By Bir Ganguly
Andre Izrailov chose to name Okeanos after the titan (kind of a super-god) of the great earth-encircling river of the same name. Okeanos is believed to be the primal font of all of earth’s fresh water in Greek mythology. Conceived in the spirit of the Tsars, it is the only destination of its kind in the city offering men the unique opportunity to enjoy the rituals of banya and platza in the simple elegant setting of a luxury spa. In case your knowledge of Russian culture needs some polishing, banya is a Russian steam-sauna and platza, the invigorating brushing of steam-softened birch leaves on banya-warmed skin, traditionally performed by a Russian platza-master.
Entering OKEANOS, one has the feeling of being on a steamship – rich woods, rough-hewn stone tiles, portholes and other nautical accoutrements enhancing the streamlined masculine space. A heated wrap of aromatherapeutic spices is placed around the neck as you relax in the lounge, waiting for your turn at the banya. Drink plenty of water at this stage; save the vodka and champagne for later. I am a big sauna enthusiast but nothing had prepared me for the experience here. The banya features more humidity than what Americans think as sauna. With the high humidity, the perception of heat increases. As I lay in the banya, the temperature hovering around 180 degrees, water was sprinkled on the walls to intensify the heat. In a few minutes, the heat had reached deep enough to start relaxing my muscles. I was ready for the platza. Tell you what, I was afraid for my life, firm in my belief that the ‘brushing of birch leaves’ was an euphemism and I was about to be whacked and whipped as I have heard it to be done at the 11th Street Russian baths. My fears were proved wrong. Serge, my platza-master, brushed the birch against my skin in gentle but firm strokes, occasionally pressing the warm leaves on tense spots, such as the lower back and the hamstrings.
Stepping out of the banya, I got ready for my cold-water splash, afraid once again, but trying not to show my fear. Serge filled up his pail and as he poured the ice-cold water over my head, I took it fine. It wasn’t bad. Not bad at all. For a few moments, I felt nothing – possibly it was too extreme for human perception. And then, I felt as if somebody had turned me upside down and shaken me up rather well. It was a sense of intense relaxation and freshness. I was so pleasantly discombobulated, that I could barely walk back to the lounge and flop into my chair. But once I had succeeded in doing that, my shot of vodka and smoked salmon piled high on blini (a Russian pancake-like delicacy) was waiting for me.
The spa offers massage therapies and skincare treatments to complete the relaxation process. Amenities such as a barber and grooming basics including manicure and pedicure are also available. “We wanted to combine the Russian therapies we believe are critical to maintaining good health and well-being – banya and platza – with spa treatments that are relevant to lifestyles of people like us. We’ve become New Yorkers on the go, traveling a lot, working hard and although we enjoy luxury, refined simplicity is, for us, the ultimate pleasure. Integrity and authenticity are what we value above all – and that is the Okeanos signature,” says Andre.
Okeanos offers guests a choice of fine caviar, vodka and champagne to go along with its luxurious treatments. Private Petrossian caviar tastings with Heidsieck & C° Monopole Champagne and Zyr Russian Vodka may be arranged.
Okeanos Club Spa and Banya is located at 211 East 51st Street in Manhattan and can be reached at 212.223.6773 or at www.okeanosclubspa.com on the Web.