Before you let that thought go any further: no, this is not a ‘bath house’, it is a very respectable spa and tea room (get your mind out of the gutter). Located in Mississauga the South Western Bathhouse, also known as Banya, is an incredibly relaxing and fun cultural activity to do with friends, family, or a significant other. And for my fellow Greater Toronto Area dwellers it gives the same feelings of travel without having to go too far from home!
What is it?
Banya is a spa consisting of a traditional Russian Banya (sauna), a dry Finnish Sauna, and a Turkish Hamam (steam room). In addition to these amenities there is complimentary tea in the tea room and authentic Russian food and drinks at the bar.
Finding the location:
Located in a plaza at 2200 Dundas St East, there are no signs or any indication that a bath house is located in the warehouse (totally secret society feeling). Ignoring this, walk to the right side of the building and along the alley. You will find a small red overhang and door in the middle of the wall. To enter you must know the secret handshake. If you’re like me, this will really excite you. Unfortunately, my brother was lying liar when he told me that.
Once you enter the facility, you will pay the admission fee and can purchase add-ons such as scrubs for exfoliating or bundles of leaves for whacking. You will be given a towel, robe, and key to a locker. If you want to feel like a pro (or just look downright adorable) you can purchase a felt hat; apparently these eliminate feelings of light headedness and enhance the sauna experience. Plus, all the Russians are wearing them so it seems legit. I would also suggest leaving the robe in your locker and to enter the spa room in a bathing suit and towel.
The spa. I cannot stress how fantastic the Russian Banya smells. When was the last time you smelled something you’ve never smelled before? By adding a small amount of beer to the water that is thrown on the rocks, Banya’s sauna releases this delicious fragrance in combination with the already wonderful cedar sauna smell.
Another surprising thing about Banya is how comfortable it is. Everyone is so focused on relaxation it’s not even weird that couples and families of all ages are sweating it out half naked in a small sweat box together. There is an odd sense of community and it’s easy to strike up a conversation with a fellow sauna goer. Or, if you’re like my brother’s mom (#modernfamily), you’ll meet everyone there and make lots of new friends.
But as wonderful as the sauna was, the steam room was my personal favourite. The mystical fogginess of the beautifully tiled room absolutely enchanted me. And if you’re not afraid to take it a step further, standing up in the steam room (where it is hottest) is another spell binding sensation. Or, if you’re feeling super zen, you can whip out some mediating “om’s”. It sounds so cool, you won’t even feel stupid doing it. Mostly.
You can experience the saunas and steam rooms in whichever order you like, but it’s suggested to take turns going back and forth from hot to cold. Going from sweating buckets in a sauna to entering the icy cold barrel puts your body through this really invigorating tingling sensation. Some people simply jump in the barrel, but the disciplined (or highly competitive little sisters) will slowly lower themselves into the water to get the full effect.
My brother and I were sitting beside the barrel when we saw a young man enter the water fairly quickly. I tagged him as a dip and jump kinda guy (I had gone much slower) and as predicted he dropped quickly into the water… and stayed under. Our mouths dropped as we witnessed him hold himself under the ice cold water for ALMOST AN ENTIRE MINUTE. Through my shock I heard my brother whisper, “That is so hardcore.”
Tea Time. After you’re done with this transformative experience you can grab your dry robe (you’re welcome) and make yourself a pot of tea. They have a variety of flavours and pretty pots to pick from and you can relax on the comfy leather couches or in the tea room. Once you’re over achieving nirvana, and your stomach is growling, you can finally mau down (because you worked hard and you deserve it).
Authentic Russian Cuisine. Still in robe, you can enter the tea room/bar. With it’s eclectic antiques and Tudor style decor you’re transported from spa to magical Russian tavern. The menu is hung across the dining area (seen above) with pictures (because they’re smart and know you don’t have a clue about Russian cuisine). I died several times while eating, only to come back to life to continue eating. There is also a list of cocktails that are named so eloquently you’ll want to order them all.
It’s after this amazing authentic experience that you should take a look around you and remind yourself that you are in a small corner of warehouse in Mississauga. Mind. Blown.
From the adorable felt-hatted Russian families to the smell of a burning Russian tavern (that doesn’t really sound nice, but I swear it is), you’ll feel like you’ve been transported somewhere else entirely. So grab a pal or head in alone! Because if it’s good enough for Dennis Quade and Justin Bieber (it should be noted here, that my editor is cringing at this mention), it’s good enough for us.
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