Gay History NYC 1979 – 1985: An Oral History of the Infamous Saint Marks Baths by Paul Lewis

Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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8 Responses

  1. I only went there once. Probably around 1978-9. I don’t remember it anywhere near as glamorously as Paul Lewis. I remember it was massive and on many floors. I remember the floor after floor of rooms. It seemed like you spent most of your time climbing stairs looking for the next hook up. I do remember the awesome swimming pool full of naked men in the basement. It was so freeing and fun. My biggest recollection is that the place was so huge it lost some of the intimacy. I have been to many bathhouses. Most of them were more fun than the Saint Marks. But since I never did do drugs it might have taken some of the fun out of the experience. I suspect the place was less about sex and more about drugs.

    As a final note, a friend of mind from D.C. drove into the city to go to the Saint Marks. He was visiting his parents in White Planes. When he left the place early in the morning he could not find his car. He thought it was stolen. He called his dad who came into the city to get him and in order to explain why he was there he came out to his father that night. After he told his dad he was gay he realized he left the bathhouse by a different entrance. His car was still there but parked on another side of the building. His dear dad passed away early this year. I always that this was my favorite and unusual coming out story.

  2. By the way, I also went to the Saint once for a white party. I was young and in a monogamous relationship. My partner and I were totally out of our element. The experience was amazing. The light show and entertainment was so much fun. Our friend Vince took us out to dinner earlier and we went back to his place where we were staying to nap until after 1am before dressing and going back out. My partner Tim and I did not belong there. We felt like tourists. But I am glad we had the experience.

  3. malibujd44 says:

    Off and on from 77-79 I stripped and whored at a club somewhere around the Fillmore east and had a ball. Damn I wish I could remember the name of the club. All the porn guys passing through New York also stripped there. Made some good money. At the time I was also part of the cast of “Oh Calcutta” so I was pretty much naked day and night. Then one night I sucked this dudes dick backstage, he gave me 40 bucks and then went out in the audience to watch and brag while I stripped. I started jacking off like usual and when I came he arrested me for lude conduct. He arrested me for jacking off on stage and never mentioned me whoring his dick earlier. The audience threw food at him on our way out of the club. What a shit that cop was. I ended up giving him another blow job in the cop car (he came like a fucking horse) and he let me go not before hitting me a number of times telling me if I ever tell anyone like his wife or cops that he was a “FAG” that he would come find me and beat the shit out of me.
    2 months later I moved to Montreal where it is still legal to strip and jack off on stage and to even have sex on stage. Worked and whored at the Campus club there for 6 years working 6 months a year to pay for going to a christian college in Malibu California. Man, those were great days. Still miss it everyday. I told the University later how I paid for the place and they just about pissed there pants. I loved it…I even put up a sign with its name in the background of a porn scene I once did for Catalina.

  4. brucek says:

    How can I get in touch with Paul Lewis?

  5. Michael says:

    Much as I enjoyed your story in it is not entirely correct. Studio 54 opened several years before 12 West and The Saint so Steve Rubell and his doorman Marc Benecke were doing it first.

    As for the St. Marks Baths I loved it up, down and sideways. I even remember the name of a couple of my tricks as I put pictures, phone numbers of theirs in my scrap book. I was very young still a teenager but the times I had there were great.

    I feel ashamed to say I don’t remember the pool at all. Could I have completely not noticed about going downstairs?

  6. cmhguy says:

    Went to St Marks several times from 1983-84 time period. Was a great time and like stated above – you could do what you wanted with whom you wanted all night if you decided to. There was a lot of play going on by picking someone up in a bar and going there because of “roommates” at home. The pool and hottub were great but never really spent much time down there. Usually was walking the halls to see what i could get into. Probably went to the “tubs” about once a month or so. You could always count on St Marks for a fun weekend if you were up for it. And i concur with Michael – Studio 54 was definitely before the saint – that wasnt until several years after Studio 54. By the time the saint opened studio 54 was dying out.

  7. tomron says:

    Thought you might be interested in th pre-gentrification St. Marks, and the tale of two incredibly naive babes in the baths in 1956. My lover (legal husband 55 years later) and I decided to find out what was the attraction at “the baths”. We went to the St. Mark’s Baths, then known as a “Russian Bath house”, but with the already well earned reputation of a place in which gays could score. Entry, placing of valuables in safe boxes, receipt of towels (which then fit around my waist) etc. the same as quoted in the article. Towels wrapped around us, we wandered about, peeked at what was going on, swam, took steam, then wondered what to do next. The rest of the story will sound too Andy Rooney to be true (if it doesn’t already). We met a rather attractive young man (our age, so around 21 – 23), who was about to send out for watermelon, and asked if we were interested in partaking and sharing in the cost. Sounded like a great plan, so that’s what we did. Since we had a larger room (with a table no less) when the watermelon arrived, our room was selected to be headquarters. To report that the watermelon was delicious is important, because after it was gone, what remained of the evening was conversation, which had morphed into our military service past (mine was still one year in future), and the discovery thatTom (my lover) and Red (our watermelon dining companion) had served on the same navy ship at the same time. Red was way (WAY) more adventurous than Tom, and proceed to tell Tom about all the gay shipmates, the goings on on board ship (including the captain and his on board lover) and wondering how Tom had managed to miss all that wonderful activity. Did I mention that we were naive? Poor Tom was devastated! Anyway, although all sorts of things were going on in this shabby den of sin, neither Tom nor I nor Red (unless he had already had his fair share) did anything but have a rollicking grand time TALKING. We later became good friends for a period of about 3 – 4 years, during time which Red introduced us to many interesting people, including the most successful (and the most gorgeous) rent boy in New York.

What do you think?