With 22 years of business under its towel, London’s original 24-hour gay sauna Pleasuredrome is sexier and stronger than ever – so much so that it’s expanding in the New Year. We spent a late Saturday afternoon at the Waterloo-based sauna and discovered that, far from being just a sauna, Pleasuredrome is a destination in its own right – one where you can relax, socialise and pull a guy (or two). If you’ve never been to Pleasuredrome, here’s what to expect.
It’s 5pm on a Saturday afternoon and I’m sat in just a towel watching men of all shapes and sizes and ages – also wearing towels – meander their way through one of London’s busiest saunas. And while it’s busy, it’s still a calm, relaxing environment. The rumble of bubbles from the nearby spa drown out the slow-moving trains creeping outside above the brick arches, guys chat and drink beer by the bar, and some doze on daybeds.
London’s original 24-hour gay sauna, Pleasuredrome, has been welcoming gay and bi men who travel to London from all over the world for over 22 years. The first thing that strikes you when you’re paying your entry fee is how slick an operation Pleasurdrome ‘the business’ is. The staff are all incredibly polite and instantly put you at ease. They give you a locker key, explain that inside your locker you’ll find two clean, fluffy white towels and a token with which to lock it again (no need for pound coins here) and invite you to return to the reception desk should you have any questions during your visit. You’re then buzzed in and the locker room awaits atop of a set of stairs.
The second thing that strikes you about Pleasuredrome is how clean it is – everywhere! Tiles gleam, floors are debris-free and a small but efficient army of staff are continually mopping, sweeping and tidying.
Once you’re in your towel and flip flops, a second set of stairs take you down to the venue’s first shower block – an industrial space with open-plan showers that pump out a constant supply of hot water (there’s also an ice-cold one for those who can brave it). You hang your towel up, walk into the shower room, and the cruising begins…
Deeper into the complex you’ll find two steam rooms (both are heady with the scent of eucalyptus, to help you unwind); two dry saunas (one smaller and more intimate, the other big enough room to accommodate up to 20 guys); and the aforementioned spa pool, complete with bath-warm water, underwater seating and gentle bubble jets. The cinema plays porn, as you might expect, on a huge screen.
A few dozen private cabins are found up a floor and are accessible via two stairways; some are stand-up cubicles, others are tucked into the coves of the railway arch and include padded floors for your comfort, condoms and lockable doors.
The deluxe pods, however, take comfort and privacy to another level. Priced at just £8 for two hours (with a maximum stay of eight hours for £26), a hotel-style key fob unlocks your very own room complete with mattress, pillows, further fresh towels, a flatscreen TV showing more gay porn (or hundreds of regular channels) and power sockets for phone charging. As the key-holder, you are free to invite who you like into your private room, meaning it’s the perfect place to leave that remaining half a pint of beer while you go and find a sexy playmate.
Talking of pints, the fully licensed 24-hour bar offers a range of non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks, including draught and bottled lager, spirits and quality wine. You can even buy food in the form of hot, freshly-cooked chips.
The management have thought of fantastic little extras too – items such as white flop flops (yours to keep for £5), travel toiletry kits for you to brush your teeth with, cock rings, herbal sexual enhancement pills and other handy extras. Back by the reception desk, there’s a stack of tiny lockers specifically designed to safely and securely recharge your mobile phone for free – just exchange your clothes locker key for a phone locker key, plug it in, lock the door and that’s it.
And if you fancy some pampering, a massage is the perfect indulgence.
When booking your 50-minute massage for £47, guests are invited to fill in a short questionnaire, on which you can choose the type of music you’d like playing during your treatment, the level of pressure applied (soft; medium; firm – expect the use of elbows!), and list the specific areas of your body you would like your therapist to pay extra attention to (hamstrings for me, thanks). My therapist was friendly and welcoming and, after a few further questions to ensure my comfort, he began applying oil and working over my aches and pains. It was one of the best massages I’ve ever had and well worth heading back for.
During my visit I got talking to a guy from New York – a city largely stripped of its bathhouses back in the 80s – who thought Pleasuredrome was one of the best gay saunas he’d ever seen. And it got me thinking: living in London, it’s easy to take venues like Pleasuredrome for granted, but actually Pleasuredrome is a world-class facility we should visit, enjoy and treasure. And so as the winter months draw in and cold, drizzly evenings and weekends take hold, I’ll definitely be going back to unwind, relax and meet other likeminded guys.
Forget dull old phone apps like Grindr – if you want to meet guys, enjoy the thrill of cruising and fancy a chilled few hours out of the house, Pleasuredrome is the place to be.
Guys aged 25 or under can enjoy £5 off the full price entry at ANY TIME OF THE WEEK with valid proof of age,
meaning you pay just £13 (down from the standard £18 entry).