Almost two decades after its heyday, Sydney remains one of the world’s premiere gay destinations. Led by images of buff, Speedo-clad lifesavers and sassy, caustic drag queens, Sydney’s mainstream acceptance of LGBT folk has often favoured the fit and fabulous over the down and dirty, leaving Sydney’s friskier side on the fringes, where it can be difficult for visitors to find.
The rewards, however, are more than worthwhile.
While five major “sex-on-premises” (SOP) venues continue to serve the inner city, those preferring to mix their clubbing and cruising are better off checking out the city’s growing roster of roving dance parties. Some of the city’s most popular parties are genuinely unique, catering to specific niches, and recapture the cruisier aspects of Oxford Street’s magical ’90s.
Saunas and SOP venues
Those looking for complication-free fun in a safe space will have no trouble finding a sauna or SOP venue in Sydney. All are typically clean, well-maintained and attract their own clientele, allowing visitors to find one that suits them with minimal hassle. Headquarters on Crown is a four-level venue with extensive facilities, private rooms and frequent theme nights including nudity, pissing, fisting and more. The crowd is as diverse as the calendar, spanning all ages, races, kinks and attitudes. A smaller, old-school alternative is Signal, accessible by either Riley Street or on Oxford Street via Toolshed. While the variety of events isn’t quite as broad, Signal claims Sundays, lunchtime play and weekly nude nights as its own.
Planning to get wet? Located just off Taylor Square, Bodyline is the place to be if you’re keen on surfer boys or gym bunnies. This massive space lures Sydney’s young, muscled and pretty with facilities including a dry sauna, steam room, spa, sundeck, video lounges and a variety of cruising spaces. Rivalling it for size is Sydney City Steam, formerly known as 357. Particularly popular with Sydney’s large Asian community, it’s also a staple with the lunchtime and after work crowds, offering a cinema and massage service to distinguish it from its competitors. The newest sauna arrival is Sydney Sauna, taking over what was once Kingsteam. While the layout has changed — now boasting the city’s most modern sauna facilities — the space continues to service a mature, unpretentious clientele. It’s also a popular choice with the bear community, and professional massage services are available.
Ain’t no party like one you have to hunt down
It’s unlikely that anyone visiting Sydney for a few days or during the manic Mardi Gras season will notice, but like many other LGBT centres, Oxford Street has sadly lost much of what made it so famous in the first place. Many of Sydney’s top drag queens now skip the nightclubs in favour of more lucrative corporate gigs, and it’s rare to find an openly sexual or cruisy atmosphere in Oxford Street fixtures such as Stonewall or Palms.
Of course, all those horny boys (and girls) didn’t just disappear. As Oxford Street has become more mainstream and legal restrictions on the city’s bars have tightened, organised parties have become the life’s blood of Sydney’s gay nightlife, and some are eager to address Sydney’s cruisier needs.
Years after the closure of leather and fetish venue Manacle, Sydney’s kinky nightlife survives through Extra Dirty, which in March 2016 will return to its original home, the Oxford Art Factory, to close the Mardi Gras season. Extra Dirty prides itself on being equally accessible to men and women, with no exclusionary door policy. All that’s required is the desire for some kinky dance fun. Club Exile, on the other hand, is a popular men’s only event that seeks to revive some of Oxford Street’s old-school sexual energy. While its regularity has staggered since the closure of its former home at Phoenix Underground, this now roving party still frequently sells out in advance. Woofclub creates a similar, male-only environment with a strong fetish theme and a dirty dress-code at its current home, the Beauchamp Hotel.
Perhaps the most interesting new player on the scene is Melbourne import Trough. After 10 successful years running dance parties at SOP venues in Melbourne, Trough took itself north in 2015, and while the lack of an available SOP venue somewhat chastened its Sydney debut, its unique fusion of music, sex and art celebrates hedonism in all its forms. Some eye-catching advertising has secured it a place in Australian clubbing infamy, and it remains the only dance party in Australia to incorporate both a sexual space and an art exhibition. Whether future Sydney editions will reconnect with the party’s sexual roots remains to be seen, but the party’s Mardi Gras 2016 event is already sold out.
Most events have their own websites, but travellers might be better off joining their respective Facebook pages for updates, particularly for sell-out events such as Exile and Trough.
Details are also posted in the open Sydney Gay Dance Parties group.
273 Crown St, Surry Hills
10 Taylor St, Darlinghurst
Sydney City Steam
357 Sussex St, Sydney
38 Oxford St, Darlinghurst