For the uninitiated, a schvitz isn't a dirty word or teenage slang. Like bagels and pickles, it's another New York delight brought to our city by Eastern European Jews. Schvitz is an old yiddish word for "sweat" and in its current definition a schvitz is a trip to a sauna or bathouse to get your sweat on.
The City operated public baths in the late 19th and 20th century because tenements were often so insufficient in regards to sanitation and bathing. Many of the poor were forced to live in literal filth and disease was a constant problem. The baths were a way to combat the spread of disease and promote hygiene. Plus, many of the Russian and other Eastern European Jewish immigrants brought an appreciation of socializing in 110 degree steamboxes with them. While the City doesn't operate any public baths any more, there are venerable old standbys like the Russian and Turkish baths in the East Village.
While the teeming and steaming low-cost schvitz has a lot of things going for it, sometimes you want to class things up. Enter Aire Ancient Baths at 88 Franklin Street.
Aire opened in 2012 and is located in an 1883 Garment loft in Tribeca's historic district. The building is a textbook example of a cast-iron fronted loft building. It was the kind of building that for 100 years was home to textile manufacturing and warehousing. The space has been converted beautifully and sort of magically into an incredibly romantic and relaxing bath space. Because of the brick walls and old classical Greek columns (made of iron) the basement space feels much older than it is. The lobby is big and airy. The locker rooms are clean and the lockers are easily locked with the wrist bracelet they give you at the check in. Best of all, you have to reserve a two-hour time window and only 20 people at a time are allowed to book any particular time slot so the pools stay uncrowded. The real treat comes when you change and head in to the main room. Since it wouldn't be very polite to bring a camera into a bathhouse, here's some professional photos:
It's an awesome space. There are 6 major pool areas. A jetted hot bath, a salt water hot bath for relaxing floating, an extra hot bath (the one in the photo), two cold plunge baths, a steam room, and a long warm pool in the back with a couple of romantic corners to hide in. Plus there's a heated marble bench to lounge on with tea or water. The rates are actually not too expensive for the quiet space. It's $75 for a session and you can add massage treatments for 15 minute increments for roughly $20 each incremement. The whole space is candlelit and quiet and relaxing. The cherry on top for me was leaving the building on a brutally cold day. Stepping into the 20 degree chill after 90 minutes in Aire actually felt refreshing, and I stayed warm for hours after. It's a great stop for a couples trip to New York, but makes a great part of a girls, or even a guys weekend.