From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Unlike at brothels, customers pay only for the use of the facilities; sexual activity, if it occurs, is not provided as a service by staff of the establishment, but is between customers, and no money is exchanged. Many gay bathhouses explicitly prohibit or discourage prostitution and ban known prostitutes.
Celebrities and the Continental Baths
Singer Bette Midler is well-known for getting her start at the famous Continental Baths in New York City the early 1970s, where she earned the nickname Bathhouse Betty. It was there, accompanied by pianist Barry Manilow (who, like the bathhouse patrons, sometimes wore only a white towel) that she created her stage persona "the Divine Miss M."
On getting her start in bathhouses, Midler has remarked:
Despite the way things turned out [with the AIDS crisis], I'm still proud of those days [when I got my start singing at the gay bathhouses]. I feel like I was at the forefront of the gay liberation movement, and I hope I did my part to help it move forward. So, I kind of wear the label of 'Bathhouse Betty' with pride. Other famous performers who appeared at the Continental include Melba Moore, Labelle, Peter Allen, Cab Calloway, The Manhattan Transfer, John Davidson, and Wayland Flowers.