Flex, the LA Gay Bathhouse, Has Re-Opened

Flex Spa, gay bathouse
Flex Spa Los Angeles

Flex Spa, one of LA’s better known gay bathhouses, reopened Saturday afternoon after being closed for two and a half months.

In a post on its Facebook page, Flex’s management said: “We greatly appreciate all the support from our patrons as we continue to work through issues with the city. Due to these ongoing permitting matters, some temporary restrictions are in place. But they won’t interfere with your having a good time.”

Flex Spa is located at 4424 Melrose Ave. in Silver Lake. It is unclear why the City of Los Angeles closed Flex. Fleck & Associates of Cleveland, owner of the bathhouse, didn’t return several calls from WEHOville.com. No one is answering calls at the Flex Los Angeles location.

The closing of Flex in May came on the heels of the closing of Hollywood Spa in Hollywood, announced in February. Peter Sykes, owner of Hollywood Spa, said traffic at his bathhouse had declined. He attributed that in part to a cultural change, which he said is having an impact on gay bathhouses across the country.

“You don’t have to be in the closet as a gay man,” he said. “You can go to the supermarket and play with the bananas and get a date.”

Others have noted the popularity of so-called “hookup” apps like Grindr and Scruff, which gay men use to meet other gay men on their mobile phones for casual sexual encounters.

Bathhouses where gay men met to have sex have existed in the United States since at least the 1920s. A movement to close them began in the late 1980s during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Advocates for the closure said the bathhouses were places gay men met to have unprotected sex with strangers. Opponents said the bathhouses were the perfect venue for educating gay men about the consequences of unprotected sex and were an important gathering place in a city where many were hostile to gay people.

Flex is part of a chain established by Charles Fleck of Cleveland. Fleck, who died in 2012, created a chain of Flex spas in Cleveland, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Phoenix. He turned Flex Cleveland into the world’s largest bathhouse with hotel rooms, indoor and outdoor pools and a bar. Fleck argued that bathhouses were an important tool in fighting HIV and brought AIDS service organizations in to offer testing. He also insisted that his spas distribute free condoms.

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