4/5/17

THE CONTINENTAL BATHS


The Continental Baths was a gay bathhouse in the basement of The Ansonia Hotel in New York City which was opened in 1968 by Steve Ostrow. It was advertised as reminiscent of "the glory of ancient Rome". The documentary film Continental, by Malcolm Ingram, covers the height of the club's popularity through the early 1970s.

The features of this bathhouse included a disco dance floor, a cabaret lounge, sauna rooms, a narrow "Olympia blue" swimming pool, bunk beds in public areas, and tiny rooms as one would find in any gay bathhouse. The facility had the capacity to serve nearly 1,000 men, 24 hours a day.

  One gay guide from the 1970s described the Continental Baths as a place that "revolutionized the bath scene in New York City."
 Some features of the Continental Bathhouse included a warning system that tipped off patrons when police arrived. There was also an STD clinic, a supply of A200 (a lice-killing shampoo) in the showers, a mouthwash dispenser, and K-Y Jelly in the candy vending machine.

  An added attraction at the club was the first class entertainment provided by performers such as:  Shelley Ackerman
Karen Akers
Peter Allen
The Andrews Sisters
Jim Bailey
 Fontella Bass
Vivian Blaine
 Teresa Brewer
 Jocelyn Brown
Tally Brown
 Cab Calloway
 Nell Carter
Chubby Checker
 Lou Christie
Natalie Cole
Barbara Cook
Jackie Curtis
Cass Daley
John Davidson
Yvonne Elliman
Betty Everett
 Alice Faye
Frances Faye
Totie Fields
Wayland Flowers
 Connie Francis
Gloria Gaynor
Lesley Gore
Ellen Greene
Dick Gregory
 Alaina Reed
 Hall Delores
 Hall Hildegarde
Mimi Hines
Brenda Holloway
 Loleatta Holloway
Linda Hopkins
 Isis
Paul Jabara
 Jobriath
Andy Kaufman
Larry Kert
Roslyn Kind
 Morgana King
 Gladys Knight & the Pips
 Frankie Knuckles
Labelle
Dorothy Lamour
Laura Lee
 Ketty Lester
 Larry Levan
Little Eva
 Darlene Love
 Lorna Luft
 Gisele MacKenzie
Melissa Manchester
The Manhattan Transfer
Barry Manilow
 Barbara Mason
Bette Midler
 Melba Moore
 Jaye P. Morgan
Phyllis Newman
The New York Dolls
 Anita O'Day
 Jane Olivor
 Patti Page
 Freda Payne
Ann Peebles
Esther Phillips
The Pointer Sisters
 Mae Questel
Johnnie Ray
Martha Raye
 Sharon Redd
Charles Nelson Reilly
 Minnie Riperton
Monti Rock
The Ronettes
 Lillian Roth
Millie Small
Kay Starr
Dakota Staton
 Eleanor Steber
Elaine Stritch
Yma Sumac
Pat Suzuki
 Rip Taylor
Tiny Tim
Liz Torres
Sarah Vaughan
B.J. Ward
Margaret Whiting
 Julie Wilson
 Holly Woodlawn

Due to her performances at the baths, Bette Midler earned the nickname Bathhouse Betty.
 It was at the Continental, accompanied by pianist Barry Manilow (who, like the bathhouse patrons, sometimes wore only a white towel) that she created her stage persona the Divine Miss M.

Despite Midler's constant complaints about "that goddamn waterfall,"her poolside performances were so successful that she soon gained national attention, beginning with repeat performances on
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

The Continental Baths lost much of its gay clientele by 1974.
The reason for the decline in patronage was, as one gay New Yorker was quoted, "We finally got fed up with those silly-assed, campy shows. All those straight people in our bathhouse made us feel like we were part of the d├ęcor and that we were there for their amusement."

By the end of 1974, patronage was so low that Steve Ostrow had decided to discontinue the lounge acts. He focused, instead, on resurrecting his business by making the baths coed. He even advertised on WBLS, but to no avail. In the end, Ostrow closed the Continental Baths for good. The facility, however, was reopened in 1977 as a heterosexual swingers' club called Plato's Retreat.
Plato's Retreat relocated to W. 34th St. in 1980 then was shut down by the city of New York at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

 In February 1969, the New York City Police raided the Continental Baths. Twenty-two patrons, whom an undercover, towel-clad policeman identified as having offered to have sex with him or actually had sex with him, were arrested. This happened again in December of the same year, when police entered the Continental Baths and arrested three patrons and three employees, charging them with committing lewd and lascivious acts and criminal mischief, respectively.


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