Look Back At The Continental Baths

The Guardian has published a piece on the Continental Baths that were so popular in the 1970s

Here is an excerpt

Six months after it opened, the Continental was raided by police. “Homosexuality was illegal,” Steve Ostrow (Proprietor of The Continental Baths) emphasizes. “Two men dancing together was illegal. Very good-looking policemen would come in, rent a room, get into a towel, go into the steam room and then wait for someone to touch them. And then, from underneath the towel, out would come handcuffs. Then they’d arrest everybody in the place.”

Ostrow estimates that the Baths were raided at least 200 times. Were the patrons put off? “They were in the beginning, but after they were loaded on to the trucks in their towels and all taken to the jailhouse, I would go down there and bail everybody out. They knew I always would, so they kept coming in.”

For a long time, the only way for the Continental and other gay clubs in New York to operate was to pay bribes to the police or the mafia. Ostrow doesn’t deny this, but he knew when enough was enough, and is proud of his role in helping attitudes change. “After we had the raids, we collected 250,000 signatures and marched on City Hall – there were about 100 or 200 of us – and we had the laws changed so that homosexuality in private among consenting adults was not illegal. And everything changed in the city. Everything opened up. And we were the ones who did that.”

Occurring not long after the Stonewall riots, the law change was a watershed moment for gay communities in New York. Ultimately, though, it would mark the end of an era for the Continental. Amid the steady transformation in attitudes towards sex and gay rights, more gay clubs were opening in New York. For Ostrow, that was a sign that his job was done: “It was at that point when I decided: ‘It’s time to start another club in a different place.’” So he left New York for Montreal, where he opened another bathhouse. “We had the same problems we had had in the New York one,” he laughs. “And we had the laws changed there, too.”

To read the rest of this article go to Sex, disco and fish on acid: how Continental Baths became the world’s most influential gay club

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