Around the city, there are some very hot places to take a shvitz. But even when longtime standbys like the Wall Street Baths on Fulton Street downtown and the Russian and Turkish Bath House in the East Village push the needle as far as they can in some of their rooms, often over 200 degrees Fahrenheit, they don’t come close to the heat you can find inside the Bul Hanzung Mok room at King Spa Sauna, just over the George Washington Bridge in Palisades Park, New Jersey.
It’s a schlep to get there (the spa offers free shuttle service from Koreatown eight times a day) but worth crossing state lines for the Bul Hanzung Mok. The source of heat in this brick hut isn’t stones or steam. It’s oak wood, torched in a bonfire each morning. Once the wood has burned and the coals and smoke have cleared, the brick has retained so much heat that spa workers line up cartons of eggs to cook inside. (They’re later sold in the spa restaurant.)
I lay out a burlap mat to keep my butt and legs from singeing. What can I say? Nothing. It’s too hot to talk. Across from me, one Korean woman (or is it a man?) wears a handkerchief wrapped around her face for protection, like a hostage held by a terrorist cell.
The temperature is listed at 200 Celsius, which calculates out to about 395 Fahrenheit, a temperature so high it doesn’t seem possible that any commercial establishment would allow such a thing in our monitored, lawsuit-obsessed culture. But burning up on the floor, slowly inhaling the hot and humid air, I spot a thermometer over near the stands where the eggs are cooked. As I stand up to peek at the thermometer, I feel my scalp and nose searing. I can barely read the dial so much sweat is dripping into my eyes. Finally, I can see where the needle is pointing: 220 Celsius. Conversion: 428 Fahrenheit.