Back in October 2016, my boyfriend and I finally visited a sauna together.
We were visiting Bristol over a long weekend, as part of our anniversary. We had spent the Saturday walking the city, starting with an English breakfast by the harbour, and then exploring the Clifton area, and drinking at the Hobgoblin on Gloucester Road. Throughout the day we had chatted about visiting a sauna – taking the plunge – and we found one called Lads Locker Room, right next door to the Wardrobe Theatre, where we saw an evening comedy performance of puppets.
The sauna’s reception doubled up as a bar. A guy behind the bar buzzed us in and asked if it was our first time. I said it was. Two young guys sat at the bar, one wet and in a towel (later, when we were leaving, he had changed and was working behind the bar.) The other, fully clothed, was good looking and wished us a lacklustre welcome.
It was £12 per head, which I offered to pay for my boyfriend and I. But we didn’t have enough cash – luckily the reception accepted bankcards. The receptionist then told us where the changing rooms were, the showers, the dry sauna, and that the porn room and cabins were upstairs.
The place was nearly empty; it looked nothing like what it promoted on its website. A stocky, bald guy sat in the TV room watching BBC1, and an older man loitered by the stairs. My boyfriend and I got changed, already aware that this was not the experience we were expecting. This wasn’t a sensuous spa with nice facilities and tons of men.
Once we were wrapped in our towels, we went to the shower room, a grim area with three showers that took forever to warm up, no soap, and cleaning buckets forgotten nearby, with brooms and mops sticking out of them. Next to the showers was a broken steam room (which we later found out from a regular had been like that for 6 months – none of that info was on the website.)
We decided to check out the dry sauna, which was empty. Once in there, we looked at each other. There was no need for words – the place was a dump.
‘Oh well,’ I said. ‘It’s an experience.’
We then decided to check out the Jacuzzi. A solitary man in his 50s sat there, bald with long curly grey hair down his neck. His name was Steve: an assiduous regular and a Brexiter. We quizzed him about the sauna’s best times (“1am, when all the young ones arrive from the clubs”) and the best saunas in the UK (“Sweatbox and Pleasuredrome in London, Oasis in Brighton.”) Soon, the stocky guy we’d seen earlier in the lounge joined us. He had dark skin and was very hairy. He said his name was Mark and that he came from Slovakia (my boyfriend thinks that was a made up name.) Mark would end up spending the night chasing us, following us wherever we went, pressing his leg against my boyfriend’s in the jacuzzi, until it was more than obvious we weren’t interested.
We wandered upstairs out of curiosity and found a tiny dark labyrinth that included glory holes (with two guys making out in there), two cabin rooms (two guys fucking in one of them with the door open) and a large porn room where orgies could take place. We stopped to watch some porn, unable to get hard, and Mark soon walked in with a fit guy (who turned out to be Polish). They laid out their towels and started making out. An older man arrived, carrying a shopping bag with his possessions, lay down nearby and started jerking off. We stood up and went back downstairs.
One positive side to the sauna was that the staff were nice. They gave us tap water when we asked at the bar without any hassle. But after an hour in there, we decided it was best if we left. Some men had started to arrive but they all seemed awkward.
My boyfriend concluded we weren’t meant for that environment, that he couldn’t get excited there. When we got back to our Airbnb, we took showers and tried to remove the smell of that place from us.