NJ’s Russian Banyas Are the ‘Social Clubs’ of the Spa World

New Jersey has an endless array of spas, but only a handful of traditional Russian banyas.

Six men unwind at Bear and Birch in Freehold.
Bear and Birch in Freehold offers treatments, food and fun. Photo courtesy of bearandbirch.com

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

Marlboro Banya

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

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