If one pedals hard and fast enough they may in fact reach the land of the Banyas, but if, and only if, they are true and light of heart. Fortunately for you, Ryder Strong is made up of all of these things and more! Beets and teats and soccer cleats!
Sloughing off from Floyd Bennet field, the lonely pedalphile will soon reach Brooklyn’s Coney Island. He need only follow the Belt Parkway bicycle path. Pedal here and you have reached the land of Banyas. Reward yourself with a bagel(for the jewish influence here is strong and the bagels delish) to replenish your calories and prepare yourself for a grueling sweat. Once you reach the general vicinity of Coney Island, you have 3 public banyas within your grasp. There is:
- the Mermaid Spa at the far West end of Coney Island.
- the Royal Palace, which is smack dab in the middle of Coney Island.
- and the Russian Baths of Neck Road just North of Coney Island.
Now, keep in mind that the Banya business can be weird and rough, strange and terrible, and the aforementioned banyas are apt to go out of business, change ownership, move, etc. so that by the time you read this, those weblinks may not necessarily work. A good guide to current Russian Baths can be found here. It has served me well over the years, but it too may vanish at some point. Of course, there is always the promisedland: know that the manboy will do his best to always provide the seeker of steam with the most up to date sweat-related info at all times.
On we pedal, through the borough of Brooklyn, to 1200 Gravesend Rd. and to the Russian Baths of Neck Road! Nestled betwixt 12th and 13th Streets the baths may at first be hard to spot, as they are tucked away behind an apartment complex and playground, and set back from the road. Find them and venture forth! Do not be afraid, for the staff are extraordinarily welcoming and friendly to the solo wayward adventurer and speak perfect English.
Keep in mind that Ryder Strong has his own personal sauna (he built it in his parents’ backyard) and knows what a good steam is, but he still likes to keep abreast of the general state of steam. Of course, it had been a while since he had been to a real Russian banya, so don’t hold it against him that he forgot the entry procedure. It follows thusly: Introduce yourself, stating that you want to partake of the steam. The proprietor will then hand you a plastic baggie, into which you put your wallet and then hand back to him. He locks it up behind the desk and then gives you a key. This key is the key to your locker in the locker room and is to be worn about your wrist. It has a number stamped on it, which functions like a bar tab. If you want a juice, a beer, or a dish of dumplings you simply flash your number and pay at the end. The Russian Baths of Neck Road cost $30 for the day.
As mentioned previously, Ryder Strong, Pipe Adams, and the Manboy know steam. They are the voice of steam for their generation. They know their shit. They have detailed files.
And if one truly knows steam, they know that the majority of banyas, saunas, Turkish steam rooms, etc. are mislabeled and misidentified. You can’t trust anyones description or label, save mine, and you never know what you are going to get when you enter a banya, spa, steam room, or whatever name your place of steam goes by.
That’s fine and you expect it by now. However, what you are looking for is the general quality of the steam, no matter the conveyance. This shit just doesn’t exist anyone like it once did and you take what you can get. When talking banyas, at least in New York, what you will generally encounter are variants of the banya, Finish sauna, and “Turkish” steam room. The banya, or Russian sauna, traditionally consists of a LARGE stove within the bathing area. The stove is heated and water is thrown into it, where there are rocks inside. Once the water strikes the rocks, steam is produced. The Russian banya tends to produce steam of a fine mist like quality. It is an excellent and well thought out way to steam bathe. Out of all the aforementioned steam bathing variants (Finish sauna, Turkish steam room, banya, etc.) the banya, being a thoroughly Russian tradition, will usually bear the most accuracy to its namesake. The Finish sauna, although it has its own variants, generally consists of a small stove within the bathing area. The rocks are external to the stove and water is ladled onto them to produce an invisible vapor-like steam. The majority of spas, banyas, what-have-yous consider the Finish sauna to be a dry heat bath and this is a misnomer. A real Finish sauna will ALWAYS use steam to accentuate the bathing process. The Turkish steam room is an enigma unto itself and they truly do not exist in the states. You will find them in Turkey I hear, but I imagine they are a dying breed. Generally, what is passed off as a Turkish steam here room will consist of a tiled room pumped full of cool, cloudy, vaporous scent infused steam. They are usually weak at best, but can provide some satisfaction should the mood for such a steam strike you right.
The Russian Baths at Neck Road consist of 2 thoroughly Russian banyas, a “Turkish” steam room, and a large swimming pool. The baths are laid out around the swimming pool. The space is generally tight, but an agile hooligan should have no problem getting around. And lest I forget, sorry ladies, there is a fantastic mens-only banya just off the locker room. It is LARGE, and in charge. I would describe its steam quality as superb. And, being that it is quite large, and limited to men only, it is thoroughly uncrowded and quiet. Perfect! It might well be worth a visit to the Russian Baths of Neck Road to check this one out.
Moving on, we encounter our first Banya, located just beyond the deep end of the swimming pool. It is HOT. An observant hooligan noted its temperature to hover between 230 and 240 degrees Fahrenheit. Doting attendants bounce in and out to splash water on the rocks. Excellent! A powerful steam indeed.
Nextly, we find the second banya between the previously mentioned HOT banya and the steam room. This one is for byrds, boys. The heat is medium. While there was a ladle and bucket of water on the bench, one gets the impression that this is considered to be the “dry” banya, as no attendants came in to spash water on the rocks. Fair enough. A good transition from the HOT banya to the steam room.
Ah, the steam room. Not bad, I would say, as far as steam rooms go. Thick clouds of deliciously eucalyptic and odorous steam obscure one’s vision and clear the sinuses. This Russian Bath’s steam room is better than most, as the steam is hotter here, than most. Be careful not slip however. You have been warned.
Past the steam room, there is a nice indoor lounge where hooligans can watch soccer on quality television sets and take naps. Thumbs up!
All in all, a quality banya worthy of a second look. As noted previously, the staff are courteous and polite, which has become a shocking rarity anywhere. No shenanigans and no hijinks here. $30 and you get a great steam. Ryder Strong left satiated and satisfied, pedaling on air all the way back home.