HERE’S THE THING with traditional spas in New York. They’re expensive, I have to make an appointment, and I can’t get a cup of borscht.
Forget all that. I prefer banyas — Russian bathhouses — where I can drop in for a steam, a swim, a massage, a beer, and some Russian culture almost 24 hours a day. Plus, they’re pretty cheap.
It used to be that when I heard the words “public baths,” they brought visions of mustachioed men having illicit sex. But, no, banyas are not sex houses — they’re more like Russian country clubs where families swim and order food from the on-site restaurant.
Okay, so some people are wearing funny felt hats and hitting each other with dried herbs, but that’s where the kink factor ends. If you’re a first-timer, keep the following in mind and the banya won’t seem so intimidating:
- Co-ed locker rooms are provided for changing into your swimsuit. Take the time to be hygienic and rise off in the showers first. Bring your own flip-flops.
- Grab as many towels as you like and head to the bath area. Depending on which banya you’re visiting, you’ll have the options of a steam room, dry sauna, jacuzzi, plunge pool, or swimming pool.
- If you’re hungry or hesitant, take a seat in the bar/restaurant for a cold beer, fresh juice, french fries, or dried fish. Start a friendly debate by asking two Russians if it’s better to go into the plunge pool before or after the steam room.
- Those dried bunches of herbs people are hitting themselves with are eucalyptus, and it’s meant to improve circulation. The hats are to protect your head from intense heat, but most Americans simply leave the sauna if they’re feeling uncomfortably hot.
- Feel free to bring kosher salt, oil, or any other beauty goodies into the wet sauna. Exfoliate, then rinse yourself off with a cold bucket of water from the faucet inside.
- The entrance fee covers access to basic facilities for an entire day. Massages and treatments can be booked ahead of time or as a drop-in at an additional cost.
Where to go
Address: 602 Coney Island Ave
Entrance fee: $30
Hours: Monday to Friday 9am to midnight, Saturday and Sunday 8am to midnight
Brooklyn Banya is 10,000 square feet of basic and clean baths. The swimming pool is pretty tiny. The staff is incredibly nice and accommodating.
Russian & Turkish Baths
Address: 268 East 10th Street
Entrance fee: $35
Hours: Check the website for sporadic hours including co-ed, women-only, and men-only hours.
The Russian & Turkish Baths are in the East Village and therefore a total scene and always crowded, sometimes with celebrities. They run co-ed and gender-only hours, so be prepared for nudity if you catch the place at a gender-specific time.
Address: 614 Sheepshead Bay Rd
Entrance fee: $40
Hours: Monday to Sunday noon to midnight
Royal Palace has the baths featured in Russian Dolls. Wait, I’m the only one who watched Russian Dolls?