In these cold months, it’s necessary for your physical and mental health to pamper your body with as much warmth as possible, and a trip to one of Brooklyn’s banyas is a damn good way to do it.
These aren’t the glorified massage parlors many Americans will associate with the idea of a spa, these are casual social clubs featuring a great diversity of hot and cold water treatments and lots of older Russian men sitting around in felt hats, eating fruit and relaxing with their guard down in a way many New Yorkers didn’t realize was possible. Sure, NYC used to have an abundance of public bathhouses, but it’s been nearly a century since we either demolished, abandoned, or converted those stunning revival structures into condos, because who needs community spaces when you have capitalism?
The price of admission to these banyas may seem high, but if you do it right you’ll spend all day within their windowless, steamy chambers and leave with very small pores and the feeling that you’ve gotten your money’s worth. And don’t scrimp and save by not spending any additional cash after the entrance fee — the food is really freaking good. Your body will thank you. So come take a trip out to Brooklyn’s nether regions and immerse yourself in Russian hospitality.
- Venik – These are leafy batons wielded by bathhouse matrons that thwack your skin into baby soft goodness in a ritual known as platza. Expect to be charged in the $40 range for this traditional treatment. Yes, it hurts, and yes, you’ll see results.
- Taapki – You’re expected to wear sandals (you can bring your own or the spa will provide a pair, free of charge) throughout the facility, except for when you’re in a tub, obviously
- Those felt hats – Since your head gets very hot very easily in a sauna, wearing one of these woolen caps will help maintain your core temperature.
- Spasibo – Most likely all of the staff will speak decent enough English to help you with whatever it is you’re bumbling with, but “thank you” in Russian is Спасибо, or “spah-see-bah”
- Tips – Don’t.
1. Brooklyn Banya, 602 Coney Island Ave.
Assuming you live in the brownstone belt or northern Brooklyn, Brooklyn Banya is going to be the most bang for your buck with the shortest schlep. It’s the smallest of the three but manages to pack a pool, relaxation area, dry sauna, wet sauna, jacuzzi, steam room, cafe and roof deck into its quaint quarters between the auto shops lining Coney Island Avenue. In addition to being a great date spot, it’s also a prime place for a party
Admission: $40, or $20 for roof access only
Call: (718) 853-1300
2. Mermaid Spa, 3703 Mermaid Ave.
Located to the west of Coney Island in Brooklyn’s Sea Gate neighborhood, a gated community still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, there are no subways, only busses, that will take you here, so now’s the time to seduce that friend with a car or splurge on a rideshare (it’s really not that bad a drive).
The grandest of the group, Mermaid Spa may be just beyond Sea Gate’s wall but between the food and the decor you’ll feel like you’re back in post-Soviet Russia. In addition to the standard saunas, jacuzzis, and pools, there’s also a meditation cave, Korean heated bench, and an ice sauna. Children below 50 inches in height are not allowed.
Call: (347) 462-2166
3. Russian Bath of New York, 1200 Gravesend Neck Rd.
Deep in the heart of Sheepshead Bay off the Neck Road Q train stop and down an alley next to a gated children’s play area sits the Russian Bath of New York. Most memorable for its hockey-themed bar and restaurant, the banya is built around a large central pool, with showers, two dry saunas and a wet sauna off to the sides.
It’s easy to accidentally spend all day here, shvitzing and showering and drinking fresh fruit smoothies and repeating. When you’re done at the spa, if you haven’t had your fill of Russian culture yet, head a few blocks over to Netcost Market, an affordably priced and well stocked Russian grocery store.
Call: (718) 332-1676