Like Eraserhead, but with steam and a lot of penises.
I’ve been to a lot of saunas. I’ve even been to things that marketed themselves as saunas, but were essentially just warm, damp rooms where guys have anonymous sex. I’ve been to gym saunas, home saunas, underground saunas, and you can find me running around with no clothes on at the Russian Baths in New York often enough.
My point is, I can hang in a sauna. Still, I don’t think I was prepared for my first visit to London’s Pleasuredrome.
Situated under railway arches just around the corner from London’s Waterloo station (literally built into the archways, with the entrance facing a narrow bridged street, it’s like going into some sort of Watchmen-style concealed-in-plain-sight hideout) Pleasuredrome bills itself as the eternally open gay sauna in town. They’re hot and steamy 365 days a year and 24 hours per day. That’s quite a feat for any business, and my first thought was that perhaps I should stay up ridiculously late some night and roll up on the PD at 3:30 AM, just to see what that crowd was like.
As it happened, the time I had for it ended up being a midweek afternoon, so I just had to hope that enough city gentlemen were equally unengaged and in need of some heat. I wasn’t disappointed.
Upon entering the club (I’m ok calling it that – they have a bar and I heard more than one loud Rihanna song while I was there), I was greeted by a man who took my money, in exchange for a locker key that doubled as a bracelet one wore for the duration of the visit, and asked me if I knew “what sort of place this was?” when I offered that it was my first time.
“Do many people not know what sort of place this is?”
“You’d be surprised. Once a week at least someone comes in who thinks they’re entering the tube station. Pays the fee, goes upstairs, and gets very confused.”
“I… think I’ll be ok.” I laughed.
I went up the short flight of stairs to the locker room, located number 371 and proceeded to strip off. None of this was particularly out of the ordinary and I wrapped my towel around my waist, cursed myself for not being able to find flip flops beforehand, and did a quick survey of the other men changing nearby. Nothing shocking. Certainly nothing as intimidating as the pornstar-filled photos populating the Pleasuredrome site.
Down another flight of stairs (I had already begun to lose my bearings in this haphazardously laid out space, and was hoping it might become clearer once I found a map or the main area) visitors are directed to an open shower area to wash themselves before they use any of the steam or sauna facilities. Open shower setups are rare in America and I wasn’t about to start my visit by breaking rules, so I chucked my towel onto the rack and stepped in. A man in his mid-60s, with an enormous uncircumcised penis I couldn’t help staring directly at smiled at me and asked me if I had braided my hair myself. I answered at his penis that I had, in fact, done it on my own, and made a mental note to make more eye contact with the next people I met.
I found the smallest of the dry saunas first, sat down and removed my towel, and tried to get myself into the proper headspace for being in this dark, slightly damp collection of rooms populated with mostly older gentlemen who, it seemed, didn’t want to chat, make a ton of eye contact, or acknowledge their prominent, towel-covered erections.
It started to feel strange to me. I’m accustomed to the friendly, casual atmosphere of the Russian Turkish Baths, and these men were clearly just down here biding their time until they could find someone to take upstairs to the private rooms. I don’t totally know how to do them justice, these private rooms, and it was on my first and only lap around this area that I began to feel like there was a sordid, surrealist quality to everything that was happening here; not quite a health club, not quite a backwards-talking nightmare, but not far from either.
The private room area was like being in a small hotel corridor, with flat screen televisions mounted on the walls every so often. Instead of doors opening into rooms, they opened into unlit closet-sized caves with padding on the floors. Some of the rooms had men in them, with their doors flung wide while the men masturbated and stared out the doorway, waiting for company. Some were shut and locked. In the corridor, men lingered, pretending to watch the generic porn displayed on the screens, and waited to be brought into a private room. I was immediately sure that this wasn’t the space for me.
Back downstairs I turned enough corners to stumble upon the largest and blackest of the steam rooms. It was so incredibly dark, that it was several minutes before I realized the true depth of the room and attempted to feel my way into the very back of it. Within a few moments, several men had entered and were ungracefully sort of rubbing and banging against one another. The man to my right started stroking me and asked if he could suck me off. I’m never one to turn down fun times, so he went to work and I tried to figure out how many people were in this dark, eucalyptus infused space.
Once I started to get a little too warm, I pulled my penis out of my new friend’s grasp and turned down another dark, damp hallway to another open shower space. I could use a rinse after touching who knows what in that steam room, and was glad for how much soap was on hand in every shower space here.
There were a few more dry sauna areas, and a second steam room where men simply seemed to pile on top of one another, grinding and sucking until someone ejaculated and removed themselves from the pile.
I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly at the time, but there was something about all of this that should have been wildly erotic; dangerous and dark and anonymous, as so much of it was. But instead it all just seemed sort of sordid and joyless. The casual conversation and relaxed smiles of the Russian Baths were replaced by men who seemed uncomfortable in their skin and were there just to satisfy some itch they’d pretend they’d never had, once they were back on the tube home in a few hours time.
There were a few exciting exceptions. I had a lovely chat and got many of my questions about the space and the decorum (I’m always worried I won’t fit in or will be too chatty or familiar, so I like to ask people who seem like regulars) answered by a South African man with a great ass and a ballsy tanline, who seemed more than happy to chat when we found ourselves alone. I wish I’d found the time to tell him how good his butt was.
But just when I was considering packing it up for the day, I spotted what was clearly the best ass in the place, and decided to stay juuuust another few moments. I had plopped down next to the pool area to cool off, and he walked over to the pool, chucked his towel onto a bench and walked his muscular butt into the water. Determining it wasn’t warm enough for his taste, he turned and strode back out, swinging an eyebrow-rasingly large cock. It was like that James Bond swimsuit moment, but without the swimsuits and a mildly more fit James Bond.
I’m not normally the shy type, but all I could think was “JFC I HOPE HE DOESN’T TRY AND TALK TO ME OMG.” I was reasonably sure I would only be able to do grabby baby hands and shout “PENIS!” at him if he had done.
I gulped down some cold water and headed back to the largest of the dry saunas to lie down and think about how to chat this guy up. I had just gotten situated and was evesdropping on a terrible conversation about “how sad” things are in “Africa,” when in strode my James Bond. Before I could properly suck in my gut and fluff up my wang, he sat next to me, and undid his towel.
And that bit was what made my whole afternoon there worthwhile.
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Pleasuredrome is certainly a unique thing. The environment is peculiar by the very design of the space, and the lack of lighting (often just darkness) and wetness juxtaposed with the modern floorings, metal fixtures, and flat screen monitors showing movies (I watched about 20 minutes of Watchmen) or porn made it believable that one was possibly visiting a spaceship (like the SS Madame de Pompadour) where men were just naked and fornicating for all to see. The trains rumbling overhead lent a more literal quality to my Eraserhead reference than I was considering when I thought it up in the dry sauna. The kitchen/dinner scene is a good representation of a lot of the vibe at PD, if you’re having trouble picturing it accurately. Intense, peculiar, and sexual in ways it possibly shouldn’t be.
Having said all of that, I came 5 times that afternoon, and would certainly go again, if I had the time. All the equipment worked, the staff was constantly cleaning and wiping things down and were ready for questions and friendly. As for recommending it to others? I think it’s something everyone should at least try. It might not be the thing for you, but you should go and have the experience, regardless.
9/10 – Recommend.
Everyone should try it. But be prepared for it to be strange.
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If you go, tell me about it! I’d love to know what happens on some of the busier times, and what your experience was like.
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