I recently started seeing someone new, and it just so happens he loves a good old off-the-beaten-path adventure as much as I do. Most of our dates thus far have been about seven hours long, and they have ALL involved something totally random or abnormal. So when he suggested that we check out a banya one night, being the dependable spa-girl I am, I called up my buddy Dmitri, owner at the Russian & Turkish Bathhouse in the East Village, and the date was made.

I’ve visited this East Village landmark once before (and tweeted the whole thing live! Remember?), so I knew what to expect – the various therapeutic hot and cold rooms, the groups of people chatting in unidentifiable languages, the opportunity to be whisked away for a massage, scrub, mud wrap, or that infamous Platza oak-leaf smacking treatment at any given time.

We went for a light dinner around the corner first (you can also eat at the Bathhouse if you’d like), and then locked up our belongings in the locker room, put on our bathing suits and the provided shoes, and spent almost two hours hopping around, doing one of the best possible services for our bodies: switching from hot to cold and back again. Our evening looked like this:

Aromatherapy Room – This steamy, slippery white-tiled room gives off intense heat and the aroma of scented oils.

Ice Cold Pool – A step into this pool isn’t like stepping into the ocean for the first time – this is an actual shock to your system. The first time we dipped, we only made it in to our calves before it started to really hurt and we darted out.

Russian Sauna – This authentic Russian room is the largest one of all. It’s filled with 20,000 lbs. of rock which are cooked overnight, bringing the room to a near-boiling 200 degrees. These rocks give off an intense heat, and it’s of the few rooms of its kind in the US.  When the heat gets unbearable, pick up one of the buckets laying around, fill it with ice cold water, and like the Russians have done for hundreds of years, dump it over your head. Let out a YELL with it – that feels GOOD!

We then took another dip in the Ice Cold Pool, this time making it in to our waists. Tingly and painful, yes, but oh so therapeutic! Then, we walked our numbed legs over to…

The Turkish Room – This room is heated by radiators and infused with eucalyptus and lavender. You can either lie down or sit on the wooden benches, and when you need a break from the heat, step under the cold shower.

Redwood Sauna – This cherry-wood room has an electric heater and pleasantly warm and dry.

Finally… the Sun Deck – After all the rooms had been tried, we walked up to the Sun Deck (or Moon Deck, if you will) and laid down on lounge chairs in the perfect summer-night heat. Mmmmmmm. And then… just as we were drifting into a nap-like state, it started to rain. Hard. Get up and run? No, instead of escaping it, we laid still, eyes closed, and embraced the natural shower as our final water-filled therapy of the night.

As we laid in the downpour, he told me about the last and only Banya he had been to… in Kyrgyzstan. (I know right, who goes to Kyrgyzstan?) He said that the two were actually quite similar. The major difference was that in Kyrgyzstan (and in Russia) the banya really is an opportunity to bathe too. He bathed in a large bucket for 6 months straight; hot, running water and soap are very much luxuries in that part of the world. Whereas here in New York City, the luxury is in escaping for an afternoon, an evening, or even just an hour to a world of wellness that’s a little less familiar.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m bringing the Banya back. I recommend it for an alternative birthday party, to catch up with a friend one-on-one, or… if you need to bring some steaminess back into your relationship, start with the steam room at your nearest Banya.

Russian & Turkish Baths
268 East 10th St
New York, NY 10009
phone: 212-674-9250

This visit was comped for editorial consideration. Disclosure.