New Jersey has an endless array of spas, but only a handful of traditional Russian banyas.
A banya is “almost like a social club,” explains Johnny Colavita, general manager of Bear and Birch in Freehold.
The spirit is open and communal; rather than fleecy robes, guests tend to lounge in bathing suits. Banyas emphasize moist heat, cold plunges, Russian food and drink, and the Russian branch-broom treatment called platza. “You can get a massage anywhere,” says Colavita, but you have to go to a banya for this unique treatment ($50).
At Bear and Birch, it starts in the hot steam room (called a parnaya), where a therapist brushes your back with supple oak, elm or birch leaves that have been steeped in hot water. After a cold plunge, you get a second thrashing, followed by another plunge. The treatment is intended to open the pores, remove toxins and improve circulation.
Below are three places to lose your inhibitions—and get a good thrashing. (Click here for more peaceful pursuits around New Jersey.)
Bear and Birch
In addition to the parnaya, the spa has a traditional sauna, American steam room and Jacuzzi; typical spa treatments start at $60. You can dine (in your swimsuit) on perogies, kotleti and other traditional fare, or opt for something lighter at the juice bar. Open Wednesday-Monday; hours vary. Daily pass: $45.
6 Paragon Way, Suite 108, Freehold; 732-780-3354
BRC Day Spa & Sauna
The bustling main floor features a Russian-style wet sauna, a dry sauna, an aroma sauna, a Turkish steam room, a swimming pool, and a bar/restaurant. Upstairs, treatment rooms are used for massage offerings. Open daily; hours vary. Daily pass: $50.
24-20 Broadway, Fair Lawn; 201-797-3002
This Russian bath house has three saunas, a steam room, a cold-plunge pool and a restaurant. Outside, there are a hot tub and firepits. Inside, you can opt for a Swedish, sports or deep-tissue massage. Open Tuesday-Sunday; hours vary. Daily pass: $45.
165 Amboy Road, Morganville; 732-812-1030