. Note hipster facial hair.

A few techniques for bathing your boyfriend. Note hipster facial hair.

In the 1970s, bathhouse culture formally came out. No longer were the steamy rabbit warrens of rooms and moldy tile walls the hiding place of men looking for discreet connections and quick sex the only scene. The bathhouse returned to its function as a gathering place for men to connect, converse and build friendships and relationships, not unlike the ancient Greek and Roman baths as well as the Turkish hammams.

In the 1970s, bathhouse culture formally came out. No longer were the steamy rabbit warrens of rooms and moldy tile walls the hiding place of men looking for discreet connections and quick sex the only scene. The bathhouse returned to its function as a gathering place for men to connect, converse and build friendships and relationships, not unlike the ancient Greek and Roman baths as well as the Turkish hammams.

For More Historical Bathhouse Pictures Check Out This Link!

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