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”.[1] The documentary film Continental by Malcolm Ingram covers the height of the club’s popularity through the early 1970s.[2]

Continental Baths
Alternative names Plato’s Retreat
General information
Type Gay bathhouse
Address Ansonia Hotel, New York City
Country United States

40.7801°N 73.982°W / 40.7801; -73.982

Opened 1968 (1968)
Closed 1975 (1975)
Management Steve Ostrow
Other information
Facilities Pool, dance floor, fountains, private rooms, orgy rooms, saunas, games room, restaurant

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The Ansonia Hotel, New York City, circa 1905

The features of this bathhouse included a small disco dance floor, a cabaret lounge with a baby grand piano, both only feet from a narrow “Olympia blue” swimming pool, sauna rooms, 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.[citation needed]

One gay guide from the 1970s described the Continental Baths as a place that “revolutionized the bath scene in New York City.”[3]

Some features of the Continental Bathhouse included a warning system that tipped off patrons when police arrived. There was a weekly 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.

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An attraction at the club was the entertainment provided by performers such as:

Due to her performances at the baths, Bette Midler earned the nickname Bathhouse Betty. It was at the Continental, accompanied by house pianist[6]Barry Manilow[4] (who, like the bathhouse patrons, sometimes wore only a white towel)[7] that she created her stage persona the Divine Miss M.

Despite the way things turned out [with the AIDS crisis], I’m still proud of those days [when I got my start singing at the gay bathhouses]. I feel like I was at the forefront of the gay liberation movement, and I hope I did my part to help it move forward. So, I kind of wear the label of ‘Bathhouse Betty’ with pride.[8]

Bette Midler, Houston Voice

Despite Midler’s constant complaints about “that goddamn waterfall,”[clarification needed] her poolside performances were so successful that she soon gained national attention, beginning with repeat performances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

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