Toronto
2 min

The view from Rimmers’ Row

It’s fitting that as I write these words, a full moon is beating down on the city. Full moons tend to bring out the crazy in people, but they also bring out the sexy. And if anywhere needs an injection of arousal, it’s T-Ho.

Whether you chalk it up to the internet or creeping conservatism, it seemed for a while that scandalous establishments were dropping like flies.

It sucked (and not in the good way).

I remember when Rolyn Chambers took charge of St Marc Spa. It surprised some. A few people I talked to said things like, “Isn’t that beneath him? Why is he leaving the clubs?” in hushed tones, as if he had done something evil. While bathhouses can have their dark sides (as many things in this life do), they can also be empowering spaces full of fantasy and power dynamics, drawing people committed to finding and indulging in hedonism.

The closure of St Marc’s in November was sad, but its owners promise to reopen the bathhouse in a better location next summer. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

After all, under Rolyn’s watch, queers of all genders, shapes, sizes, colours, tastes and ages came together and were made to feel welcome.

Why quibble about that shady elevator ride when your most downloaded fantasy is dancing on a pool table right in front of you? In some ways, he revolutionized bathhouse culture in Toronto, making it less segregated. Where and when else could you find a college-age bi girl cavorting in a hot tub with her twinky pal and his kinky older boyfriend? Rolyn took it even further: making it a gallery, a performance space, a bar, and serving up artist-designed rooms, à la the Gladstone. If there’s one thing I hope other bathhouses do, it’s that. The artist-decorated rooms amp up the fantasy, give customers a unique experience, and introduce the possibility of added revenue: start with designs by Shane MacKinnon and Brad Fraser and work your way up to Bobby Trendy and Kent Monkman! Perhaps even a Martha Stewart room for that particularly prissy puss we all know.

Is drug use common in bathhouses? It can be, but it’s just as common in other spaces, so I don’t buy the idea that the bathhouse itself encourages unsafe behaviour. In fact, quite the opposite. Several days a week at Steamworks and Spa Excess, safer sex community outreach workers occupy a piece of floorspace, and this kind of hands-on education is welcome.

Perhaps bathhouses were dark, wordless spaces in the ’70s, but in 2010, I celebrate the fact that they have more condoms than one knows what to do with, more dental dams than even the busiest beaver could use, and fisting gloves, BDSM workshops and STI information galore. Better to learn about these things on the frontlines and go use the information immediately, right?

So, where are we at now?

Some new places are opening to fill the gap, so to speak. Flash has introduced a new members-only all-male space. Points off for that, but the luxe interior appeals to me. Don’t tell Alannah Myles, but I adore red velvet. Does it really count as a bathhouse/sex space, though? It’s sexy in its vibe more than anything else. I can’t wait to compare it to Urge, the green-lit dark maze that just opened up the street from Goodhandy’s. As soon as another flesh palace opens in that stretch, I’m going to run a naming contest.

Rimmers’ Row, anyone?