When it is cold and gloomy, one of the best things you can do is to go to a bathhouse – as I did yesterday, while the cold spell is back to the US Northeast. New York City has several options. The biggest one is probably the Spa Castle with Korean saunas in Queens, but if you prefer a more central location, Russian & Turkish Baths in the East Village is a good choice. Some friends of mine don’t like its dated look, but I actually find that low key style appealing; the room of Russian sauna (banya) looks as if it has not been renovated since the opening of the bathhouse in 1892.
Although the bathhouse is called Russian & Turkish Baths, it has also two Finnish saunas (dry and hot), in addition to two hammams (Turkish steam room, relatively mild temperature), and a bigger banya (Russian sauna, very hot but with humid air, sort of a mix between Turkish and Finnish ones). There are also massage rooms with treatments (e.g. mud scrub). But my favorite treatment there is actually performed right in the Russian sauna room. It’s a traditional Russian banya massage (aka platza, a yiddish term). It is a whole body massage that includes soap wash and whipping with oak branches. It may look a little rough, but in fact it feels very relaxing. As they claim, “the oak leaves contain a natural astringent, which will open your pours, remove toxins, and actually take off layers of dead skin”. And it does feel so. Platza is finished with a dip in the cold water pool, which is supposed to train your vascular system. Yesterday, I used the birch broom which I brought from the Ivanovskie Bani in Kiev. I first massaged two Brazilian friends of mine, and then one of them massaged me. But if you don’t have such a broom and don’t know how to do platza, you can ask local masseurs – they are really good!
On a side note, coming to the US after Germany, I have to mention that saunas here are clothing-optional only in single-sex setting. (This is also increasingly common in Ukraine and Russia.) So unfortunately for heterosexual couples or mixed-gender groups, they will have to walk around in shorts soaked in sweat… If you want to hang out naked, Russian & Turkish Baths offer one women-only and two men-only time slots.
BTW, they regularly offer special deals and discounts through Groupon, kgbdeals.com and savelocal.com, so keep your eyes open.
3 thoughts on “Russian and Turkish baths in NYC”
I’ve been there twice on the all-male day and it was good. Unfortunately during the last 15-minutes of the all-male part some one guy in the sauna started stroking himself through his now mandatory shorts and the other guy walked out and decided to tickle the inside of my knee until I shoved him off-ward. I’m not looking to have sex with a strange man in dark room. I’m there to enjoy non-sexual nudity.
Yikes. I went there today and had to complain to management. The Cedar Sauna room and the Turkish steam were particularly bad. The Bath personnel spend the day upstairs asking people to buy “treatments” on the way inside and no one was patrolling downstairs. I started leaving rooms when all the Orthodox Jews left the room. I wasn’t staying around with the other clientele.
I really just wanted to relax in the heat and collect my thoughts but I looked to my right and the guy next to me was getting an under-towel HJ from the guy in front of him and the way the guy in front of him spun around I think it was turning into something else. For some reason the guy in front of me decided to spin around to me and I got out of there. I tried to go back a half-hour later but the place was jammed and everyone had a crotch itch. WTF?
I tried to go to the Turkish steam room but there was an HJ in progress visible from the window. They weren’t even bothering to hide it. I didn’t pay to sit on the roof inhaling 2nd hand smoke.
I complained to the manager and no one seemed to do anything about it. They all stayed upstairs and he called the guy who was supposed to be watching downstairs. It would have made sense for a few of the guys upstairs to go down and tell them to know it off but that didn’t happen. He offered for me to wait until co-ed time but I didn’t go there to wear a robe in the pool/shower/sauna.
Unfortunately, I have a bunch of pre-paid vouchers that I have to use. Next time I’m following the old Jewish guys around for safety. I’ll probably have to wear shorts for safety. That sucks.
I’ve been to Russian & Turkish Baths on both of my trips to NYC. A few years ago in the dead of winter, it was a wonderfully warm and refreshing experience, and again in June last year, when I had the full Platza treatment (with a great Groupon discount!)
Both times have been at the Men-only Sunday morning sessions – a great way to start the day.