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Schvitzing in Chicago: A Visit to the Red Square Spa
Last weekend, I stepped off a plane and immediately wanted to return to a tub of hot water.
I had spent the previous 24 hours in a Colorado hot spring, sprawled out in six-inch-deep scalding water, sitting on hot stones, watching the snow fall beneath the stars, and enviously eying couples making out in the next hot spring over.
Luckily, a similar hot spring experience—albeit without the making out—wasn’t too far away. The month-and-half-old Red Square Spa—formerly the Division Street Russian and Turkish Bath—made for a soothing and warm way to spend a Sunday.
The original Russian bath was founded in 1906 in Wicher Park. New management renovated the digs in 2011 and turned “what was a dump” and “boy’s club” into a spacious spa with an empasis on appealing to women and the neighborhood, says Restaurant Manager Jason Vandegraft.
“It’s worlds apart from how it used to be,” Vandegraft said. “It was kind of run-down…a place where guys hung out and networked, but now it’s definitely more spa than Banya (a traditional Russian bath).”
The new management team created a women’s and men's side, a co-ed area, spa, and restaurant and bar.
For $30, you can spend the day schvitzing, Jacuzzi-ing, laying in a sauna while being scrubbed by a eucalyptus broom (called a plaitza), or sitting around in a white bathrobe and people-watching (clothing is optional in the women and men’s areas; co-ed steamers must wear a suit.)
The Russian Turkish hot room is the most popular feature, says Vandegraft. "Watermelon-sized" bricks heat rooms to high temperatures, and you can cool yourself down with buckets of cold water, or step outside and yank a chain to unleash a shower of ice-cold water. “If you’re hung over it’s amazing. If not, it’s still great,” Vandegraft says. The birch, oak, or eucalyptus plaitza is extra ($30).
The co-ed area has a hot room and a lounge area with a TV and shower.
When I visited, I was half-afraid I’d see a bunch of old Russian men sitting around naked and smoking cigars. While there are definitely throngs of older bath loyalists (who even bring their own eucalyptus brooms to scrub each other, says Vandegraft), the Red Square attracts all types. Young couples lounged around a table in the train-styled dining area; three young women headed for the Jacuzzi; a lone man in a bathrobe sat in the co-ed lounge room.
“The baths attract everybody…carpenters, lawyers, truck drivers, Ukrainians, Mexicans, Americans--it really is the United Nations of relaxing,” Vandegraft said.
The Red Square also offers spa services. I opted for a deep tissue massage ($35). A Ukrainian masseuse named Russell got down to business with no frills: no Enya-style music or candles, just massage oil and his deep-digging hands—he even threw in a few adjustments at the end for my aching back. You can also snag a pomegranate cran-apple scrub ($95), mani-pedis, the aforementioned platzas, and more.
The bar offers 33 beers, wine, Armenian brandies, and a growing vodka list. The Eastern-European menu, manned by former Japonais chef de cusine, David Gebhardt, sells small plates like a pickle platter and perogis, or larger entrees like filet mignon coated with a sage blackberry sauce and a horseradish burger.
In the next few months, Red Square will be adding eight tanning rooms and spray tan.
So if you're sick of the snow and ready for some warmth, consider spending a few hours at Red Square. You won't forget it.