Inside Steamworks: Perth’s Gay Sauna

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Each week in Perth, hundreds of men meet on the second story of the building located at the corner of William and Forbes streets. More often than not, the men don’t know each other – and for many, that’s just how they like it.

For some men it is a quick visit, while for others, it’s a social venue where they can spend the afternoon or evening. But whatever the reason, the men who meet at Perth’s only gay sauna, Perth Steam Works, are there mainly for one thing – sex.
The social and political landscape around gay and homosexual issues has changed a lot over the past two decades in WA, but one constant has been Perth Steam Works.

This month the male sex-on-site venue comes of age when it celebrates its 18th birthday.

Ahead of celebrations to mark the venue’s milestone, Perth Steam Works’ owner Mike Chester said he had the idea for the venue nearly two years before its doors opened on September 20, 1996.

“The original concept started 18 months before it opened because at the time I thought the Perth population justified a second gay men sauna in the City, because 565 was the only one,” he said.

“It was extremely difficult to find somewhere to lease so I had to buy a premise and once that was bought I went through the necessary approvals and that took the 18 months.”

Mr Chester said having the right location was critical and attributes it to the success of the venue, which was the second gay sex venue in Perth at the time.

“Nothing works unless it’s near the central business district,” he said, “If you are close to the city or a neighbouring suburb like we are, it makes it more accessible.”

Mr Chester said he drew on previous experiences from venues around Australia and internationally when creating Perth Steam Works.

From a dry sauna, wet steam room, a spa, darkroom, a room with mirrors on every wall and ceiling, a sling and private rooms – there is something for everyone, and every fantasy.

Perth Steam Works also features two lounge rooms, a designated smoker’s lounge, a licensed bar and the WA AIDS Council operates a sexual health clinic from the venue.

In its infancy, Mr Chester said the venue advertised in newspaper personal columns and despite the rise of the digital age and mobile phone dating apps, he said Perth Steam Works remains as relevant as it did 18 years ago.

Mr Chester said while some members of the gay community had preconceived perceptions of saunas, he believed Perth Steam Works deserved to be treated like any other licensed venue.

“I don’t see why there should be a stigma attached as to why you go to a sauna,” he said.

“You’re at a gay venue, it’s licensed, you can have a drink, you’re socialising… except there’s a spa, a sauna and a steam room – so I don’t know why people would discriminate against a sauna compared to a gay bar.”

Perth Steam Works will hold a birthday party on Saturday, September 20 with discounted entry all day.

Perth Steam Works is located at 369 William Street, Perth, and is open every day from midday. Phone 9328 2930 or visit www.perthsteamworks.com.au


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