Gay History: December 12, 1969: New York’s Continental Baths Raided

On December 12, 1969 just a mere 6 months after the Stonewall riots the NYPD was at it again as it enter the Continental Baths on the UWS of NYC. They arrest three patrons and three employees, charging the patrons with lewd and lascivious acts and the employees with criminal mischief.

Steve Ostrow who opened the Continental Baths the previous year. told The Guardian in 2018 that he and his wife launched the business because of his disappointment with other (Mafia-run) venues he visited. “I had been to a few clubs. But they turned me off. They were dirty … filthy. They treated you like shit.”

The police raid on December 12, 1969, was not an unusual occurrence. In February 1969 the Continental Baths was also raided by th NYPD. Twenty-two patrons were arrested, identified by one undercover towel-clad policeman who identified the men who offered to have sex with him or actually had had sex with him. Steve Ostrow told the ABC in 2013 that the cops raided the venue 200 times in its first year of operation. He explained the police modus operandi — entrapment .

“Homosexuality was illegal. 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.”

Steve Ostrow always followed the trucks downtown and bailed everyone out.

Not to worry though everyone. Bette and Barry were not caught up in the raid. They didn’t start until the next year.

1 thought on “Gay History: December 12, 1969: New York’s Continental Baths Raided

  1. I was emancipated from my home of origin when I relocated from Hudson Valley to Stony Brook University in 1976 at the ambitious age of 18. I was drawn to clubs and drugs and being a dancer/stripper/hustler at the Gaiety Male Burlesque Theater in sex-saturated Times Square. Even though I was living an illicit lifestyle, I was infected by my morally conservative parents. I wanted a regular partner to build a proud life, and taking my final bow, I settled in with my 1st BF, set goals to elevate our home, travel, fashion, and cache to enter some of the exclusive uptown clubs and downtown underground clubs. We were reflecting the dedicated code of conduct of my parents, and it was only 1978. We were lovers and a couple with common interests: we danced as many nights as we could, with no interference from other dancers. We never strayed from our relationship for 20 years, which was not exactly the promiscuous sexual activities most men partook pre-AIDS. The Continental Bathhouse was in the basement of an iconic apartment building in the basement of The Ansonia Hotel in New York City. My BF and I had never been to a bath house, but the reputation of the Continental drew us to visit to see it for ourselves. We were timid and bashful as our Youth & Beauty made us the center of attention for the senior regulars.
    Some patrons said they would have 150 sexual encounters in a single visit. Opened a year before the Stonewall riots, the bath was raided by the police about 200 times.
    The owner introduced live DJ mixes (i.e.: Larry Levan) and he then began showcasing live acts which were the launching points for Bette Midler, Barry Manilow, Melissa Manchester, Ellen Greene, Labelle, The Manhattan Transfer, Jane Olivor, Wayland Flowers and Peter Allen. The act most associated with the bath was Midler who was accompanied by Manilow on the piano. Midler debuted her song Friends at the bath and later recorded an album entitled Bathhouse Betty. The performances were open to the public and not just bath patrons. The gay crowd dwindled because they didn’t like the public in the bath and felt they were being gawked at. It re-opened as the straight swingers opened the venue as Plato’s Retreat in 1977. I was too arrogant and bashful for what was the life and death of men gay men. R.I.P. http://www.facebook.com/authorchristopherduquette

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