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Spa Turns Up the Heat for Old-World Schvitz

June 22, 2006 By:
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After spending time in a hot sauna, visitors to Southampton Spa enjoy taking the "cold plunge" into a pool that's kept at a chilly 45 degrees.
While two large men wrapped in towels sit and sweat in the 182-degree heat, a Southampton Spa worker enters the sauna area, opens a metal oven door and splashes peppermint laced water onto a mass of hot rocks. The flavorful steam wafts around the room and in between the wooden benches, adding a touch of spring to what seems like the searing heat of 10 summers.

Because of the extreme temperature, people can only schvitz, or sweat, in Southampton's "Russian Bath" briefly.

When you exit the sauna into the white-tiled hallway, the protocol is to cool-off in a series of cold showers, or - if you dare - submerge yourself in the "cold plunge," a five-feet deep pool set at an icy 45 degrees.

"It gets your blood circulating better and gets all your pores open," says Russel Nayflesh, 27, who owns the spa with his brother Steven. "It makes your whole body restart."

After the cool-off, many repeat the whole process, but this time in a steamy, 160-degree, Turkish sauna, where customers sit on white stone benches and wet themselves with water from various faucets around the room.

The $30 entrance fee lets a customer change into a clean white robe and rubber flip-flops and spend the day sweating in the saunas or perhaps swimming in the large in-ground pool, soaking in a hot tub or having a relaxing snack at a poolside table. The spa also offers professional massages, as well as a full-scale restaurant and a VIP room.

Although the idea of a bathhouse-style spa is nowhere near as popular as it was for the immigrants in this country at the turn of the last century, Nayflesh, who immigrated here from Ukraine with his family 10 years ago, insists that once people try a schvitz, they'll like it.

"We're trying to share the experience with Americans," he says, "because not many of them know what this place is about."

So far, his core customer base are Russian and Eastern European Jews, who perhaps miss the authentic spa experience.

"Thousands of them were complaining that Philadelphia doesn't have a place like this," says Nayflesh. "They were driving to New York - an hour-and-a-half - using the sauna for five, six, seven hours, and then, the worst part, driving back."

Such was the case for a group of congregants from Congregation Beth Solomon Suburban of Somerton in the Northeast who made several trips to authentic Russian spas in Manhattan and Brooklyn. When the group heard about the nearby spa, members decided to make a day out of it.

"They had a professional show us the techniques and which sauna to use first," says Alex Tamarkin, 35.

Since the members of the Orthodox shul were uncomfortable bathing with women, the spa accommodated them by allowing only men in during their visit. They also let them bring their own kosher food. Tamarkin was unsure if the synagogue women were planning a visit.

But Nayflesh can't tout the benefits of his establishment highly enough. "After using the sauna, that day, you will feel a little tired," he says. "But that night you will sleep like a baby. And the day after that, you'll be like the energizer bunny."

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