Steam Portland employees Thad and Deron. Burk Jackson
In the process of writing about developer David Anderson's new gay steam bath, Steam Portland, this writer has come across a surprisingly large number of people who are either unfamiliar with the steam bath concept, or more likely, won't let themselves believe the concept is real. So let's begin with a clarification: the steam bath is real, and the concept, according to Anderson, is as taboo-simple as your brain won't allow you to envision:

"The main agenda of people who join this club is sex," he says.

The completed members-only Steam Portland has 47 private rooms for rent (the club's "bread and butter," according to Anderson), an enormous steam room, a good-sized hot tub (yes, public sex in both arenas is tolerated and encouraged), an industrial shower space for hosing off, and a large variety of sex products, soft towels, and "sexy sweats" (a sultry alternative to towels). If gay sex is to be found anywhere in Portland, it is most certainly found here.

On a sunny Wednesday, a week before it's set to open, Steam Portland is a mere shell of the den of sin it will soon become. The steam room is only half-tiled, and a smell of wet paint coats the air. Anderson, surprisingly calm considering how close he is to opening day, describes in loving detail what the finished product will look like.

"Dimly lit. A certain amount of mystery. We designed the hallways so none of the walls were straight, to provide a maze-like atmosphere. We wanted rich, warm colors to emphasize a feeling of warmth. The interior was designed in kind of a post-industrial design with metal trim and exposed, concrete floors and walls.

"We'll have constant cleaning going on. We've asked many, many people, 'What do you want from an upscale bathhouse?" and without exception, they said they wanted it to be clean. And we thought, 'Well, we can do that.' We are really incredibly committed to an uptight policy of cleanliness. Our unofficial motto is, 'No sleaze, no fleas.'"

It's a bit unique to imagine a business that propagates promiscuous and casual sex as being meticulously "clean," and yet not surprising considering Anderson's demeanor. Well groomed and well spoken, middle-aged, with silvery hair, a sporty moustache, and twinkly blue eyes, he does not fit the standard image of porn provocateur.

"My background is in real estate," he says. "So this is a bit of a left-hand turn for me. [Owning a steam club] is something I have thought about since I was a young man. I was driving to Seattle one time to go to a club and I thought, 'Why am I driving to Seattle when I could have a club of my own in Portland?' And I was thinking about a career change, so I got this idea. I did a lot of market research and found there was a very big opening for a club like this."

Big opening is right. Anderson claims the response to Steam Portland has already been overwhelming. "We get over three hundred hits a day on our website that's practically unadvertised, and 200 members are already signed up. If you sign up online you get one month free, with no strings attached, and yet almost everyone who has taken the free month has also committed to either a half or a full year. So apparently people are planning on using the facility on an ongoing basis, even though they've never seen it!"

Anderson's creation is not a new idea to Portland. The massive Club Portland, located downtown, is also a bathhouse-style venue for gay men only. Steam Portland is much smaller than CP, but is the only business of its kind on the eastside, and has a welcoming, gentle air about it that may give it an edge up on the competition. "[Joining a club like Steam Portland for the first time] is often scary," says Anderson. "But the point is to make a place where adults can relax and have a good time."

So concerned is Anderson for the physical AND mental well being of his patrons, he even includes a question on his website's Frequently Asked Questions section that goes, "I am an older man and not in the best of shape. I enjoy going to the baths but I have been treated rudely by staff and members in clubs in other cities. Would I be comfortable at Steam Portland?"

Anderson's answer: "My old granny used to say 'It takes all kinds of flowers to make a garden'. Our staff will treat all members with dignity and respect. Our motto is: Cleanliness, Friendliness & Fun! A lot will depend on your attitude and how you treat others as well. If you approach someone and there is no interest, it's best to move on and find someone who is interested. Those young 'hotties' are usually interested in each other, but you never know who might want a Daddy Bear!"

Anderson wants customers from all walks of life to feel comfortable at his club. In addition to an atmosphere of acceptance, he also promises a safe, drug-free arena to engage in adult behavior. "Barebacking" (sex without a condom) is not allowed, and if observed in the public area will not be tolerated. The club's guidelines advise against taking cum into the body in any capacity to avoid the risk of disease and infection. The private rooms, however, are not monitored. Enter them at your own risk.

Anderson's commitment to safety and comfort extends from the club's atmosphere, to its architecture, to its impact on crime in the neighborhood around it. "We have done an enormous amount of seismic upgrading, spent a lot of money replacing the roof and reinforcing the walls. Our joke is that if we have a big earthquake, this is the building you should run to rather than away from. If the ground around it liquefies, the building will still be standing. We also really feel that the number of people visiting our facility will actually make the neighborhood safer because so much of the business is done at night. When you put that many more people on the sidewalks in the evening, it makes them safer."

Anderson pauses in his tour to eye the rugged, tool belt-wearing construction workers flitting about like water skeeters. "The guys that are building it... we have had no attitude," he says. "In fact, we've had pretty enthusiastic support. They think the concept is great, and that it sounds like a lot of fun. I asked them how they would like a club like this that included straight women and their faces just lit up."

When asked about the exclusion of women by the club, Anderson gets slightly Freudian. "I don't think women express their sexuality in this kind of way," he says, gesturing to the hot tub. "The layout of our facility and the activities that are built into that facility generally do not appeal to the feminine sexuality. Men express their sexuality in a very external sort of way... they shoot, they jack off... women's sexuality has to do with a more intimate and internal experience."

Anderson's psychoanalysis may justify his policies, and may not, but it at least demonstrates a sensitivity to different needs and desires. His rare combination of compassion and business savvy is a unique addition to the Portland sex industry. Indeed, Anderson is the nicest bathhouse owner you'll ever meet. He just wants people to enjoy themselves, and he's not afraid to say it.

"The one thing we are not doing is hiding behind some pretense of what we are doing," he says. "We're an adult business, and we have no shame about the fact that adults engage in adult behavior here."

"At first we called it a spa just out of convenience," he says, a glint of steel in his eye. "But what we are is a bathhouse."

6 Month Membership $15

1 Year Membership $25

Visit website,

www.steamportland.com, for specific room and locker rates. Steam Portland is located at 2885 NE Sandy