Yonge Cinemas had recently closed without warning, leaving no porn theatres left in Toronto. I always loved how it maintained that old school Yonge Street vibe from the Sam the Record Man days, but Yonge continues to be decimated to make room for new condos — and the sensibilities of their new residents — block after block.
I’ve accepted that we’re approaching the end of an era and soon the entire city skyline will be overtaken by glass towers — and it’s not just Toronto. Modern urban life is becoming so sanitized in some cities, that it makes sense that the sex scene would follow suit.
There were nine bathhouses, for example, back when I came out in Toronto in the early 2000s. Now we’re down to three including Steamworks, which was the former Spa on Maitland and has been able to maintain its spot as a staple of Church Street’s sex scene following a $2-million dollar renovation in 2003.
Steamworks has other locations in Chicago, Berkeley, Seattle and Vancouver. They’re clean, shiny and always state-of-the-art, in the most postmodern way possible.
I’ve admittedly spent many, many nights and early mornings, during my party days at the Toronto location and have frequented the Chicago one too. Over the last couple of years, my favourite event has been their DILF night, which is advertised as the night for men over 35 and the men who want them.
Being 35 years old myself now makes me realize that it’s the end of the era in more than one way. I used to go for the daddies, but according to Steamworks, I am one now (though I never found the event to be super daddy-esque, per se).
They have other theme nights too, including Bears, the Baths and Beyond every fourth Saturday (you get complimentary pizza and soda), and a “lights out” party every Thursday for those who are looking to use their imagination.
The most provocative event that they host is CumUnion, which is an international “pro-choice”/condom-optional sex party, judgment-free. Patrons are encouraged to communicate about their serostatus and decide on the methods they wish to take to protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
CumUnion hosts 30 monthly parties in 23 cities around the world, from New York to London, all the way to Sydney, Australia. Like Steamworks, they are also strict about their no-drug policy.
Steamworks works with Toronto Public Health along with community-based organizations like the Aids Committee of Toronto (ACT). ACT holds regular events called TowelTalk, which happen right in the bathhouse and offer free counselling services relating to sexual health, emotional well-being, substance use, body image and negotiating risk, amongst many other things.
I always found it strange that Steamworks has a functioning gym, and even stranger that at 1am, you’d sometimes find guys working out. In any case, their amenities are far superior to the new condos popping up around town. Steamworks, in many ways, is a multiplex of sex to supersize any desire.
With the closure of the Bijou in 2007, Steamworks now boasts one of Toronto’s last slurp ramps. It also has a public sling and fuck benches, along with glory holes. It’s important to note that unfortunately, the glory holes aren’t like the sleazy kind you’d find in an old school video arcade. They’re clean and feel more like a simulation of the real thing.
There are also several showers elevated above the locker room, like a display case. Past those is a multi-men whirlpool, a dry sauna and a eucalyptus steam room, that’s so dark and steamy that you have to pat your way through.
Although I long for the sleazier days of Toronto’s sex scene, Steamworks is by far the most well kept of the three bathhouses left in the city and perhaps it’s why it remained so successful. It’s a sex scene that’s clean, without the seedy factor that you’d find in a place like a porn cinema.
In the Purell era, with a more sanitized city life, maybe that’s all that people need.
Editor’s note, Jan 19, 2017: An earlier verison of this story said that Steamworks was the only place in Toronto that has a slurp ramp, when in fact there are still some remaining.
Editor’s note, Dec 13, 2016: An earlier version of this story said that TowelTalk was a monthly event. While they are indeed monthly, they happen several times during the month.