Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fieldtrip to the Emperor’s Bathhouse

Early Saturday morning on Guy Fawkes day a group of Gay Wellingtonians took up an invitation to visit the Emperor’s Bathhouse for a tour. The objective was to make sure helpliners know a bit more about Wellington facilities when callers quiz us on the details. The tour was especially popular for our female members, whose curiosity about a gay men’s sauna got the better of them.

Our friendly tour guide was Maico, Emperor’s Brazilian owner who has been in Wellington for about six years. Maico opened Emperor’s in January 2011 to provide more options for gay locals and tourists to the capital.

Once our eyes adjusted to the dim light we were shown the range of facilities in the two story building that Maico converted from a warehouse. We were impressed with the opulent décor and layout, though it was hard for any of us to imagine what the atmosphere would be like at full capacity with 380 gay men wandering the mazes and filling the bars, saunas and steam rooms.

After seeing the sights, we sat in the comfortable bar area and asked Maico what really goes on in a gay men’s sauna. We were particularly interested to know what rules his customers have to follow and what advice he’d give a first timer who had never been to a venue like this before.

Rule number one is to be prepared to strip out of your clothes and wear a towel. Some first timers tend to keep their clothes on for the first hour or so, but after that the pressure is on for you to put your clothes in a locker like everyone else.

If you’re glued to your cellphone you’ll be pleased to know that you don’t have to store that in the locker. Apparently it’s common for business customers to hold on to their phones. But don’t think about taking any pictures unless you really want to annoy people.

Rule number two is to relax. If people like you they like you, if they don’t they don’t. Many guys aren’t there to talk, so you’ll need to read their body language and eye contact. On the other hand, some use the venue as a sauna/club and don’t come for sex at all. Whatever you do, you’ll get the most value for your money if you enjoy the venue and the safe environment.

Rule number three - don’t expect any of the five staff to be responsible for matchmaking – that’s not their job. But if you are a newbie, make a point of talking to the staff at the bar to get a good idea of the place and how it works. Then you’ll get the most out of your visit. After all, it’s their job to make you as comfortable as possible.

Maico gave us a lot of facts and figures about the bathhouse and his clientele. Few of us were surprised that married men use the venue during the working week, or that there’s a fairly even split between Asians and Caucasians, or that there is a wide range in the age of customers. Maico confirmed that the place gets busier at weekends and when events like the Rugby World Cup are on. Although Emperor’s doesn’t have a lesbian night, it does have a range of regular activities including (straight) swingers’ parties and bondage nights. And on December 3rd they are planning to have a one-off night for people of any persuasion in the GLBTI queer community. In early 2012 Maico is planning to open his bar as a separate club with another entrance, which will no doubt bring in a wider range of people.

Maico generously spent an hour and a half of his time giving us the tour and answering questions. He didn’t let us off easily though, picking on a few of us to find out what our own experiences in saunas had been like in the past.

We finally said good-bye and left the cozy warmth of the bathhouse not long before Maico opened Emperor’s doors to his Saturday customers. It was an insightful morning and we came away with a better understanding of the role gay saunas play in the community. A good time was had by all.