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Hot and Steamy

Sizzling banyas, scorching jjimjilbangs, and newer, less orthodox varieties of the New York sweat house.

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For certain New York tribes—often found in the traditional sweat epicenters of Wall Street, Brighton Beach, and K-town—steam-bathing has long been a way to unwind, detox, and perhaps shed a little extra water weight. But in the last few years, the pastime has been thoroughly democratized, led by College Point’s Disneyland-with-Jacuzzi-jets Spa Castle; after-hours banya-party promoters Gemini & Scorpio; and sleek, waterfalled Great Jones Spa. Now steam baths are becoming viable leisure-time activities for all manner of customers, from relaxation-deprived couples to stir-crazy families to exhibitionist undergrads. Here, we’ve assembled a list of exemplary steam baths of every ethnic ilk and for every kind of shvitzer—including those who still like a little seediness with their heat.

KOREAN

Aura Wellness Spa
49 W. 33rd St., nr. Broadway 212-695-9559
Don’t expect the Mandarin Oriental, but this upscale jjimjilbang, or Korean bathhouse, is as luxe as it gets in K-town ($50 for two hours). Changing rooms have Vichy rain showers and all the necessary toiletries, while guests pad about in waffle-knit robes, as opposed to threadbare towels or prison-uniform separates. Most patrons come for a traditional scrub (ask for Jasmine, who uses elbow grease and tough love to slough off dead skin), but it’s worth a visit for the igloo-like steam rooms alone, which range from deep-sweat-inducing to icy.

Spadium Spa
49 W. 32nd St., nr. Sixth Ave. 212-967-3131
This K-town standby is the master of the quick fix. Most of the staff here speak limited English, but you don’t go to chat. The $30 all-day entrance fee buys access to a dry sauna, humid sauna, hot and cold plunge pools, and salt relaxation room. The last, warmed via radiant heat, is pleasantly balmy, and guests are encouraged to sprawl out after more intense heat therapy and take a little nap.


JAPANESE

Worthy Splurge:
Shibui Spa

377 Greenwich St., nr. Franklin St. 212-941-8900
In the basement of the Greenwich Hotel, Japanese and local artisans have carefully reconstructed a 250-year-old farmhouse imported from outside Kyoto. Now home to a lantern-lit pool and relaxation lounge, where robed spagoers sip on lemon verbena and sake, the setting is utterly serene, channeling ryokan, the traditional inn. Guests of the hotel have free rein in the facilities, which now include private steam showers in the men’s and women’s changing areas that were missing when the spa opened two years ago. Non-guests can gain access by booking a treatment in the ofuro (stone bath) suite, equipped with tatami mats, deep soaking tubs, and ashiatsu bars. A 30-minute bath costs $75 for one person, $95 for two.

Osaka Health Spa
37 W. 46th St., nr. Fifth Ave., third fl.; 212-575-1303
The tiny steam room and sauna at this Times Square spa are just appetizers. The main detoxing course begins with the ofuros, stone baths filled with hot and cold water. While complete submersion is the goal, neophytes are encouraged to splash themselves if the frigid bath is too intense. Ofuro hydrotherapy sessions run $40 for a half-hour and are recommended to numb the body before a yelp-inducing massage session with staff expert Dr. Joshua Lee.


RUSSIAN

Mermaid Spa NY
3701 Mermaid Ave., nr. W. 37th St., Seagate; 347-462-2166
This no-frills establishment in Seagate may not be glamorous, but, aesthetically speaking, it’s a step (or three) above most traditional banyas. The wood-and-slate bathhouse ($30 for admission), which burned down in 2005 and reopened three years later, is spotless, with stacks of freshly laundered towels and rows of clean plastic communal slippers on supply. Be prepared for temperatures in the wet and dry saunas to quickly go from balmy to scalding: Regulars, many of whom bring their own coolers of beer and vodka for steam breaks, have a tendency to ignore rules about stoking the ovens with water.

Best Bargain:
Sandoony

1158 McDonald Ave., nr. Twentieth Ave., Midwood; 718-951-9000
This is one place worth looking past the white plastic chairs and birch-leaf debris. Just $30 buys access to the hottest trio of saunas in the city, heated by massive brick and stone stoves and making the 100 degree whirlpools feel lukewarm. And while the bone-chilling plunge pool is not for the weak-willed, the rain showers are nearly as effective and significantly less bracing. Call ahead to book a massage with Yuriy, who uses oak leaves and high-quality lotions in lieu of greasy oils.


BACCHANALIAN

Juvenex
25 W. 32nd St., nr. Broadway, fifth fl.; 646-733-1330
It’s steamy all day long, but at 5 p.m. this 24-hour K-town destination spa goes from tranquil, women-only retreat to romantic couples’ enclave. (And at 4 a.m., there’s yet another shift: to booze-addled singles scene.) The spa serves Champagne only but has a liberal BYO policy. Still, even with the libations, everything is strictly aboveboard. The twenty-ton Jade Igloo sauna is the main attraction, but there’s also a relatively tepid glass-encased steam room, plunge pools infused with ginseng and lemon, and a pleasantly warm salt detox room. At $65, admission to the wet areas is on the high side; a better deal may be the Basic Purification Program, which includes unlimited spa access as well as a body scrub, shampoo, and facial, for another $50.


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