A Branch Of Russian Culture In Queens

A Branch Of Russian Culture In Queens

Its official name is the Forest Hills Spa, but to most of the people who come to the small building on a Corona side street for a massage or a shvitz, it’s the Russian banya.

That’s Russian for steam bath.

The spa, one of a half-dozen such vestiges of the former Soviet Union in New York City, is a reminder of home for the émigrés who grew up with frequent visits to a banya, where they would lie on wooden benches while steam rose from water poured over hot rocks and a masseuse would flay away with leafy branches.

There, men and women, naked, entered separate rooms. Here, they’re together, in swimsuits.

Boris Borsky, a native of Kharkov in Ukraine, who came to the United States in 1978, first went to a banya with his father at 8. “I loved doing it,” says Borsky, who has owned the Corona spa for five years.

He’s not alone. “Fifty, 60, 70” people come daily for a steam and some time in the pool or Jacuzzi. Or chess. Or TV watching. Or a post-shvitz meal in the restaurant, which features such Old Country staples as borscht and dumplings.

The masseuses are from the former Soviet Union. And the oak branches are shipped in from Moscow. “Very Russian,” Borsky says.

A growing number of Americans sample the banya experience, he says. It’s an acquired taste, he says. “You love it or you hate it. If you love it, you come back.”

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