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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
211 E. 51st St., nr. Third Ave. 212-223-6773
This midtown oasis puts a premium on manliness, with its nautical vibe, comely female attendants, and glass-walled cigar lounge made for brokering both business deals and bromances ($50 for admission). Favored by certain Eastern European members of the New York Rangers, the spa combines good old-fashioned steaming and birch-branch lashings with Dermologica grooming products and premium vodkas. The actual steam and sauna rooms are small and can get overcrowded and underheated during peak hours (before and after work). Best to go midday, when you’ll have the run of the place.
Russian & Turkish Baths
268 E. 10th St., nr. First Ave. 212-505-0665
Built in 1892, this East Village staple appears to be the YMCA of steam baths—charmingly no-frills or decidedly grimy, depending on your point of view ($30 for admission). And yet, the clientele—which includes starving artists with washboard abs and bikini-clad sylphs—is significantly hotter than anywhere else in town. Upstairs, there’s a dingy-but-dependable café serving blinis and dumplings, along with bare-bones male and female locker rooms. Below, steams and saunas are basically indistinguishable from one another; the entire area is overwhelmingly humid and, though there are signs forbidding guests from shaving, spitting, or cleaning their teeth, it’s pretty much a hygiene free-for-all.
1200 Gravesend Neck Rd., nr. Ave. W., Sheepshead Bay 718-332-1676
Brooklyn’s oldest banya isn’t as ancient as you might think. Founded by Gregory Zaslavsky in 1980, the former Russian Baths of Neck Road evolved from a swimming pool in the basement of an apartment building in Sheepshead Bay into a basic if endearing bathhouse. Today it still has a solid following among the jovial, big-bellied Russians who have been coming for the past three decades. They have their reasons: The saunas are hot, the café (lined with framed hockey jerseys of Soviet greats) serves beer and excellent Russian grub, and there’s a lounge-chair-equipped outdoor deck ($30 for admission).
Great Jones Spa
29 Great Jones St., nr. Lafayette St. 212-505-3185
Steaming got a trendy boost when this Nolita spa opened its doors mid–last decade. The wet area, a sort of subterranean grotto, gets a dose of natural sun from massive skylights three stories up, while a cascading waterfall whooshes soothingly and all-in-black attendants quietly maintain a supply of tea, fresh fruit, and nuts. There’s nothing particularly authentic about the chakra steam room or the river-rock sauna, but the latter’s extra-wide wooden benches let you fully stretch out without any danger of teetering off. And on Saturdays, the highly sought-after de-stresser Andre performs very authentic platza treatments. General admission is $50, or free for three hours if you book a spa service.
Body By Brooklyn
275 Park Ave., nr. Washington Ave., Prospect Heights 718-923-9400
In a former Tootsie Roll factory under the BQE, Body by Brooklyn has become a daylong destination for its utilitarian-chic water lounge ($45 for admission). The area combines the best of Russian, Turkish, and Swedish bathhouse traditions, with a wet sauna, dry sauna, and hammam, plus a Jacuzzi and cold plunge. During the week, you’ll have the wet area mostly to yourself, but weekend brunches attract a massage-and-martini crowd.
WATER PARK (Minus the slides)
For Day Trippers:
131-10 Eleventh Ave., nr. 135 St., College Point; 718-939-6300
Since this water park on the outskirts of Queens opened in 2007, it has won over everyone from beauty editors to college students to birthday-partying families with its sprawling, fastidiously clean facilities and egalitarian vibe ($35 for weekday admission; $45 for weekends). The best plan of attack is to start at the unisex, clothing-optional bottom level and work your way up to the third-floor pool deck, where, after cycling through heated mineral pools and seven themed saunas (ranging from gold and salt to LED and Far Infrared Ray), you’ll be ready to collapse on a deck chair and pass out.
King Spa & Fitness
321 Commercial Ave., nr. Union St., Palisades Park, N.J. 201-947-9955
If Spa Castle is the gleaming spa of the future, King Spa & Fitness is a Gilded Age retreat, with Louis XIV chairs and leafy foliage (both fake and real). And, as of this year, the New Jersey destination spa is open 24 hours. In addition to traditional steams and dry saunas, there’s a handful of specialty rooms for soothing whatever your ailment: The Gold Pyramid, lined with 23-karat gold leaf, is said to stave off disease and maintain firm skin, while the Rock Salt Sauna supposedly cures eczema and boosts metabolism. Guests clad in pink tees and shorts cycle through them all, breaking to play baduk, get a foot massage, or work up a different kind of sweat from spicy Korean food. Admission starts at $45.