An Evening at Williamsburg's New Roman-Style Recovery Baths

At Bathhouse, 2,000-year-old recovery techniques get an industrial-chic facelift

January 28, 2020 9:57 am
Bathhouse Williamsburg

Down the street from McCarren Park, at the corner of Berry Street and North 10th Street in Williamsburg, there’s a restaurant staged in a recently renovated 1930s soda factory. It’s the sort of place one tabs for brunch outings or drinks-only first dates, with seven-foot windows framing parlor palms and Kimberly Queen ferns, and a name in a runic typeface discreetly etched on an onyx sign out front.

It also serves food to people in bathrobes.

Bathhouse opened in mid-November last year. It’s down the street from my gym, and when I first walked by, I had a pretty standard Williamsburg reaction: ooh, ah, scratch the head. The space seemed to follow the relentlessly gentrifying neighborhood’s boilerplate to perfection: A) conceive a wacky concept, B) render it in a beautiful design, C) leave them thinking.

But Bathhouse, as both the name and scantily clad patrons suggest, is not another corner joint charging $12 for avocado toast and $16 for a Bee’s Knees. The space as seen from the street is actually a bonus to the main event below the sidewalk, a 6,500-square-foot subterranean bathhouse, which was brought to life by co-founders Travis Talmadge and Jason Goodman.

bathhouse williamsburg
No diving (Bathhouse)

New York knows its way around a bathhouse, and Talmadge and Goodman are aware of this; before launching this project, they frequented the iconic Russian & Turkish Baths in the East Village for years. But they decided the concept was due for a rebirth, and specifically chose to reframe the bathhouse as an extension of a fitness routine, a chance to ease bodies that have been put through the ringer.

I used to attend a New York Sports Club, for about six or seven years, and I was long mystified by the tacked-on nature of the sauna and steam room, buried in the back of the locker room as if only there to check a box. At Bathhouse, though, much in line with recent trends in the world of wellness, recovery takes center stage. The treatment center was programmed by industry pros who’ve spent years working with the Brooklyn Nets and NYYFC — and the offerings are extensive.

The specs, in all their sweaty, restorative glory:

  • Three thermal pools. One’s the the hottest New York State will allow (104 °F), another’s a relative polar plunge (52 °F), and the third hovers in the comfy low-nineties.
  • Two saunas. A 30-person tropical sauna, and a 17-person Finnish style sauna.
  • A steam room with a starlit ceiling.
  • A float tank and cryotherapy chamber.
  • Five massage rooms, three scrub rooms and a stretching room.

Full-time Bathhouse members and day-trippers will have different goals depending on what element of their fitness they’re looking to address. That’s in contrast to most spas, where the primary goal is ready, set, relax (and don’t talk to me while I do so).

Bathhouse’s common area is relaxing, of course, but it’s stimulating, too, a gathering place where guests swap workout tips and Instagram handles. Guests (creatives in Clubmaster specs, Brooklyn-based bankers, the occasional NBA player) hop from the thermo-neutral pool to the cold plunge pool and back before heading off into a private room to fast-freeze their bloodstreams and ease the knots in their low backs.

And this all happens, by the way, in a postmodern, Dionysian feverspace. A hand-painted tile mural depicting nymphs lounging in some Tuscan lake mixes with original brickwork from Dr. Brown’s Soda Factory. Mining lamps beam a soft orange light from the walls. The music is hypnotic and the rain showers alone are worth the descent underground. Though bricks from the North 10th Street sidewalk function as a ceiling in the saunas, it’s difficult to remember what neighborhood you’re in, let alone country or century.

Which simply leaves you with you. If you’re hungry, the restaurant upstairs features Northern and Eastern European cuisine from Nejc Šeruga (who’s put in hours at Eleven Madison Park), where you’re encouraged to wear your robe. If you’d rather stay downstairs a bit longer, that’s fine, too.

For more information on rates at Bathhouse, head here. It isn’t cheap ($250 a month for an unlimited membership), but if you’re not willing to take the full plunge, we recommend checking things out with a day pass. I went after a tough workout a few weeks ago on a Monday evening (go early on a weeknight for maximum solitude) and spent almost two hours cycling between the pools and the saunas. I was pudding by the time I got home, and had my unequivocal best sleep of the decade.

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