It is a known fact that Bath Houses have always been popular with gays. Even before the creation of exclusively gay establishments (in the early 70s), people have used these venues to meet and socialize more or less anonymously. The mere existence of men-only places, where people wearing little or no clothes congregated, coupled with the transient nature of such environments made bath houses an obvious choice for the queer gentleman. Besides, in past times when homosexuality was actively repressed, it was a far less risky option to seek a partner in a bath house than in a toilet or cinema which the Police visited much more frequently, engaging in various subtle entrapment techniques.
Today every major city has one or more gay bath houses - some smaller, some bigger, with more or less facilities. In the end they all offer pretty much the same environment. But on a recent trip to Vienna I happened to visit a remarkable sauna - Kaiserbrundl.
The history of this place is quite amazing. Situated in the very heart of Old Vienna, it is known that a bathing establishment has existed on this site since 1368, when this area of Vienna was a centre for textiles.
In the 19th Century the Centralbad was the only bath house in the city centre and extremely popular - one of its regular guests was Archduke Ludwig Victor, a brother of Emperor Franz Joseph I. The Emperor himself visited on August 12th, 1873, as well as other dignitaries and for this reason the establishment was renamed Kaiserbrundl. Simon Baruch, the famous pioneer in the field of hydrotherapy and founder of the public bathing system of New York, called the Viennese Bath "the most substantial, elegant and complete bath in the world. The house was rebuilt by the famous architect Anton Honus in 1887-91 and gained its present magnificent look. After the Second World War the place continued to operate as a straight (i.e. separate men/women) establishment but its conditions deteriorated, until in the early 80s the venue was launched as a gay only bath house. A complete renovation in the late 90s brought the stunning grandeur of the place alive once again.
Yes, grand is the word here. Think Arab-Moroccan grand stairs, marble floors and vaulted ceilings, adorned by frescos representing classical themes, some including man to man sex, orgies and bacchanalias. A beautiful marble pool makes it feel like a bygone era. And a labyrinth of corridors, stairs, levels - it takes a while to find your bearings. This is the closest you get to what a Roman bath house would have been like. And 100% gay.
There are also two bar and a small restaurant, which is open for all guests, dressed or undressed. I suppose one could have a drink or two at the bar, see who's around and decide whether to strip or not... But I felt the trip was worth it, just to see the magnificence of this place. A must see in Vienna!
Tel. +43 1 513 32 93
(St. Stephens, U1, U3)