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Steamworks Bathhouse, Berkeley, California

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Steamworks Bathhouse, Berkeley, California
photo by Andrew Collins

Additionally, here's a guide to gay sex clubs in San Francisco.

The popular Steamworks Berkely (2107 4th St., 510-845-8992) is one of two gay bathhouses in the San Francisco Bay Area, the other being the Watergarden in the South Bay city of San Jose. Set in a semi-industrial but safe and convenient neighborhood just off I-80, this clean and well-kept facility occupies a huge former warehouse and is outfitted with all the expected features: gym, large hot tub, gay porn lounges, a maze of hallways, private rooms of different sizes, and lockers.

The club is open 24/7, and it's part of the chain of bathhouses that includes Steamworks Chicago, Steamworks Seattle, Steamworks Vancouver, and Steamworks Toronto. Clientele here is heavily from San Francisco, as well as Berkeley and neighboring Oakland, and you're apt to see guys of all ages and races, from the buff and bronzed to bears to twinks. Friday and Saturday nights are popular (drawing more tourists), and Sundays (especially the afternoons) have a huge following.

Part of what accounts for the popularity of Steamworks as well as Watergarden in San Jose is that San Francisco has no gay bathhouses, although it does have a few long-running gay sex clubs. A 1984 San Francisco court order ruled that sex venues could not rent private rooms and had to monitor sexual activity, which effectively eliminated bathhouses. Steamworks is a 20- to 30-minute drive south of San Francisco, and Watergarden is an hour south - they've continued to thrive, drawing many San Franciscans.

San Jose's Watergarden bathhouse (1010 The Alameda, 408-275-1215) is also very well-liked - fans praise the beautiful outdoor garden patio, solicitous staff, and attractive layout. It's a bit more inviting and cheery than the more industrial-looking Steamworks, but each place has its adherents, and Steamworks is more convenient to San Francisco.

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