The Run Down

No matter how long you've lived in Chicago, there will always be those frigid winter days where you just can't shake the cold. I'm talking about the type of cold that not only has you numb all over but mentally drained too. This guide is going to help you recharge. You'll hang out at a traditional bathhouse to soak in super-heated pools, lounge in oven-scorching banyas, and warm up with a bowl of borscht. Here are the details.

1. Banyas @ Chicago Bath House

2. Lunch @ Dining Room

1. Banyas @ Chicago Bath House

This guide starts and ends at Chicago Bath House, a traditional bathhouse that has operated in Wicker Park for over 100 years. As you make the short walk from the Division CTA Blue Line Station, just know that no matter how cold it is outside, what awaits you is a basement inferno to wash over your frozen husk of a body.

When you enter, you’ll ascend a staircase to the main dining and bar area, where you’ll find groups of people lounging around in bathrobes. They’re in the middle of a bathhouse ritual that involves four steps: bathing, schvitzing, eating, and drinking.  How many times you want to partake in that cycle is up to you.

Here are some other notes to keep in mind.

– Check in with the host at the front desk
– Cost of admission is $38 (all-day access)
– There are separate hot rooms for men and women and a co-ed banya
– Swimsuit needed for the co-ed area
– They’ll give you towels, robes, and sandals

After check-in, you’ll get a key to a locker that wraps around your wrist. You’ll then be directed down a flight of stairs into either the Men’s or Women’s basement locker room.

The locker rooms look like the inside of a big wood cabin. There are spots to lounge on chairs and watch the TVs lined up against the wall. Keep on going towards the back, and you’ll find showers, a cold pool, a steam room, a blistering hot banya, and the chatter of various Eastern European languages being spoken by some of the regulars.

This is the inside of one of the banyas. Cedar benches offer plenty of room to space out, and a hot granite oven vaporizes water to create a steamy, 200-degree environment.

You’ll also see a bunch of plastic buckets–these are for you. If it gets too hot, turn on the water faucets underneath the benches, fill the buckets with cold water, and dump it on your head to help you last longer in the heat.

A connected co-ed area is between the men’s and women’s locker rooms. It’s small with a few chairs and TVs. There is also a co-ed banya for you to enjoy too.

2. Lunch @ Dining Room

When hunger strikes, head to the dining room upstairs for a post-schvitz smorgasbord of traditional Eastern European eats and beer. Here are a few things to note.

– Just like at home, no need to eat lunch fully dressed. Head upstairs in your robe and sandals, and dine in maximum comfort.

– When you walk upstairs, someone in the main dining room will seat you and serve as your waiter.

– No need to bring your wallet, but bring your locker room key. Anything you order will be added to your tab based on your locker room key. You’ll settle up at the end when you check out.

Let’s get down to the food. We started with a bowl of borscht, a staple wintertime soup that traces its origins back to 16th-century Ukraine. If you haven’t had it, it’s a beet soup with carrots, potatoes, vinegar, and a dollop of sour cream. That combination gives it a unique sour-sweet flavor profile with lots of umami goodness.

We asked our waiter for something that would pair well with our lager, and she suggested an order of Chebureki — also described to us as a Russian empanada. This is a popular street food found in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. It’s the national dish of Crimean Tartar, and like an empanada, this is fried pastry dough with minced meat filling.

That does it for this guide, but you don’t have to stop after lunch. Your all-day pass means you can go back to the spa for another round in the banya and do it all over again.