For a while earlier this year, it seemed as though the Lower Mainland was experiencing a gay bathhouse boom.
Though the community lost Club Vancouver to fire in July 2003, M2M, then in its infancy, soon carved its own place among the city’s handful of tubs. This spring, its owners followed up with a hotel geared specifically towards gay men, which they opened above the playspace in May.
Not to be outdone, Surrey saw a gay tub of its own open in April, called Tony’s.
Now Tony’s is closed and The Fahrenheit Hotel is preparing to close after only several months in operation.
Then there’s the long-awaited Friction, which itself has become something of a source of friction in the community since it still hasn’t opened, despite much ballyhoo and promises.
Friction’s operator attributes the delays to a myriad of unexplained problems, which he is extremely reluctant to discuss.
“It’s a domino effect,” says Guy Nunes Vas. “Hopefully, we’ll have something to report in the next two weeks. It’s really hard to peg a date.”
He won’t, however, name the dominoes.
Friction was supposed to open months ago.
In May, then-operator Jameson Farn told Xtra West that its opening was imminent, with only a few more bureaucratic hurdles to clear.
“Oh my God,” he said at the time. “I never thought it would take this long. It’s been one thing after another. It’s opening, happily. We’ve had some delays with construction.
“But it’s pretty much done.”
Now, six months later, Nunes Vas still won’t set a date.
Though he admits city hall was slow earlier in the project issuing some approvals, he says licensing issues are not delaying the opening now.
He won’t say what is delaying the opening now.
Back in May, Farn told Xtra West that many of the delays were due to permitting issues with the city, but said he didn’t think city hall was deliberately trying to stop the bathhouse from opening.
“There’s just such a lineup,” he explained, adding that each time there’s a delay, construction workers and tradespeople move on to other projects in Vancouver’s booming construction business.
Then, when permits and inspections finally come through, Friction has to wait its turn for workers to become available again. “Whenever we experience a delay, it holds everybody up,” said Farn.
Farn, who managed Club Vancouver until it burned down, is no longer employed with Friction. He’s reluctant to say why he left.
Friction’s website still has a link for job applications up. “We share in your anticipation,” the site says. “Thank-you for your patience.”
The website was created Dec 22, 2004 and is due to expire on the same date next month.
The bathhouse, being built at 123 West Pender, is billed as 10,000 square feet over two floors, with 50 rooms built in a maze-like setting with lots of dark nooks and crannies.
Meanwhile, as Friction’s construction inches slowly forward, Tony’s closed last month.
And the reason it closed still has owner Tony Perry shaking with anger.
His staff of three due on shift didn’t show up for work the Saturday of Pride weekend, he says. They returned, however, the next day.
“I said: ‘You’re all fired. Get out.’
“It’s like not showing up for work on New Year’s Eve,” Perry says. “I was totally insulted they would do that. I was totally disgusted that anyone could do that. They had a good job. They gave me some bullshit excuse.”
Perry says he just doesn’t have time to go through the process of hiring a replacement staff. “I have an international company,” he explains. “I supply product to 26 countries.
“I know it sounds neglectful,” he adds.
Perry operates a number of adult businesses throughout the Lower Mainland employing about 70 people. In 48 years in business, he says he’s never encountered such a situation. “Neither has anyone I’ve mentioned it to,” he adds.
The tub was doing good business, drawing people from as far away as Chilliwack. “We had people coming from throughout the valley,” he says.
As for the future of Tony’s, while it’s no longer operating as a gay bathhouse, Perry says he’s now renting the facility out to swingers’ nights and any other group who wishes to use it.
He has not, however, ruled out re-opening it as a gay bathhouse if he can find someone reliable to share the financial burden.
Jamie Lee Hamilton, who managed Tony’s briefly after it opened but left before the Pride weekend incident, suggests that if someone with closer ties to the queer community than Perry were to purchase the location, they might have a better chance at keeping it running without the staffing problems Perry experienced.
As for The Fahrenheit Hotel, it is no longer taking reservations as it, too, prepares to close.
“We didn’t get enough rooms filled. It’s as simple as that,” says co-owner Bill Amundsen. “I think our expectations were too optimistic.
“It’s a dream gone a little bit sour,” he says. “Of course it’s a little bit sad.”
With Friction still not open, Tony’s no longer functioning as a gay bathhouse, and The Fahrenheit Hotel nearly closed, the Lower Mainland is once again left with just four gay tubs to choose from–F212 on Davie St and in New Westminster, M2M on Granville St and the Hastings Steam and Sauna.