If getting beaten by an oak-branch wielding Russian in a 200 degree Fahrenheit room sounds intriguing, head down to the Russian and Turkish Baths on East 10th Street for a cultural and historic schvitzing experience that you will never forget. This gritty banya was established in 1892 and it would seem that not a lot has changed during this time; it's almost like stepping back into the Soviet Union era, from the décor to the brusqueness of the Eastern European staff.
The walls are filled with signed faded photos of celebrities and politicians that have visited the baths over the years and there is a sense of community amongst the regulars - almost like a secret club - some who have been attending the baths for most of their lifetimes.
Let's be clear here, this is NOT a day spa and it's definitely not for the fainthearted. This is not a place where you will hear the soothing dulcet tones of the pan-pipe nor will you wear a big fluffy white robe. Instead, try not to think about foot fungus as you slip into a pair of sandals that you find in the change rooms that have been worn by countless people before you. Towels are plentiful and are freshly laundered, though many of them are worn and ratty.
When you check in you are required to hand over all of your valuables, as though you are being admitted into prison. They put your belongings into a personal locked box and give you a key which corresponds to your locker and also works as an account to which you can charge extra treatments, food and drinks onto.
Upon entering the Russian Room, you will be hit with an almost unbearable wave of radiant heat that will almost knock you off your feet. Don't be daunted by the primal ambience of near-naked people sweating together in a dimly lit room that resembles a cave, it's not nearly as intimidating and seedy are you initially may think.
The heat is generated from 20,000 lbs of rock which are cooked overnight and reach temperatures of over 200 degrees Fahrenheit. When it gets too much you dump a bucket of ice cold water over your head - it's nothing short of exhilarating.
Extra treatments are available including: brutal massages performed by strong Russian men that will get all the knots out of your back, mud treatments, salt scrubs and the traditional Russian platza treatment where you lie down in the Russian Room and get scrubbed and beaten by oak branches doused in olive oil soap, which is said to open up your pores and eliminate toxins.
When you've had enough sweating and beatings you can rehydrate with a freshly squeezed juice or fill your belly with traditional Russian fare at the little deli/restaurant in the foyer. If the weather's nice, there's a lovely sundeck simply perfect for relaxing.
While you go to leave, you may find that some of their billing methods can be a little bit dubious and confusing and they will offer you all sorts of deals to ensure your return, but it's all part of the experience. Just don't get played for a fool.
You will leave the baths feeling cleansed and invigorated and if you're tough enough to hack the heat, you will definitely be back for more - this is the real deal!