Sweatbox is the Boyz Award-winning sauna and gym located on the edge of Soho, just off Oxford Street. It’s been closed for the last few months while it undergoes ‘a million pound make-over’. It’s reopening on Monday 1 April and Dave Cross got to let off steam with owners Mark and Jason Ford.
Hi Mark and Jason, we’ve really missed Sweatbox, please tell us the news, are you ready to re-open?
MF: Thank you, we’ve missed it too! It’s been quite an ordeal.
JF: When we first came up with the idea of calling it a million pound make-over we thought we were exaggerating. Whereas it turns out to be an understatement.
MF: But we’re finally there and intend to reopen at 4pm on Monday 1 April. Our legendary Hard-Up Mondays will still be in effect so if you’re lucky enough to be 25 or under you can come try us out for free.
JF: And for everyone else, for the first two weeks we’re offering a Sweatbox BOGOF (Buy One Get One Free) – everyone who comes will get a free pass to come back and visit us again.
This is much more than a lick of paint, in basic terms can you describe what you’ve done?
MF: Oh it has been a complete top to bottom (for tops and bottoms) rebuild.
JF: I don’t think a single piece of the old Sweatbox remains, except for our gym equipment! But the core of what made Sweatbox, Boyz magazine’s Best Sauna 2019 are still there, just improved, refined and better than ever.
We are loving the new decor, some of which you can see in our photos, can you describe the look and vibe?
MF: If I were pretentious…
JF: Which you are…
MF: …I’d describe it as a sexy leisure centre. A space which doesn’t deny or repress our sexuality but instead understands it, as core to our culture. But that also integrates, rather than isolates, our sexuality into a space where you can work out, hang out and, hopefully make new friends. All without the need for drugs or even alcohol.
JF: It’s camp, it’s industrial, it’s 60s Soho meets 70s New York City glam, it’s well, us basically…
Can you each tell us your favourite parts?
JF: That’s like asking to choose your favourite child… How do you chose? Do you go with our three interconnecting steam rooms, with aromatherapy fragrance booths and an extra hot room for those that really like to get their steam on? Our massive new ground floor jacuzzi lit by its own mirrorball? Our dedicated foam room which will herald the return of Sweatbox’s world famous foam parties? And that’s just some of what we have in store for our patrons, there is so much more to explore.
MF: We have really tried to look at what worked for our customers and what didn’t and create a space that maximised what they loved about Sweatbox. Also – we have a smart, non-intrusive method of keeping drugs out of the building, so no more annoying security searches. This was a pivotal part of the new design for us. We have always been dedicated to keeping drugs out of Sweatbox but now we hope we can do so without all the fuss.
There’s a couple of great neon signs, making statements, such as, Every Body is Beautiful, Every Body is Welcome.
MF: Apart from the physical and material improvements, we hope we’ve created a new kind of space for our community.
JF: And the neon sign Every Body is Beautiful, Every Body is Welcome really embodies that for us. Our bodies are all basically just drag – muscle drag, bear drag, otter drag, twink drag. All fun and there’s something for everyone, but we need to remind ourselves that behind the drag is a real human being – each as beautiful and unique as the next.
MF: We all need to relearn a new supportive language. To have the courage to consider that just because the sexual chemistry isn’t there, doesn’t mean the social chemistry isn’t. We need to open ourselves up to that. Find new ways to connect and make friends.
JF: That’s why real spaces will always be essential. No matter how much we progress with equal rights, we will always be a minority. So spaces to meet and get to know each other – our real, honest selves rather than our curated online selves – are the bedrock of a more supportive community.
MF: We’ve always been proud of how many relationships and friendships began at Sweatbox. Having a gym has always helped as our members create a ready made social scene.
JF: Which is why, despite rumours to the contrary, we still have a gym and it is very much part of our business plan. We love our members and are looking forward to welcoming them back on the 1st.
What are the Sweatbox plans for the future?
MF: With the all new Sweatbox, we aim to find new ways of getting our customers to talk and socialise as well as cruise.
JF: We’ve always offered sexual health screening and drug outreach programmes, but now we want to go further – to help improve people’s lives not just be a resource when they have problems.
MF: We are looking to offer one-on-one and couples counselling, massage exchange groups, cabaret fun (we have a stage right in front of our new giant jacuzzi) and much else besides.
Finally, a belated congratulations on winning the Boyz Best Sauna Award.
JF: Thank you! We were incredibly touched but a little startled – we couldn’t figure out why people voted for a sauna that had been closed for part of last year.
MF: Then we checked over our social media and saw many outpourings of warmth and support for us. So many stories about how they miss all their friends and good times. And it felt amazing – reinvigorating our determination to give them the best, most fun experience possible when we reopen on the 1st.
Get full details of times and prices at sweatboxsoho.com
Sweatbox, 1-2 Ramillies Street, Soho, W1.
Photos by Chrisjepson.com