“Bath Time: An Old Bus Depot Gives Way to Homo Heaven”

The following is excerpted from Bath Time: An Old Bus Depot Gives Way to Homo Heaven, by Joe P. Tone, published May 3, 2006, in Cleveland Scene (owned by The New York Times):

Charles Fleck’s money-colored eyes dart around the dusty old bus depot, searching for something new to show off. Here’s where he’ll put the Russian sauna. There, a eucalyptus-vapor room. Over there, the 18-man Jacuzzi…

He’s just giddy about his creation. Building the country’s coolest bathhouse apparently has that effect.

Fleck is a millionaire real-estate investor from South Florida… But upscale bathhouses are his passion. The West Side native built his first bathhouse near Detroit Avenue on West 32nd Street in the 1960s. He now owns the Flex bath chain, with clubs in Atlanta, Phoenix, New Orleans, Columbus, and Los Angeles.

But he saved his most ambitious project for his hometown.

The former Greyhound depot near East 26th and St. Clair will be 48,000 square feet of unfettered opulence — a blue-tiled funhouse of private cabanas, steamy saunas, food, entertainment, and men. Lots and lots of men…

Some view bathhouses as little more than legalized brothels. Many were shut down in the ’80s, with the explosion of AIDS. And they remain the targets of conservatives, health officials, and others who blame them for spreading sexually transmitted diseases.

In Atlanta, after he was denied his spa and liquor licenses, Fleck battled the city all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court. New Orleans also tried to deny his spa license, unsuccessfully arguing that he was running a sex club. He’s still in court in Phoenix, where he was accused of running an illegal entertainment venue…

And there’s another advantage to Cleveland: He doesn’t expect much opposition. When he opened his Columbus Flex near a library, he endured protests from conservatives, who gasped at what would go on in the private “cabanas.”…

Customers will come in through the original depot entrance and immediately be greeted by (no doubt strapping) receptionists. From there, they’ll head into a spacious locker room — Greyhound’s original driver/mechanic locker room, Fleck says.

Beyond that will lie every imaginable way to relax. Fleck turned the depot’s mechanic pits — formerly used to service buses — into an 18-man jacuzzi and a sizable indoor pool. Near that, shrouded by tropical plants, will be the shower area, its automatic shower heads spouting perfect-temperature water.

The club also will boast a cedar-lined Russian sauna, a eucalyptus vapor room, and a cavernous steam room. A full-service kitchen will provide food. And Fleck envisions a sprawling lounge and stage, which he hopes to use for live music or even Sunday church.

Twenty small “resting rooms” will be available for rent…

Your local Y, this ain’t…

Fleck expects 40 percent of his business to come from outside the metro area. And with the amenities he offers, he hopes to draw from beyond the standard horny gay-guy clientele.

“With the mix we get,” he says, “I hardly know who’s doing what to who.”

Continue reading in Cleveland Scene…

This article was posted on Monday, November 6th, 2006 at 11:57 pm and is filed under Bathhouses, Physical Health. You can follow any updates to this article through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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