Since I’m not equipped to quantum leap into the tropical Caribbean warmth, nor will I shell out the dough for a pricey health club, I turn elsewhere for warmth on days like today, with the temperature in the teens and an icy wind ready to whip at your eyeballs and make you curse in strings in front of kindly old ladies and small children, every time you turn a city corner.
I assume our recent cold spell is not welcomed by any of my fellow New Yorkers since we’re nothing if not diehard pedestrians and right around now, with a month of winter still to go, the cold weather feels like it will last even longer than the last Twinkie on Earth.
To combat this desolate chill, a mandatory bathing policy at one of the city’s steamy bath houses should be instituted immediately.
Bath houses are the broke-ass answer to luxury spas, and there are plenty of them around the city of the Roman, Asian, and Russian & Turkish variety. I deliberately chose the Korean bath house, Juvenex, because of its convenient location in Koreatown and its policy of admitting women only during daytime hours. Nothing against the male species; it’s just that a whole other level of conscious thought and preparation is involved with coed schvitzing. Men are admitted after 5 p.m., and it’s a 24-hour facility.
The friendly attendants at Juvenex will exchange your shoes at the door and hand you sandals, towel and robe. After changing, they’ll show you around the bath house and instruct you where to start your journey.
First you’ll sweat your toxins out in the Jade Igloo Sauna, which is so softly lit I almost sat on the hot coals. Once my eyes adjusted the dimness of the room, the soft meditative music and sizzling dry heat rendered me practically drooling.
Next is the steam sauna, where the herbal infused wet steam zaps out any notion of what the wind chill is like outside. Just breathe it in and enjoy, and if you have any lingering remnants of a winter cold left over, a nagging cough that won’t fully go away for example, this should knock it out.
Your last stop is a soak in the skin nourishing hot tub, which is infused with sake, ginseng, and seaweed, and floating whimsically on top, a couple dozen whole lemons. Not unpleasantly, I felt somewhat like a freshwater trout stewing in a lemon-spice marinade.
Considering the convenient location and the moderate cost of Juvenex ($65 for above experience), I expected a modest but realistic standard of cleanliness. I can’t say I’ve had the most hygienic public bath experiences, so I was prepared for a little grime.
At a gym I was a member of, I once sat in a Jacuzzi with a guy eating a carne asada burrito, pinto beans dropping into the water and everything. At another place, I soaked along with what I could only assume by their appearance to be flecks of human skin, rolling around with the foam and bubbles like someone had wrung out all the loofahs they could find.
At Juvenex, everything was kept sparkling clean by the women constantly coming through with mops and rags, wiping everything down. There was a liberating lack of skeeviness that contributed to the overall Zen of the place, and the attendants circled around frequently, offering glasses of cucumber-infused ice water.
Though the website says that nudity is perfectly acceptable during the daytime hours, the handful of women I saw were in various states of attire. Bring a bathing suit if you want to be on the modest side, but I got the feeling that no one really cares or pays attention to what anyone is wearing.
This experience may not be in the right price range for a budget-minded person to indulge in on a regular basis, but neither is the cost so outrageous that it can’t be considered as an occasional cold weather hiatus, to get your warmth back and to prepare for these final tedious days of winter.
And after you walk out the door all toasty warm, you’re in the perfect neighborhood for some good, inexpensive Korean food. I like Woorijip, which has a hot bar buffet full of Korean comfort food, as well as quick pre-packaged food to grab and go.
It’s cold out there, friends! Let me know if you have a favorite bath house in the city. Winter’s not over and neither is my exploration of these hot spots.
Everyday Ladies Only: 7am-5pm, Couples: 5pm-7am
Basic bathing pass: $65
25 W. 32nd Street 5th floor
Photo credit: juvenexspa.com