It may be a little outside your comfort zone to hang out with your friends in nothing but a towel. But Russian grandpas have been using bath houses to survive bitter winter weather for centuries — surely they must be on to something. Now’s your chance to find out: The Chicago Sweatlodge is a Russian bath house for guys who like beer. And pierogies. Also, it has much better amenities than the Russian banyas of yore. Maybe it’s time to expand your comfort zone?
When you walk in the door, you’re surprised to find that it looks more like a beer hall than a health club. Long tables with checkered tablecloths – topped diner-style with menus, hot sauce, and salt and pepper – fill a big, bright room. A tempting display case of bottled beers on ice catches your eye, and magazine racks and wooden chess/backgammon sets line the walls. Though there are a few ficuses scattered about, it definitely doesn’t feel like a spa. Except, of course, for all the towel-wearing men who are playing chess, chatting comfortably, or tucking into giant plates of Eastern European comfort food. Soon, you and your buddies will join them.
Get used to your new, more relaxed attire in the locker/shower room, which reminds you of the first-class lounge in an airport. As each of you sinks into a reclining wood and leather chair and acclimates to the plush vibe, you start to feel the call of the sauna.
Try the traditional dry heat first. This is said to open up every pore so you can sweat out accumulated toxins. You go in feeling chatty, but find yourselves more quiet and reflective as the heat bears down and the sweat starts to flow. As the heavily accented narrator of Chicago Sweatlodge’s promotional video says, “Relax and let it go. Let go the feeling of you letting it go. Letting go of letting go.”
If you want the full Russian bath house experience, get ahold of an oak leaf broom and take turns whacking each other on the back. Traditionally, this is to get rid of demons, but it also helps clear the lungs. (And it’s just a funny thing to do to your friends.) Then…take a leap into the ice-cold plunge pool and start the whole process over again.
This intense alternation between hot and cold builds up your stamina for winter weather, as well as your appetite, so when you’re ready for a break, don your Russian bell-shaped sauna hats and check out the eclectic menu. It includes everything from beef borscht to cheddar cheeseburgers, perfect for ravenous bathers like you. Enjoy with beer or a card game or both, and then head back in for more heat – if you can take it.