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  Today:   G!O is one year old! To celebrate, we're giving away prizes.   |   14:00 - Jazz Brunch  |   19:00 - Martin Landers: ambient chillout  |   Finland. Independence Night: multimedia modern art festival with Mieskuoro Huutajat ("Huutajat Screaming Men" male choir), Giant Robot, Cleaning Women featuring Yevgeny Fyodorov (Tequilajazzz), DJ Lil' Tony, DJ Kuuro Kadeton Paisti and others  |   Fantastika  |   Boys Band Trio (Poland-Hungary): avantjazzrock  |   Children's party followed by DJ Alexander Osadchy with his Funky Sunky program  |   Jazz-Kontakt  |   Zigzag: eclectic  |   ChinaTown  |   Naiv  |   DJ Alex: disco house  |  


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By Catherine Santore and Ira Iosebashvili
Issue 11
November 4 - December 2, 2004

Banyas are a Russian institution, a club defined by complex rules of behavior, initiation beatings with birch twigs and harassment by older club members if you get out of line.

Jennifer Chater
Welcoming arms: Sandunovskiye bani
The banya is rooted in village tradition, where indoor plumbing and hot water are still a rarity. At such banyas you can follow your sweat-session by plunging into a nearby river or rolling in the snow. Family banyas are characterized by a low ceiling, a small changing room and a sweat room with a bench and a stove. The heat-level is controlled by pouring water over rocks on the stove, or in the most traditional form, over birch logs.

One banya tradition not to be missed is the ritual beating by wet birch leaves, or veniki. Afterwards, vainly trying to peel off the leaves clinging to your body brings new meaning to what you can tell your girlfriends when a flirtatious man won’t leave you alone, “On prilip kak banyi list.” (He stuck like a leaf from the banya.)

Banya etiquette is extensive and a slip-up will raise the wrath of large matrons who take pleasure in instructing newcomers in what they should not do. Heads should be covered, usually by a scratchy felt hat, and flip-flops are a must. Always take a shower after the banya and before dipping into the pool. Public banyas are segregated, with either separate areas for men and women or separate bathing days. Banya-goers wear nothing but their flip-flops, so bring a towel and leave your bathing suit at home. Most banyas also offer beauty salon services and massages. Unless stated otherwise, the prices listed below are for a two-hour session.

— CS

Sandunovskiye Bani

14 Neglinnaya Ul., Bldg. 3-7, 925-4631, 8am-10pm, M. Kuznetsky Most.
Women’s first class: 400 rubles
Women’s luxe: 600 rubles
Men’s first class: 500 rubles
Men’s luxe: 700 rubles
Men’s super luxe: 800 rubles
Private: from 1,200 rubles (for two people) to 3,700 rubles (for 12 people) per hour

Sandunovskiye Women’s Luxe Section

Sandunovskiye: bathing rooms
This stylish place is one of the best and oldest public baths in town, with the current building dating to 1896. The entrance is glitzy and pictures of the men’s section, with copies of Greek statues lining the swimming pool, tantalize.

The women’s luxe section is up a sweeping, shiny staircase. The spacious changing area is open — no room to hide here — but with comfortable benches. The sweat room is large enough for everyone to crowd into, but the place is kept so humid that I could endure only a few minutes at a time before I thought I would spontaneously combust. The washroom is filled with marble benches, plastic basins and even a few chairs, and taps are left running to keep it warm and steamy. A range of beauty treatments are on offer and on my visit I saw two women slathered in mud, wrapped in plastic like dirty mummies, and left for half an hour on washroom benches.

The women’s first-class section is almost as nice as luxe. The bathing area is perhaps not as shiny and there are no statues, but it’s still clean and an excellent choice for bathers on a budget.

— CS

Sandunovskiye Men’s Super Luxe Section

Outside Sanduny’s men’s super luxe section, rows of shiny black Mercedes, some with government plates and a few with hulking bodyguards attached, attest to the fact that you are entering a solidny establishment. I walked up a shining marble staircase and entered a room that looked like it was transported from the pages of a Tolstoy novel. Vaulted ceilings inlaid with rich, dark, wood; gilded walls, decorated here and there by bas-reliefs of frolicking animals and nubile nymphs; high-backed benches with dark green leather upholstery. Everywhere were towel-clad men, having beer and vodka brought to them by scurrying attendants.

Suitably impressed, I asked one of the attendants to direct me to the changing room. He looked at me for a second, then whispered: “This is the changing room.”

Sure enough, it was. On every bench, there were several numbered hooks for hanging clothes. Off to the sides, there were a dozen or so curtained-off private rooms, some of them large enough to accommodate up to 20 people. And the service was fantastic — ask your attendant for anything from a bar of soap to a bottle of chilled vodka and some crabs, and he’ll have it for you within a few minutes.

As far as the bathing and steaming is concerned, well … let’s start with the fact that this banya is a bit too small too accommodate the number of people that come here. The steam room, shower, and changing room are often crowded. And when I visited, the steam room was not nearly hot enough. Usually I have to wait no more than five to 10 minutes before working up a good sweat, but here it took much longer. Still, luxury always wins out. When you’re swimming in the almost full-sized pool, surrounded by Doric columns and Greek statues, you have few complaints.

— II

Seleznyovskiye Bani

15 Seleznyovskaya Ul., 978-9430/8491, 8am-10pm, M. Novoslobodskaya.
Women’s: 350 rubles weekdays, 400 rubles weekends and holidays
Men’s: 700 rubles (first korpus) or 400 rubles (second korpus) on weekdays; 800 rubles or 500 rubles weekends and holidays

Seleznyovskiye Women’s Section

Tanya Efanova
Banya: essentials
As we paid, we tried to ignore the dirty floors, the smell and the man standing behind us in just his towel. The men’s section was deceptively labeled as the women’s, and we might have wandered in like lambs to the slaughter if an attendant hadn’t led us past the restaurant, which was filled with more middle-aged men in towels, to a changing room. We felt encouraged by the small changing sections that provided some privacy, but discouraged by the male employee who wandered in to talk to a co-worker.

Dirty floors may be tolerated in flip-flops, but hanging out with cockroaches made Seleznyovskiye the loser of this list. Maybe the cockroach infestation could be excused by the banya’s ground-floor location, but the sight of dead cockroaches in the showers and live ones scurrying along the tiled washroom floor was not pleasant.

The pool had a yellowed, unloved look and there were birch leaves floating in the uncirculated water. There was no banya attendant to keep the banya at the appropriate temperature on the day that we visited. Instead, just as the heat became bearable, regulars would declare that it was time to clean it out, which took about 20 minutes. Other regulars enjoyed temperatures so high that they had to lay on the floor and cover themselves with sheets to endure it. We spent only about a half an hour sweating and the rest of the time waiting to be allowed back in.

— CS

Seleznyovskiye Men’s First Korpus

The Seleznyovskiye baths made a good first impression. Upon entering, I found myself in a cozy foyer, with couches, a coatroom and a small shop selling soaps, sponges and shampoos. The changing room, though dim and a little messy, is quite large, with dozens of large black leather couches arranged around tables. Things took a turn for the worst, however, once I entered the bathing area of the more expensive korpus.

Dingy and grimy, it had only three or four showers stalls, and the rest of the room was filled with stone slabs upon which a variety of metal and plastic tubs stood. Further on, I found a small basin of greenish water that would barely pass for a pool — ominously, most of the banya’s clients seemed to ignore it — and an unmentionably dirty toilet.

About the only saving grace here was that the steam room was hotter than the fires of hell. However, the steam room boasted no benches, so customers had to either spread a towel on the blisteringly hot wooden floor or stand upright and breathe in the scorching air near the ceiling. On the whole, this is a place best avoided.

— II

Bani Na Presne

7 Stolyarny Per. 255-5306 (men’s section), 253-8690 (women’s section), 8am-10pm except Sun. 2pm-10pm, no entrance after 8pm, 500 rubles weekdays, 600 rubles weekends
M. Ulitsa 1905 Goda.

Bani Na Presne Women’s Section

Na presne: women’s pool
This is one of the newest, and nicest, banyas in the city. The two-story brick building has separate entrances for men and woman, a relief after Seleznyovskiye’s close encounters. Although the most expensive of the women’s banyas surveyed, this one is hands down the best value out of all. Half of the changing rooms are curtained off and pleasant attendants will find an empty one for you. The steam room here is twice the size of Sandunovskiye’s. When it’s time to sweat, everyone is herded in by the banya attendant. Once everyone is inside, she locks the door so that latecomers don’t let the heat escape. Then water is thrown on the rocks in the stove until the sweat starts to roll. Before the heat becomes unbearable, the attendant stops pouring water on the stove, and throws oil-scented water along the walls. Then she swings a cloth around to circulate the steaming air. In between sweat-sessions, while the banya is being aired out, heat lovers can sit in the dry sauna beside the sweat room.

The large bathing room is decorated with ceramic tiles, not marble. But it boasts an almost full-sized swimming pool for delicious dips in cold water. The water is clear and tinted windows let the sun throw its light across the mini disco balls on the wall.

Helpful attendants will offer to beat you with birch leaves for several minutes, but this sensation costs a steep 200 rubles. After pocketing my 200 rubles in her bathrobe, the attendant offered to give me a scrub massage, which sounded slightly menacing. There are a variety of massages lasting from 20 to 60 minutes, including traditional and water massages.

The only drawback here is that of all the places visited, I felt chilled in the bathing and changing areas. But for being able to spend as much time as we wanted sweating, for having a large, clean pool and for employing the most pleasant staff, this banya wins the award for best girls’ outing.

— CS

Bani Na Presne Men’s Section

NA PRESNE: Rehydrating
Compared to Sandunovskiye’s decadent 19th-century glitz, Na Presne’s men’s section is a bit underwhelming. The lobby, with its medicine green walls, has the homey feel of a public swimming pool. Upstairs, one finds a tidy, spacious changing room, a gastronom where you can order beer, vodka, tea and zakuski, a barbershop and even a small fitness center. No Sandunovskiye-style marble and alabaster here. However, this modest banya gets the prize when it comes to the best bathing experience.

To begin with, there’s plenty of space; although Na Presne had dozens of bathers the day that I visited, there were plenty of free shower stalls, and no serious overcrowding in either of the two steam rooms. And these steam rooms are hot — even the hardiest bathers had to call it quits after 10 minutes. For those who can’t stand extreme heat, there’s a second, smaller steam room, with a lighter, drier steam and lower temperatures. The pool, though small enough to cross in several strokes, is clean and appreciably colder than Sandunovskiye’s. All in all, a great bargain for 500 rubles.

— II

Today's Gigs
14:00 - Jazz Brunch
19:00 - Martin Landers: ambient chillout
Finland. Independence Night: multimedia modern art festival with Mieskuoro Huutajat ("Huutajat Screaming Men" male choir), Giant Robot, Cleaning Women featuring Yevgeny Fyodorov (Tequilajazzz), DJ Lil' Tony, DJ Kuuro Kadeton Paisti and others
Boys Band Trio (Poland-Hungary): avantjazzrock
Children's party followed by DJ Alexander Osadchy with his Funky Sunky program
Zigzag: eclectic
[11 gigs today]


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