There used to be 200 gay bathhouse in the United States. Now there are fewer than 70. ABCNews:
Gone are the days when bathhouses drew crowds just by offering a discreet place for gays to meet, share saunas and, often, have sex. "The acceptance of gays has changed the whole world. It's taken away the need to sneak into back-alley places," said Dennis Holding, 75, who owns a Miami-based bathhouse.
In the heyday of bathhouses in the late 1970s, there were nearly 200 gay bathhouses in cities across the U.S., but by 1990, the total had dropped to approximately 90, according to Damron, the publisher of an annual gay travel guide. In the last decade, bathhouses, including ones in San Diego, Syracuse, Seattle and San Antonio, have shut down and the total nationwide is less than 70. Most patrons are older.
Hollywood Spa—one of the largest bathhouses in Los Angeles, a city regarded as the country's bathhouse capital—closed in April. Owner Peter D. Sykes said fewer customers and rising rent put an end to four decades in business. "Bathhouses were like dirty bookstores and parks: a venue to meet people," said Sykes, who still owns the smaller North Hollywood Spa. "Today, you can go to the supermarket."
Gay bathhouses, certain parks after dark, mob-owned gay bars with filthy and squalid backrooms—the crushing culture of the closet once condemned all gay men to seek intimacy in those places. But they weren't places all gay men wanted to go. Some gay men still patronize bathhouses, of course, and you can still find dick zombies shuffling around Volunteer Park after dark. But once bathhouses and parks and backrooms became optional—once we could meet at the supermarket, through friends, in a clean gay-owned gay bar, or online; once you could risk having sex with someone whose name you actually knew—most gay men opted out.
So, contra Towleroad, I don't think it's a lingering association with the spread of HIV that is killing off gay bathhouses—although there is that—but their strong and continuing association with shame, fear, and desperation, a.k.a. the closet.