Listening to three 30-year-old teachers in towels talking about how much they hated their lives at four in the morning was not my typical idea of a Wednesday night. Temple Bar’s gay sauna, The Boilerhouse, had long been a mysterious and alluring place to me, even after having lived Dublin for several years. What drew people to it, I wondered? What kind of people were they and why did they go there? It took some admittedly inebriated convincing from a new friend, but I finally looked past my nervousness and decided to venture in.
I should’ve known it would be pretty dead midweek, but the stark age gaps of those we encountered were still jarring. It seemed almost perfectly split between much older men, aging twinks and fresh meat, like a balance had to be achieved for the steam to keep pumping. As the pair of us fell into the Fresh Meat category, the sexually charged atmosphere was a little startling, but we ploughed on.
Dark and clammy surrounds made clear that if anyone expected this to be a regular spa, it was something very different, not least because the top floor held a cinema of the adult film variety. The heat and sweat may seem like ideal accompaniments for those looking for some quick action but for me, there was something surreal about the whole experience. We talked with the teachers for a while, putting on journalist caps to investigate about why people would come here, especially on a Wednesday night when they had not imbibed as much as we had. Their responses were, to say the least, defensive: some claimed they ‘never’ came here or only turned up out of boredom. The sense of escape was palpable, though — one had to teach a class in the morning.
More bizarre was a fellow Trinity student completely blanking me when he came to sit in the hot tub. Whether it was out of awkwardness or denial, I don’t know. The hot tub was a fun end to a night out, but when things started getting a bit too handsy for my liking, we cut our losses and left. Things had escalated in such a juvenile way it felt scripted, as if I’d walked onto a porn set. It was not an experience either of us found appealing. Stepping out into the rising sun at 5 a.m. was bracing, but ultimately, a relief. Breathing in the city air as cars passed by on their way to work, we chose to retire from our journey into this aspect of Dublin’s nightlife.