Death of a Bathhouse

A new film about the closing of Toronto's St Marc Spa

While it unofficially held the dubious title of “Toronto’s sketchiest bathhouse” for the latter part of its 19-year existence, there was more to the St Marc Spa than meth-heads and the dealers who loved them. Perched on top of a four-storey office building at Yonge and Wellesley, the long-running sex club was (oddly) about more than just sex.

The year before St Marc’s demise, former Fab columnist Rolyn Chambers (who also served as director of operations for its last two years) invited 10 local artists (including Sky Gilbert, Brad Fraser, Drasko Bogdanovic and Donnarama) to create installations in some of the private rooms. Co-created by Chambers and producer Raymond Helkio, Death of a Bathhouse combines footage of the club’s final days and interviews with the artists who created there.

Xtra: How did this piece come about?

Raymond Helkio: Rolyn had shot the footage years ago when the club was getting ready to close down. He didn’t have a specific intention of what to do with it. It was just a sort of archival documentation. The artists had done all this great work, and it was so sad to see all that beauty destroyed. No one except patrons of the club had ever seen it, so we wanted to take the opportunity to share it with the rest of the world.

What made St Marc Spa different from other bathhouses?

It’s the only bathhouse I’m aware of that had a full-time dedicated art space accessible to the public. When you came in the main door, you could go into the club if you were looking to get laid, but there was also the bar space, Grasp, an erotic club that had all kinds of art, performances and DJs. Having those two spaces connected made for this dynamically sexually charged art environment that’s not like anything else I’ve seen before or since. And the individual artist rooms were something special. Brad Fraser did this one that was all decorated with comic-book art. Donnarama made an incredible conspiracy theory installation that had images of 9/11, da Vinci’s Last Supper and Marilyn Monroe. You could lie back and get fucked while you stared up at art.

There’s been a lot of talk about the death of the bathhouse lately, as more gays turn to the internet and smartphone apps to hook up. Are bathhouses destined to become a relic of the past?

Historically, bathhouses provided a safe space where you could come to fuck and know you weren’t going to get beat up. There’s definitely increasing conservatism in the gay community, both among young and older generations, and I think that comes partly from the apathy associated with a sense of safety. We have this idea that we have all these freedoms in Canada, like it’s a place completely free of homophobia, and that has an impact on how we express ourselves sexually. Bathhouses will always exist, but we’re not going to see that saturation level in terms of the number of clubs again.

Chris Dupuis

Chris Dupuis is a writer and curator originally from Toronto.

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