Horribly sweat. I sat in one of the pair of Mermaid Spa, a luxurious Russian Banya on Coney island and thought about what my eyebrows’s going to ignite. At this point, the man who was sitting on a higher shelf behind me — it’s hotter there — I began vigorously to whip yourself with a wet broom. In all directions flew the squirt, and I had no doubt that the spray was a combination of wet leaves and sweat my neighbor. I thought that maybe I should move to the other side of the pair, but the flying spray that seemed to me a bit chilled, and I felt not so much disgust, many thanks.
At that moment I thought about the broom. Traditionally brooms for baths are made of oak or birch branches, however, since then, I had to go with the kids to the Park to study the shape of the leaves of different trees, it’s been a very long time. Besides, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to approach my neighbor, whipping themselves struggling to study his broom.
Let’s assume that it was an oak broom.
I went to the bath together with Monroe Smith (Monroe Smith), a friend of mine in College in Austin, Texas, who, like myself, after College I moved to new York. We were born one day apart so we often celebrate our birthdays together, usually in some nice restaurant. This year we celebrated the anniversaries of quite a big size, so we wanted something new. On a larger scale.
Why don’t we go to the Russian bath? Many times I have read about such places but never been there. Smith performed the role of an expert in this and many other issues. He also is well versed in exotic cuisine: during the celebration of the birthday of Robert burns at a Mexican restaurant in 1988 he introduced me to stuffed mutton tripe tamales. True to our traditions, we decided to go to Mermaid Spa, because of the things it has a restaurant that serves Eastern European cuisine.
In the 1980’s, Smith was a regular customer of Russian and Turkish baths in the East village. According to him, the regulars called this ritual “kvetch und shvitz”.
We got to the bathhouse, paid the entrance fee — $ 45 each. “You are 62 years old? Get discounts,” said a woman at the door, completely destroying our ego. Not yet, we answered, and headed to the locker room, where we met a group of cheerful 16-year-olds. They came to bath to celebrate the birthday of his friend. It was the first hint that our stay would be quite unusual.
This massive complex inside is very reminiscent of the spacious hunting Lodge, where the smell of hot wood and a little bleach. We met visitors of all ages, both men and women. We were not there most Mature property, however the average age of visitors was less than ours.
The Mermaid Spa complex offers several ways to sweat: there are three Russian steam rooms, where wood-panelled walls, a Turkish steam room with tiles on the walls and floor, dry Russian steam room with a huge red-hot stones, from which comes the heat, and a large hot tub. To cool between treatments, too, in several ways.
When a few days after our visit I called the owner of the baths, Boris Kotlyar, he told me that he owns the Mermaid Spa for almost 20 years. In 2006, there was a huge fire. “After we closed for three years, he said, because we had to rebuild everything almost from scratch.” During hurricane sandy in 2012, at Mermaid Spa is almost not affected, although some equipment still out of order due to water. “We are very fortunate — he said. — Given the fire, we deserve it.”
All the pairs are different from each other. In the Turkish sauna is only 50 degrees, but with almost 100 percent humidity. In the less humid the paired temperature can reach 65, 70 and even 80 degrees. “They are all different in temperature and humidity, — he said, — but they all eventually are forced to sweat. This is what everything comes down”.
We Smith decided to try everything Mermaid has to offer. Dressed in swimming shorts and sandals — Smith left his t-shirt with the logo of the University of Texas in the chair to our table no one took that for a start we went to the Russian pair. I sat on the low wooden shelf, after putting on her towel, not to burn yourself. We sat down opposite each other and began to do what people usually do in the saunas: we sweated and talked. Smith explained that in the 1980-ies, he often visited the baths, because he lived on the boat, standing at the Marina near the 79th street. In the winter he was chilled to the bone. According to him, several hours of heat and steam “was let long to warm up”.
I was making notes in a small spiral-bound pad. When I accidentally touched the spiral, I jumped in pain and surprise: it’s hot so much so that I really got burned.
After 10 minutes of intense dry heat we left the steam room. At the exit were three showers, and two of them so you can adjust the temperature of the water. The third was a chain when pulling it, you poured a powerful stream of icy water — a waterfall. I pulled the chain, and when I poured the water I lost my temper and swore.
Now that I’m cooled down rapidly, the only thing I wanted to do it again to keep warm. And we went to the sauna. There we met two young men with a barely noticeable Russian accent, nejiuchiha in a haze of heat.
“This is the best moment of my weekend,” said Luz Stengel (Stengel Luze), adding that he tries to go to the bath to have a good sweat at least once a month.
His buddy named Chuck Rosenberg (Chuck Rosenberg) said, “So I gather strength. Every time after a stormy party on Friday, I come in Mermaid, to get rid of a hangover”. On the left shoulder Chuck sported a rather intricate tattoo of the star of David with the anarchy symbol in its center.
Young people suggested to us to try to plunge into an ice bath — a small pool with ice cold water mixed with ice. “Jump right from the edge,” said Chuck. You do not need any smooth transitions.
When we came to the edge of the pool, another regular, too, decided to share with us the advice: “Dive back slowly”. Go down a few steps, then go to the chest and then dive. Smith went first. They descended the steps, sank to his chest, dived head — and emerged with bulging eyes. I followed his example. Is unbearable. Then I realized that I will want to repeat it.
As I walked to the next to the steam room, I suddenly felt that I have no shoes. I left sandals have ice baths. There I did not find them. I looked around, left, went back and finally saw them at the other side where they were standing the whole time. Shock from impacts of icy water plunged me into a stupor.
We then Smith went to a Turkish sauna: clubs wet steam it was so thick that we hardly could see her. As said Boris, the temperature there was lower than in a Russian sauna, but the humidity was so high that it was quite difficult to withstand.
We left. Jumped in an ice bath. Cursed. I again forgot my sandals. After a few such cycles, we were ready to eat.
Menu was quite rich, and it offers a variety of dishes from Russian cuisine to the Buffalo wings.
Russian dishes seemed both seductive and frightening. There was hot soup, lots of choices of dumplings, including pelmeni with fried liver, carrots and onions. I mentioned the Buffalo wings in a conversation with the waitress Valeria. She agreed that this dish really has nothing to do with the Russian kitchen and bath.
We ordered a soup, and Valeria said that we made an excellent choice. We mentioned bacon and she broke into a broad smile.
Then I pointed to the dumplings with the liver, but she waved her hand like she wanted to slap me on the arm, and shook his head: “no, No, no.” “With potatoes,” she said. “Why?” — I asked.
She made a strange gesture with his hand, trying to find the right words: “a Good combination”.
Then she asked me to bring us beer. We refused. She beamed and said, “Vodka!” No, thank you. Smith do not consume alcohol for five years, and I needed to get behind the wheel. Valeria was disappointed. “Maybe a little vodka?— she asked. — It helps you could fall asleep”. I said I was afraid to fall asleep while I’m driving on the verrazano bridge-Narrows on the way to new Jersey, and we eventually ordered a mineral water — “Georgian,” she said — and hot tea.
At this point I noticed that we are surrounded by a wide variety of felt caps. Some people used to wrap head with a towel, going into steam rooms. Others wore hats made of felt to the head is not overheated. Some hats were like helmets, others more like foreskin. The gentleman sitting opposite us was a hat with the hammer and sickle. Another was wearing a hat that reminded me of the Santa hat. I liked a Viking helmet with horns. “I brought it from Ukraine in order, he told me. — From Etsy shop”.
They brought us food. I thought tastier than the soup I did not eat anything. I was so hungry I even forgot to put the cream. But it didn’t matter. The soup was quite fatty and rich without cream. Fat has become a real challenge for us: two rows of shiny pieces. The pieces in the same row of the corner was red. We Smith decided that it was the paprika.
Valery warned us that the mustard that was served along with bacon, is very sharp. On the plate with bacon also lay garlic and green onion. Valeria explained to us how to eat fat: you need to take a slice of bread, spread a thin layer of mustard, put on top a slice of bacon. To bite. And then take a bite from the garlic cloves.
We did so several times. The sharp contrast of flavors was really incomparable. At some point I put too much mustard on the bread, and I was breathless. But that too passed. I again took a bite of garlic.
Dumplings with potatoes was slightly viscous, and had a long time to chew. The combination was really close to perfect. Smith noted that in this case, vodka would not hurt: it could neutralize the oiliness of the food. “Russian cuisine really tastes much better with vodka,” — he said. However, we abstained.
After lunch with Smith walked out into the courtyard, where guests were basking in the sun, stretched out on the couch. Then we went to the ice cave is a small room where the walls were covered with ice. There was a low ceiling and heavy wooden chairs. The atmosphere there was quiet and peaceful. And it was very cold. We have the mouth steam. Smith entertained me with a story about the owner of a restaurant in new York, who once accidentally locked your chef in the fridge overnight. The next morning the chef had died.
Chilled to the bone, we came out of the ice cave.
And then we found a place that we have to this point not noticed. It was the hottest Russian steam bath. There were huge stones. This steam room was the hottest of those in which we have already visited. We sat there long enough to feel like we stew in their own juice.
Sweat. Jumped in the pool. Cursed. Repeated all over again. Then we went to another steam room, where on the top shelf the man lay, and stood next to the attendant, who gently tapped his broom, making him a special massage.
When we completed our tour for the pair, I felt that my legs were wobbly, and my back, which in the morning gave me warning signals, back flexibility. In the last steam room we stayed longer than before.
“Smith gasped, I — I think my internal thermometer just burst”.
We paid the bill. In addition to the $ 90 for the entrance, we paid another $ 50 for food and drinks.
When we came out at the door we met Valeria, who had a break. “I’ll see you next week?” she asked.