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Steam Bathhouse, Portland, Oregon

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Steam Bathhouse, Portland, Oregon
photo by Andrew Collins
Smartly and attractively designed Steam Portland (2885 N.E. Sandy Blvd., 503-736-9999) is one of the most inviting gay saunas in the country. This 24/7 private club welcomes out-of-towners and is the only gay bathhouse in the city - it's on the East Side, fairly near the Hollywood and Lloyd Center neighborhoods, and just a 10-minute drive from downtown (either take the Burnside Bridge and follow Burnside until it becomes Sandy, or take Exit 1 or 2 from I-84). This low-slung, contemporary building - the back of which you can see from I-84 - is in a fairly quiet, nondescript mixed industrial/residential neighborhood. It's a safe area, and there's plenty of well-lighted parking on the street.

As bathhouses go, Steam is mid-sized, which works for a city Portland's size - it tends to feel just busy and crowded enough on weekends, but like many saunas, the crowds vary greatly during the week. Usually you'll find a good mix of guys in their 30s and 40s, with a decent smattering of younger and older men, too. The vibe is relaxed and low-keyed, and the interior is beautifully designed, with a somewhat industrial-looking aesthetic, high ceilings, soft lighting (private rooms have dimmer switches), and a fantastic steam room - typically the most popular part of the club. There are ample supplies of condoms and lube, and in warm weather you can lie out on the expansive, enclosed sundeck.

If you're visiting just once, there's a $5 membership (it's just $25 for a year), and then rates range from $10 to $13 (depending on the day) for basic lockers to anywhere between $17 and $34 for rooms, the most expensive being deluxe doubles with video. Various student and military specials are offered, as well as certain weekday deals. A great facility, all in all.

In 2012, Portland's fans of cruising enjoyed the opening of a new gay sex club and bathhouse, Hawks (234 S.E. Grand Ave., at S.E. Ash St., 503-946-8659), which opened just across the Burnside Bridge from downtown in the Inner Southeast neighborhood. Opened by the same team behind the popular gay sauna Hawks in Las Vegas, this well-kept and attractive facility is making a concerted effort to attract aficionados of S&M, group sex, and role-playing. There are three slings, glory-hole rooms, an orgy area, a water sports area, fisting parties, bear events, and other creative elements. You'll find lockers, a cedar-paneled sauna, a steam room, and an industrial vibe that's something of a throwback to classic gay sex clubs of yore, along with a mazelike layout.

Rates at Hawk's are similar to those of Steam ($5 membership for onetime visit, or $25 for a year), plus locker rates of $10 on weekdays and $13 on weekends. Rooms are just $15 to $18, but they're also on the small side.

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