The competition among Vancouver-area bathhouses is steaming up with the addition of a new tub in Surrey.
The bathhouse, called Tony’s after owner Tony Perry, was originally scheduled to open Mar 11, but a now-resolved permitting issue has pushed the opening date to Apr 13. Asked why he decided to open a tub in Surrey, Perry responds: “Why not Surrey?”
Tony’s is located at 10746 King George Highway, a block from the Gateway SkyTrain Station, says general manager Jamie Lee Hamilton, a longtime BC sex trade worker and sexual rights activist. Hamilton says the delay was due to the need to replace a toilet. “They said it wasn’t industrial enough,” says Hamilton.
But, says Perry, everything in the new bathhouse had to be done to conform to the building code and the inspectors went by the book. “I honestly don’t know if they treated us any harsher than they would a person opening a Church’s Chicken. They made sure we did everything correctly and we did,” says Perry. “I knew eventually they had to give us the licence.”
Perry, the granddaddy of the Lower Mainland’s adult entertainment industry, also operates the Fantasy Factory stores, a toy wholesaler and a national magazine distributing company. “We’re not small,” he says. “We’re not fly-by-night.”
Hamilton says the new bathhouse will have about 30 rooms, several double rooms, a video lounge, a workout room, showers and a steam room. “And we have those hidden treasures,” she says mysteriously. “The customers will just have to come and find out.” She says the action will be raunchy and fun, “sort of like the old Richards Street Service Club.” She’s also promising a noon special called Squat and Gobble. “Free weenies,” Hamilton quips. With the location, she expects the operation will be busy during the day and early evening as guys head home from work or to their families.
“And the students,” she says with a chuckle. “There’s a college out there. We’re going to set a new bar for action happening in a steam bath,” she adds.
Hamilton says the bathhouse will not be out of place in Surrey because of the emerging queer community there. “There’s a thriving gay metropolis,” she says. “There’s a lot of gay people who moved out to suburbia because they wanted to purchase homes or condos and Vancouver became very unaffordable.”
And, she says, the new mayor, Diane Watts, is “very progressive” compared to her predecessor, Doug McCallum.
Perry agrees. “I see the whole country becoming more open,” he says. “I don’t think Stephen Harper’s going to help us. Luckily, we have a constitution and that does guarantee us certain rights, but those rights aren’t free. Freedom is not free; it costs money,” he says.
No stranger to court battles, Perry says he’s ready if any challenges are made to the tub’s opening. He doesn’t know what those may be if they come. “I’m a guy who totally prepares for the worst at all times,” he says. “Anything other than the worst that happens, I feel like I won something. At one point in the ’60s, they used to call me a professional defendant,” he laughs. “I was always in court with magazines and books. I’ve been in court being charged [for] magazines that would show a gay person in shorts in a pose. But that was the era,” he adds. “Women in panties, bra, high heels in a seductive pose-they didn’t even show a pussy hair and they would charge us. The stuff we used to be charged with, you couldn’t give away in the Vatican today.”
But, says Hamilton, there’s not been any backlash to the opening in a city often stereotyped as BC’s most redneck community. Indeed, Vancouver queer social historian Robert Rothon says the opening of a bathhouse in Surrey fits in the continuum of events that generally marks an emerging queer community. “It’s kind of like a signpost,” he says. “Typically the first point of contact between the gay community and the city and policing authorities is often getting licences for commercial establishments such as bathhouses.”
Surrey’s queer community has blossomed over the past few years. It now boasts its own court, the Imperial Sovereign Court of Surrey-Empire of the Peace Arch. And the community has, as an initial rallying point, the 50s Burger Restaurant where community members have socialized for the past few years.
As well, the Surrey Youth Alliance has been supporting young queers in the community since Oct 2004 and meets not far from where the bathhouse is located. Surrey Pride takes place Jul 7-9 and gets a mayoral proclamation. Rothon says after commercial ventures such as bars and bathhouses often come “more orthodox community infrastructure” such as social services or a community centre.
Hamilton says she became involved with Tony’s after seeing a want ad for a manager.
“My early history was in the steam baths,” she says; “The Taurus and then the Garden. I know the industry. I wondered if there would be a problem because I am a transsexual. I was hired on the spot when I went in for my interview.
“Tony Perry respects my work as I respect his. We’re two people who fit well together because we’ve both been on the front lines of sexual freedom.”
Currently, the Lower Mainland boasts four bathhouses-F212 on Davie St and in New Westminster, M2M on Granville Street and the Hastings Steam and Sauna.