My son, Dylan, wanted to do something different on his birthday last week. His brother and I agreed to visit a dank dungeon beneath a Miami Beach hotel.
I had heard about the Russian Baths, an offshoot of New York's East Village bath scene that sprung up in the 1890's. Back then, no one had plumbing. A "bath" was a sponge dipped in water -or- one of NYC's forty "baths" featuring fire hoses and steaming saunas.
I was elated until a guy named Boris stuck three trays in front of us and said, "Give me you wallets!" (Aren't robbers suppose to say that?). He said it was " "security" and I figured if the President could give our entire country to Vladimir Putin the least I could do was to give this Russian my wallet.
In exchange, we got fat rubber bands with keys attached. These were suppose to allow us to re-claim our wallets if we survived the baths.
One wall had Polaroids of famous people who had survived the NYC bath scene.
After turning over our valuables we walked down a curving pathway filled with exceptional bathhouse art.
Who needs Art Basel?
We stripped to our shorts in a dark, dank, locker room surrounded by eastern Europeans. Were they stealing glances to see if we still had out wallets? Could they understand the sign that said, "don't be naked"? Another sign let us know for anextra fee, an attendant would whip us with oak branches while we steamed in the sauna.
At the Russian Baths you can visit any of 15 special rooms. The locker room led to the "ocean water jacuzzi with hydrotherapy waterfall".
Yes, that's a woman in the tub. The place is co-ed but it is mostly filled with randy Russian guys who love hot plunges followed by cold dips. That waterfall in the middle fell with a force just short of "skull crushing". It could have inspired the song, "Hurts So Good".
After our hot soak we checked out the rain room where I imagined hearing Lou Christie's "Rhapsody in the Rain". Ten seconds was plenty; I live in a town that is often one big rain room.
The fire hose room was a blast. Me and the boys took turns firing torrents of hot water at each other with a huge rubber pipe. In untrustworthy hands, it could paste you to the wall like a bug on a windshield. It felt okay, like a Rain Monster massage but I kept thinking of demonstrators hosed by police in Mississippi. That was not fun.
Wanting a more peaceful experience we entered the first of many saunas, rooms so hot my entire body rebelled starting with my eyes. They felt like tiny tea kettles steaming up. I shared this problem with Dylan and he was nice enough to dump a bucket of cold water over my head.
Going from really hot to really cold was repeated a lot. I thought about it being the
sort of aquatic form of bulimia. At one point I purged the heat by plunging into a cold pool. I figured,"Whatever doesn't kill you makes you will make you strongly resist future visits to places like this".
I could go on describing the Cold Room, Mud Room, Amethyst Vibrations Suite, and Aroma Experience, but you've probably read enough.
If you like being hot, wet, and cold, The Russian Baths are waiting a mile north of the Fountainbleu (RussianAndTurkishBaths.com). A visit costs $52 but oak branch thrashings are extra.