San Francisco Clears the Way for Bathhouses to Return

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday January 31, 2021

San Francisco's Public Health Department has abolished rules that caused many of the city's bathhouses to shutter in the 1980s, clearing the way for such establishments to obtain permits to operate in the "traditional" manner, according to the Bay Area Reporter.

The article notes that the regulations had barred "private rooms with locked doors" and mandated that bathhouses police the sexual conduct of their patrons.

"Those regulations, when put into effect, resulted in a de facto ban on gay bathhouses in San Francisco," the Bay Area Reporter article noted, "leaving residents to have to travel to such businesses in Berkeley and in San Jose."

Though "gay sex clubs without private, locked rooms continued to operate in the city, most eventually closed their doors," the article went on to say.

City Supervisor Rafael Mandelman — whose district includes the Castro — told the publication that the move was "symbolically significant," but added that practical results "on the ground depends on if entrepreneurs with the vision and financial capacities and the savvy to open can and operate one of these" establishments in contemporary times.

The article took note of how the COVID-19 pandemic has left the city's sole remaining bathhouse, Steamworks — located in the East Bay — closed for the time being.

As previously reported at EDGE, Mandelman proposed the elimination of court-ordered monitoring of sexual activity among the patrons of bathhouses last year.

"Health officials late last week informed Mandelman's office that they had updated the rules governing adult sex venues," the Bay Area Reporter said.

"It seems like a reasonable set of rules for the running of a bathhouse, which is what we wanted," Mandelman said of the revised policy.

The revised policy sets forth "minimum standards for the operation of sex clubs, commercial sex venues and parties are intended to ensure that these venues provide a safe environment for their patrons and do not contribute to the spread of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in San Francisco," according to "Minimum Standards for Operation of Sex Clubs, Commercial Sex Venues and Parties," a document prepared by the Health Department.

Among those standards are requirements around the posting of safer sex information, staffing, and hygiene requirements, such as "hot and cold running water" and the availability of soap and hand sanitizer, that such establishments must abide by.

Moreover, "Patrons must state in writing that they agree to adhere to the posted rules regarding prohibited sexual activities in the venue and be informed of the consequences of non-compliance to the posted rules. Customers must have valid IDs showing they are 18 years of age or older," the Bay Area Reporter noted.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.