EVERETT — The needle on the thermometer in the sauna hovered over 200 degrees. It was like being in a pizza oven.
The next step was plunging into a freezing pool.
What’s up with that?
Going from boiling hot to stinging cold is part of the high at Banya, a day spa at 2814 Colby Ave.
A banya in Russian refers to a hot room or sauna. People swat branches on themselves or others to get even hotter.
The spa also has a hot tub and steam room and a parlor with chess and billiards. A bistro serves piroshki, borscht and other fare by a Ukrainian chef.
Dine in a bathrobe or swim suit. But not in your birthday suit. This spa is coed, with youth allowed during specific hours. There are no nude areas, other than the locker rooms.
The Eastern European-style spa has been in the downtown business district since 2008 yet pretty much goes unnoticed from the street, where there is a small entrance and check-in counter. The action is in the basement, with wet and dry relaxation.
Full Gospel Mission, located next door, took over the spa in 2021. Vodka, or any alcohol, is no longer served. Those accounts you might have read online in the past of boisterous drunk men hanging out at the spa’s bistro no longer apply.
“Now we are more focused on the health aspects,” Banya operations manager Angelina Dorosh said.
Kvass, a traditional fermented rye drink with light carbonation similar to kombucha, is served in pitchers or by the glass. A zen area with an illuminated mural of trees has lounge chairs for kicking back with a cup of kvass.
The spa helps pay for mission trips for members of Full Gospel Mission.
“Most are from Ukraine, and we have been focusing a lot on efforts and finances over there as well as helping refugees here,” Dorosh said.
Spa admission for three hours is $50, or $30 before 5 p.m. on weekends, with group discounts on Tuesday and Thursday. It includes towels and flip-flops.
Venik, a bundled broom of oak and birch branches, is sold for personal use, or venik treatments are available by appointment.
The gentle thrashing on skin gets the blood going.
“The point is to get the body hotter by using leaves to bring in the heat,” Dorosh said. “Then you’re able to do the cold more. It intensifies everything, and in addition is a good exfoliant for the skin and is a much deeper experience.”
A sign on the sauna door warns: “Extreme heat.” (Freakin’ hot is more like it.)
“Our sauna is 200 to 220 degrees,” Dorosh said. “You try to last in there as long as you can.”
Ten to 15 minutes is average.
The floor in bare feet is like stepping on hot asphalt, hence the flip-flops.
Regulars wear wool felt caps to keep their ears from burning and hair from frying. Some caps have hooks and embroidered designs. Others resemble Viking helmets.
You can also just put a towel over your head. Sitting on a towel helps from toasting your buns.
Outside the door is the cold pool, 4 feet deep. The pool has steps and lights in the water that change color. It looks like the nearby hot tub, until you stick your toe in.
At 35 to 40 degrees, it is colder than Puget Sound.
It’s OK to scream (I did), but most people don’t. And they don’t look at you funny if you do scream.
The atmosphere is friendly.
“We’re not a typical spa where people are hush-hush,” Dorosh said. “It’s more a social thing where people are laughing and talking.”
The contrast between the hot sauna and cold pool is a rush.
“After you do that a couple times, you start to get this really strong endorphin release, and you feel amazing,” said Scott McVay, an Everett massage and craniosacral therapist. “By the third round, you have this whole Banya high.”
All while “eliminating a lot of toxins,” he said.
McVay casually stood in the chest-high frigid water for three minutes.
“You get used to it,” he said.
Dorosh said one regular stays in the cold pool for 50 minutes, an exception that takes practice and moxie.
The steam room, tucked behind a foggy glass door, is another attraction. Step inside and inhale the eucalyptus aroma. Steam bubbles drop from the ceiling like a gentle rain.
It was Shaun Lieb’s first time at Banya, invited by a friend.
The cold pool was a jolt.
“I counted to 15 in my head,” said Lieb, an Everett property manager.
He tried two more times, but “I didn’t quite make it to 25.”
Lieb also soaked in the hot tub and played a game of chess.
He planned to come back.
“I didn’t realize how much I needed it,” he said. “All the problems of the world just melted off.”
How to Banya
Hours: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Noon to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday. Youth are allowed until 8 p.m. Closed Sunday and Wednesday.
Admission is not required to dine in the restaurant. Food is also available by delivery and carry-out.
Fare includes: Piroshki, $7. Pelmeni, dumplings with a meat filling, $14 to $15. Blinchiki, crepes with chicken, $12. Grenki, slices of garlic rye bread, $8.
More at banyabyfgm.com.