Monday, March 18, 2013

Treat Yo' Self (Budget Edition): Brooklyn Banya

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Today, the Monday Blues seem to have really set in.  As we nurse our St. Patrick's Day hangovers and wonder when will this cold weather ever go away?, we long for happier times (or at least our next vacation).  Enter Brooklyn Banya, a temporary relief for those Monday Blues.  On a cold Sunday afternoon, a dear friend decided to throw a party at the Brooklyn Banya.  Of course, I had my doubts.  I don't like being in a swimsuit in front of friends (weird, I know), and for $30 an entry, I questioned the cleanliness of the Banya.  But because the friend was so dear, I bit my tongue and went.

After a lovely walk through Kensington past some beautiful homes, and then a not-so-nice turn onto a dingy street, we found ourselves at the Banya.  The blonde at the front desk told us to pay the $30 entrance fee and then put our wallets into plastic bags.  This is because the Banya takes your wallet and locks it behind the front desk.  As I started to also put my cell phone into the plastic bag, she yelled at me and pointed to the sign that said "Do NOT give us your cell phones."  After giving her our wallets, she proceeded to ignore us and talk to a customer in Russian.  We quickly realized that customer service wasn't the Banya's strong suit.  We waved our hands and jumped and screamed until she gave us locks and keys and told us to go to the locker rooms upstairs.

The locker rooms were clean (although I suppose the word "sterile" would be more appropriate here).  We changed into our swimsuits and locked our belongings away.  A friend soon discovered, however, that the key the Banya gives each customer opens up all the locks.  So, if you are especially worried about losing your dry clothes, it may be prudent to bring your own lock.

We made our way down to the baths.  There was a cold pool, for those who had just stepped out of the sauna, and a warm pool.  We immediately ran into the warm pool.  Luckily, the pool wasn't as crowded as in the picture you see above (and no, that wasn't our party; if only!), but there enough customers that occasionally you found yourself awkwardly bumping into a stranger.  My advice is to find a corner, sit and stay still.  Then you'll be able to relax.

The Banya offers many other services -- for example, you can add on a massage (my friend swears by it), beat one another with birch branches, or even pay a man to beat you with the birch branches (again, I'm told it's relaxing).  We turned all that down and decided instead to sample the unique Russian food that the Banya offers.  I thought the restaurant is where the Banya really shined.  My friends and I had the unfortunate luck of sitting in a corner, so all the food seemed to bypass us.  The five us shared two forks and a small scoop of potatoes.  It was truly a sad scene.  But the hostess preparing the foods took pity on us and gave us a whole plate of "Russian treats" - which, as it turns out, turned out to be chocolates in different colored wrappings.  Nonetheless, we cherished our gift and ate them all.

My afternoon at the Banya was pleasant and relaxing, and I only wish I had been brave enough to try the birch branches.  And for only $30 (and you can often find deals on Groupon and the like), it was worth the trip to Kensington.  So if you have a bad case of the Monday blues and don't mind saucy blondes, then brush up on some Russian and head on over to the Brooklyn Banya.

Brooklyn Banya
602 Coney Island Avenue
Mon to Fri (9-12), Sat to Sun (8-12)

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