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A guide to the East Village Russian Turkish Baths – a truly unique NYC experience

Right around the corner from our place in Stuy-Town, is a legitimate Russian Turkish Bath. The series of saunas has apparently been on 10th street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A since 1892. As of late, I have become fairly addicted to the completely unique cultural experience. You would never think you were in the middle of downtown Manhattan.  The spa is located in what looks like a few big apartment buildings in the middle of a residential block.

As you come up the stairs into the main room you’ll find very quickly that there are absolutely no frills – except for free razors and Q-tips. They provide towels, robes, and shorts to all comers. The influence is heavily Eastern European both in ownership and employees, and they are not exactly the warmest people you have ever met. They save the “warm” for the saunas downstairs.

The owners, Boris and David, are brothers. As the legend goes, in the 1980′s the two had a massive falling out about money. In the predominately cash business, there was suspicion of stealing between one or the other, and then actual stealing occured, or maybe not. Regardless, instead of getting into a massive legal battle the two decided to split the baths where Boris would run it one week, and David the next, with the two alternating with 26 weeks a year each. It is so divided that they both have their own specials, and don’t honor each other’s deals.

David has since turned the club over to his children and they are savvy 30 something Americans, running specials on Groupon and Scoutmob, and giving out swipe cards to customers that want multiple passes. On most David weeks you’ll find young, trendy New Yorkers mixed in with NYU students. Boris, in his 60′s now, still runs the show on his weeks. His operation involves punchcards and haggling at the front desk and you’ll find a much older, Hassidic crowd. The most entertaining of experiences has to be when an unsuspecting soul tries to pay Boris with a “David week” pass. I’ve seen many screaming matches in that lobby. Boris is not a kind man.

There are 4 main saunas: The Redwood, Turkish, Aromatherapy, and the massive Russian Sauna (which is the hottest and the best). There is also a 4 foot cold pool in the main room, and in the Russian Sauna you consistently dump cold water on your head. Outside of the saunas people take breaks on long benches. Normally you go in for 10-15 minutes or so at a time, then come out and recover. With regards to the people, its pretty much anyone and everyone you  could imagine with respect to age, race, gender, and socio-economic status.

According to everything I’ve heard, read about, and personally experienced, the saunas are also really good for one’s health. Especially so when combined with the process of dunking oneself in freezing cold water afterwards. You sweat out all of the bad stuff which makes it great for hangovers. And when you couple the intense heat with cold water it gets your circulation pumping at a rapid pace. Also, for $35 bucks you can get giant Russian guys to beat you with hot Oak leaves, which is called a Platza treatment.  You literally feel high on life at the end, and completely euphoric.

I take friends that visit from out of town to the baths, and to a much nicer version down near Wall Street. That one has hot tubs and a lounge. The Russians definitely know what they are doing when it comes to putting oneself through intensely hot and cold experiences.

TIPS:

> Its $30 bucks every time you go but they do a lot of deals on livingsocial.com, where you can buy in bulk for $17 bucks.

> You can get massages, salt scrubs, and facials and its pretty cheap.

> Danny Devito has been before. This has been confirmed by the picture of him on the wall.

> The giant Russian guys will ask you repeatedly if you like treatments throughout your time there. Its part of the experience so no need to get irritated by them. People also shave in the main room which is kind of weird, but again, another part of the experience .

> Its co-ed except for Sunday morning. Whatever you do, don’t go on Sunday morning.

One Comment

  1. Rob says:

    Dave,

    I agree with almost everything you said – except I think Sunday morning is the time you really ought to go (if you’re a guy of course!)

    I left an Australian summer for the depths of a US winter, and found that a morning (Sunday) was a cure for the persistent cold I had been struggling through the snow with for two weeks.

    But on Sunday mornig, when it is male only, the standard dress is “none”, which makes the whole experience much more authentic and liberating – to feel the steam on every part of you; the chill of the water gripping you, then out and back into one of the hot rooms is an experience that must be partly diluted by having cloth beween you and the elements.

    It was one of the great experiences of my trip, and for anyone not used to being naked – I am sure that you will find the heat in the russian room much more difficult to handle than the nudity!

    PS – I also note that the website says that during co-ed sessions, shorts must be worn – I thought that was in keeping with the general air of neglect in the places – the shorts were worn; towels were worn, door fittings and lockers were worn, etc ;-)

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