NATIONAL NEWS

Steve Ostrow, who founded famed NYC bathhouse the Continental Baths, dies at 91

Feb 12, 2024, 1:29 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Steve Ostrow, who founded the trailblazing New York City gay bathhouse the Continental Baths, where Bette Midler, Barry Manilow and other famous artists launched their careers, has died. He was 91.

The Brooklyn native died Feb. 4 in his adopted home of Sydney, Australia, according to an obituary in The Sydney Morning Herald.

“Steve’s story is an inspiration to all creators and a celebration of New York City and its denizens,” Toby Usnik, a friend and spokesperson at the British Consulate General in New York, posted on X.

Ostrow opened the Continental Baths in 1968 in the basement of the Ansonia Hotel, a once grand Beaux Arts landmark on Manhattan’s Upper West Side that had fallen on hard times.

He transformed the hotel’s massive basement, with its dilapidated pools and Turkish baths, into an opulently decorated, Roman-themed bathhouse.

The multi-level venue was not just an incubator for a music and dance revolution deeply rooted in New York City’s gay scene, but also for the LGBTQ community’s broader political and social awakening, which would culminate with the Stonewall protests in lower Manhattan, said Ken Lustbader of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, a group that researches places of historic importance to the city’s LGBTQ community.

“Steve identified a need,” he said. “Bathhouses in the late 1960s were more rundown and ragged, and he said, ‘Why don’t I open something that is going to be clean, new and sparkle, where I could attract a whole new clientele’?”

Privately-run bathhouses proliferated in the 1970s, offering a haven for gay and bisexual men to meet during a time when laws prevented same-sex couples from even dancing together. When AIDS emerged in the 1980s, though, bathhouses were blamed for helping spread the disease and were forced to close or shuttered voluntarily.

The Continental Baths initially featured a disco floor, a pool with a waterfall, sauna rooms and private rooms, according to NYC LGBT Historic Sites’ website.

As its popularity soared, Ostrow added a cabaret stage, labyrinth, restaurant, bar, gym, travel desk and medical clinic. There was even a sun deck on the hotel’s rooftop complete with imported beach sand and cabanas.

Lustbader said at its peak, the Continental Baths was open 24 hours a day and seven days a week, with some 10,000 people visiting its roughly 400 rooms each week.

“It was quite the establishment,” he said. “People would check in on Friday night and not leave until Sunday.”

The Continental Baths also became a destination for groundbreaking music, with its DJs shaping the dance sounds that would become staples of pop culture.

A young Bette Midler performed on the poolside stage with a then-unknown Barry Manilow accompanying her on piano, cementing her status as an LGBTQ icon.

But as its musical reputation drew a wider, more mainstream audience, the club’s popularity among the gay community waned, and it closed its doors in 1976. The following year, Plato’s Retreat, a swinger’s club catering to heterosexual couples, opened in the basement space.

Ostrow moved to Australia in the 1980s, where he served as director of the Sydney Academy of Vocal Arts, according to his obituary. He also founded Mature Age Gays, a social group for older members of Australia’s LGBTQ community.

“We are very grateful for the legacy of MAG that Steve left us,” Steve Warren, the group’s president, wrote in a post on its website. “Steve’s loss will leave a big hole in our heart but he will never be forgotten.”

___

Follow Philip Marcelo at twitter.com/philmarcelo.

National News

Brattleboro Union High School students register to vote during a voter drive at the school, Feb. 14...

Associated Press

The future is now: 16- and 17-year-olds win the right to vote in local elections in a Vermont town

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (AP) — A Vermont town has acted on the notion that young voters offer hope for the future, giving 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote next week in local elections. Those who turn 18 by the November general election will be permitted to vote in the state’s presidential primaries on Super Tuesday. […]

14 minutes ago

FILE - The North Dakota Capitol tower rises in the background behind a stone sign, April 19, 2012, ...

Associated Press

AP Decision Notes: What to expect in North Dakota’s GOP caucuses

WASHINGTON (AP) — North Dakota will hold its Republican presidential caucuses on Monday, the last chance for Donald Trump’s rivals for the GOP nomination to slow his momentum heading into Super Tuesday, the biggest day of the primary campaign, when 15 states hold contests. Trump’s main opponent in North Dakota once again will be Nikki […]

50 minutes ago

Associated Press

The Latest | Gaza’s death toll surges over 30,000 as Israeli forces kill 104 people waiting for aid

More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the start of the Israel-Hamas war nearly five months ago, health officials the territory said. The surge in numbers came after witnesses said Israeli troops on Thursday fired at a crowd of people waiting for aid in Gaza City, killing scores and wounded […]

3 hours ago

FILE - Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo listens during a House Committee on Science, Space, and Tec...

Associated Press

Biden administration to investigate national security risks posed by Chinese-made ‘smart cars’

WASHINGTON (AP) — Citing potential national security risks, the Biden administration says it will investigate Chinese-made “smart cars” that can gather sensitive information about Americans driving them. The probe could lead to new regulations aimed at preventing China from using sophisticated technology in electric cars and other so-called connected vehicles to track drivers and their […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

A shooting in Orlando has left at least 1 person dead and several injured, police say

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — At least one person is dead and several others were injured following a shooting in Orlando, Florida, police say. Orlando Police Department responded about 11 p.m. Wednesday in reference to several shots fired, WFTV reported. Officers found multiple victims, including one who died. Police have not released a possible motive for […]

5 hours ago

FILE - A map of a new proposed community in Solano County, Calif., is displayed during a news confe...

Associated Press

A billionaire-backed campaign for a new California city is off to a bumpy start

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — After two false starts, the billionaires behind a plan to build an eco-friendly city from scratch are behind schedule and off to a bumpy start to put their proposal before California voters this November. Former Goldman Sachs trader Jan Sramek unveiled his closely guarded ballot initiative for the proposed community between […]

7 hours ago

Steve Ostrow, who founded famed NYC bathhouse the Continental Baths, dies at 91