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A Spa Day in Downtown Seattle

A local's guide to an afternoon at Banya 5 💆‍♀️

September 26, 2022

📸: Courtesy Banya 5

As a perpetually cold person, spa days are a requirement come fall and winter. One of my favorites is South Lake Union’s popular Banya 5, which offers Seattleites a relief in the style of a Russian banya, or bathhouse. You don’t need to book a service to take advantage of their hydrotherapy pools, eucalyptus-laced steam room, or brick and wood-lined sauna. In two hours you’ll reemerge from this warm cocoon, ready to brave the rest of the season. 

1

Put something in your belly 🥑 🍞

The interior of Evoke Espresso, with lots of open seating options
📸: Courtesy Evoke Espresso

Speaking from experience: Nothing ruins a spa day like an empty stomach. Get to SLU early and stop at Evoke Espresso for a light meal. Their granola-topped açaí bowls and seedy avocado toast will sit well with you when you’re in the sauna later. Grab an herbal tea if you know you’re sensitive to caffeine; it may impact your sauna experience. The cafe’s seating is sleek, industrial, and plentiful. If you ask nicely, they might let you play their piano. 

📍 Evoke Espresso: 235 9th Ave

They’re open every day from 9 am to 4 pm and welcome furry friends. 

Spa essentials 🧖

To be ready for a day at the spa, bring your swimsuit, a non-glass water bottle, and comfy clothes to slip into afterward. The spa has basic toiletries: shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. Bring any extras you need to supplement. 

2

Time to spa(ahh) 💆

A cold plunge pool at Banya 5
📸: Courtesy Banya 5

First off: Banya 5 is not a silent spa, so bring a friend and expect to overhear chit-chat between other patrons. The vibe is laid-back with a mix of older and younger folks. After check-in, you’ll receive a locker key, two towels, and some plastic sandals. Use these while walking around the facilities. All genders are welcome. Patrons choose the locker room that best matches their gender identity.

Start with a shower. Douse yourself in cold water and recreate that iconic Flashdance moment with the pull-lever overhead shower in the main facility. 

Next, the parilkaUse one of your towels when sitting on the wooden benches of this traditional, concrete, and basalt-brick sauna. The deep heat will relax your muscles and regulate your breathing. If you like, bring a sauna hat. These wooly caps keep your head cool, allowing you to stay in the sauna for longer. 

Afterward, I suggest the cold plunge pool. I know I said I’m always cold, but the shocking contrast of hot to cold really puts me in my body. Cold water plunges are great for circulation, too. They constrict heat-dilated pores and blood vessels, flushing toxins from the body. 

📍 Banya 5: 217 9th Ave N

Entry is by reservation only, so book your appointments ahead of time. Regular two-hour entry to spa facilities is $60, or $45 if you book a service. Take advantage of early-bird pricing ($40, $30 with a service) on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9 am to 3 pm.

Open Tuesdays 3 to 10 pm, Wednesdays through Sundays 9 am to 10 pm. Closed on Mondays.

Bring your birthday suit 🎂

Go to Banya 5 on your birthday. You’ll only pay $30 for spa entry.  

3

A little salt, a lot of steam ♨️

The steam room at Banya 5
📸: Courtesy Banya 5

After you’ve pretended you’re a polar bear by taking a cold water plunge, move on to the saltwater tepid poolThis 87-degree mineral salt bath mimics the salinity of Puget Sound and decreases your muscle tension. The salty water helps your body reabsorb minerals lost while sweating. 

And then there’s the Turkish steam room. When steam mixes with eucalyptus boughs, it’s a beautiful thing. Breathe deeply, this 113-degree heat rehydrates skin and decreases congestion.

When you’re ready to take a break, relax in the 103-degree hot pool. Then head upstairs to the tea and movement lounge. The herbal tea blend they serve is like an infusion of liquid sunshine. Pro tip: Swirl a dollop of raspberry jam into your cup instead of honey.

4

Work that body ⚡

The inside of Banya 5's sauna
📸: Courtesy Banya 5

If you need a private zen moment, book a service: Banya 5 offers mud wraps, reflexology, and heavy-duty massages (none of that delicate “spa” massage here). I like to treat myself to a body scrub in the dead of winter. It’s so satisfying to feel layers of dead skin roll off in little pills. Book the 30-minute express scrub ($75) if you’re on a budget. Spring for the coconut shea moisturizer add-on ($30) and go home with baby-soft skin

Heads-up: Venik Nights” are Wednesdays from 4 to 10 pm. Experience a platza (a massage of sorts) administered with a soaked oak branch (the venik). Breathe through this memorable beating while you lay in the parilka. 

6

Log off, fuel up 🧘

A big bowl of tofu and greens
📸: Courtesy 45th Stop N Shop

Don’t be tempted to jump back on your devices after the spa. Take this opportunity to turn your phone off for the rest of the day. Post-spa self-care is important. Drink lots of water to rehydrate. You’ll be hungry, so grab a nourishing bite from somewhere in SLU, then head over to nearby Lake Union Park for some fresh air with a view. 

Hole-in-the-wall poke purveyor 45th Stop N Shop is no longer a Wallingford secret: Their SLU location opened last February. Big, glossy cubes of tuna and salmon are the most popular protein option, though they have tofu, too. Build a bowl or get everything wrapped into a poke burrito. Order the miso soup for a cozy accompaniment. 

📍 45th Stop N Shop & Poke Bar: 2121 Terry Ave Suite 104, next to Pan Pacific Hotel

They’re open Mondays through Saturdays from 11 am to 8 pm. Closed on Sundays.

Consider getting it to go if you want to eat in the park.

Or how about some spice? 🥣

It’s only a matter of time before Seattle catches on to the art of chaat. Another dining option in SLU is Lassi & Spice. Their 100% vegetarian menu features spicy, shareable small plates alongside a full menu of cafe drinks that can be made vegan. They’ve got creamy lassis, masala chai, and a bournvita latte. You could split the chickpea & potato curry-topped samosa chaat, or my favorite Mumbai street food classic, pav bhajji.

Meghna leads with her curiosity when writing about travel, food, and beverages. She previously wrote about cookbooks at Kitchen Arts & Letters, and has managed events & communications at Book Larder, Peddler Brewing Company, and Cascade Bicycle Club. She is newly pescatarian and a Seattle native. Follow along at @wanderingthali.

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