May 11, 2015
Tour de Banya: Everything You Need to Know About the 4 Russian Spas of Brooklyn
The banyas of Brooklyn are no-frills compared to the spas of Manhattan—no one is going to hand you a glass of cucumber-infused water at a banya. You’ll get a locker key, towels, one-size fits-all sandals or Crocs, and instructions on how to use the place: There’s the dry banya, the wet banya, the sauna, the whirlpool, the cold shower, and you can order from the menu. What’s on the menu? A variety of traditional Russian fare like dumplings (pelmeni and vareniki), shish kebab (Shashlyk), pirozhki, borscht, as well as juices, Russian beers, and alcohol.
The purpose of a banya is not to pamper your body, but to subject it to alternating, very hot and cold temperatures. There’s an age-old Russian belief that doing this strengthens your metabolism and increases your circulation, and thus raises your body’s immunity to sickness. So, for example, you could hit the wet sauna for a few minutes, follow it up with a quick dunk in a cold pool, and then take a break to eat some pelmeni. Banyas are social gathering places, so as you eat your pelmeni, someone might strike up a conversation with you—a Belarusian or Moldavian who might helpfully explain what those bouquets of leafy birch or oak twigs (veniki) are used for. South Brooklyn—or, affectionately, “Little Russia by the Sea”—is, after all, still home to thousands of Russian-speaking immigrants from the former Soviet republics. So, which of the four Brooklyn banyas should you visit? Here’s the run down of what each has to offer.
Mermaid Spa: Owners Joseph Feldsherov, Aleks Khlebopros, and Zina and Boris Kotlyar wanted to create an old-style banya that was reminiscent of what you’d find in Russia, so they equipped Mermaid Spa with three Russian steam rooms, a dry sauna, a Turkish bath, two tile pools that are machine-fed with chopped ice, and a circular Jacuzzi inside a lodge-like wooden hall. The entire facility is finished with wood and slate, and located just a 5-minute walk to the beach. Like the other banyas on this list, Mermaid Spa offers many types of massages, including the traditional Russian platza treatment, which is performed on the uppermost bench of the dry sauna and, which at first glance, looks like a thorough lashing with a venik (but actually improves blood flow and feels great).
Admission for adults – $40.00, Admission for senior citizens – $35.00, Admission for children – $30.00, Platza treatment – $40.
3703 Mermaid Avenue, Sea Gate seagatebaths.com
Brooklyn Banya (formerly, Coney Island Banya): The banya closest to Manhattan, Brooklyn Banya has two saunas, a steam room, a pool, a Jacuzzi, a rooftop lounge, and the white patio furniture that you’ll find at all the banyas. The facilities are very clean, the towels are unlimited, and you’ll likely see a few people wearing the traditional Russian felt spa hat—it serves to protect your head from the heat and regulate body temperature. (Pro tip: wrap a towel around your head in lieu of the felt hat.)
Admission – $35.00, Platza treatment – $30.
602 Coney Island Ave, Kensington brooklynbanya.com
Sandoony USA: Sandoony was founded in 2004 by Alex Israel, an Azerbaijani immigrant who named his business after the famous Moscow banya. Like the other banyas, Sandoony is designed to be a relaxing, all-day event. The 11,000-square-foot facility has a large swimming pool, a Jacuzzi, and a cold plunge pool, plus two wet saunas, one Finnish dry sauna, and a tiled Turkish hammam sauna. If you’re doing it right, the movements between the temperature extremes will leave you feeling both dehydrated—make sure to drink lots of water—and hungry. Luckily, Sandoony has great Russian food with generous portion sizes, so don’t over-order your first-time around because, believe me, there will be time for a second round of vareniki later.
Admission – $30.00 (with complimentary beer), Platza treatment – $36.
1158 McDonald Avenue, Borough Park sandoonyusa.com
Russian Bath of New York: The oldest of the four banyas operating in Brooklyn, Russian Bath was founded in 1980 by Gregory Zaslavsky, a Russian entrepreneur who first got the idea when he heard about an apartment building that had an unused swimming pool in the basement. Fast foward thirty-five years later, and the “old world” vibe is alive and well at this banya: the glassed-in entryway functions as a smoking atrium, there’s a hockey-themed cafe with photographs of famous Russian hockey and boxing stars, and the Russian sauna is operating at full steam (210 degrees Fahrenheit, to be precise). Russian Bath also has a Turkish steam room, a pool, sun deck access, and boasts a men-only schvitz.
Admission for adults – $40.00, Admission for senior citizens – $30.00, Admission for children – $20.00, Platza treatment – $45.
1200 Gravesend Neck Road, Sheepshead Bay russianbathofny.com
Follow Ona Abelis on Twitter @oabelis
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