Always looking for an adventure, my girlfriend and I headed into the city this afternoon to check something out that we had on our “To Do” list for some time, the Turkish & Russian Baths. Situated in the heart of the East Village on 10th Street, nestled inside a nondescript brownstone, is the only Manhattan based Russian Bath. There are plenty more in Brooklyn (little Odessa) and Queens (Korea town), but our first attempt was to stay local. The front desk was a little chaotic and swarms of muscle bound Russians pitching and hawking massage services, much like children in Mexico sell Chicklets. Our plan….get into the bare bones dressing room and see if we can find other women to talk to and get the low down on the place, not to mention what to do, in what order and were to start. Just a few questions that could only be answered by other women, certainly not the front desk help who point at numerous signs on the wall when any question is asked. If you can look passed the disorder, non spa like serenity and frugal robes, you can experience something different here.
Thank God we brought bathing suits. Not knowing if this was coed or not, a little extra covering was a wise move and offered some protection from the many gawkers waiting for us as we walked down the stairs to the Russian room. Lined up along the wall, were mostly men, drenched in sweat, taking a pause before the next room. Not quite a nudist colony, but not far from it either. The heat in this “Schvitz” room was so intense; you had to douse yourself in ice cold water. The tips of our ears were burning from the heat. Before we knew it, we had soaked our towels in cold water and wrapped them around our heads looking like Sherpa on a trek to climb Everest. The eucalyptus smell in the Aroma Therapy room was so intense, I had to keep my eyes closed for the duration. With sinuses wide open, we moved into the Redwood room. Greeted by a long haired bearded hippie from the sixties, graciously sharing his salts to rub all over our bodies, we accepted some, rubbed it on ourselves and took a seat in the top corner. Better to be behind these people than in front of them. Sitting across from us was a rotund Buddha like Russian, vigorously rubbing his salts in a circular motion and making noise. It was time to move into the next room. We had heard from the women about the “platza” treatment. A treatment using fresh oak leaves, done in the excruciatingly intense heated “schvitz”Russian room where some Russian dude beats you up with foliage and douses you with ice cold water once the beating is done. All for the watching pleasure of others. Kind of glad we missed this, but we are told it is very medicinal if not utterly embarrassing.
We did decide to have a massage and I have to say, probably one of the better massages I have had. We both left their “cabins” with less kinks and knots in our muscles. The massage took a little getting use to, certainly not for the faint at heart. Being the skeptic that I am (so why am I still here you say?), I made sure not to fall asleep. I was once given a gift certificate for a “shiatsu” massage and that place was busted for “special services” shortly after I went for a visit. I left early after hearing too many noises that seemed to be better placed in a hotel room and not in the spa.
All in all, we left relaxed; soft skinned and decided we would come back. This time with a better bathing suit, our own flip flops and full knowledge of what happens here