Legendary Chicago bathhouse sees growth since welcoming women

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Red Square customers can relax in the co-ed sitting room between steams. “Your heart rate goes up so you have to give yourself time between sessions,” frequent Red Square customer Tisha Velasquez said.

By Hannah Levitt

For those suffering in the arctic tundra that is a Chicago winter, Red Square Spa, a traditional Russian bathhouse located at 1914 W. Division St. in the Wicker Park neighborhood, is a spot to warm the body and the soul.

The bathhouse, which has been in operation since 1906, has wet and dry saunas, hot and cold tubs, and a restaurant and bar serving traditional Russian fare. Entry for a day is $30, and customers can book additional services, such as a massage or the Traditional Platza scrub using oak leaves, for an additional cost.

Mariya Glukhova has been managing Red Square since 2013, when her father, Andrey Glukhova, and his business partner Alex Loyfman took ownership of the men’s bathhouse and reopened it as a coed spa. Revenue has increased each year since, largely due to word-of-mouth recommendations.

“We’ve got our customers that come here two, three, four times a week,” Glukhova said. “They bring their friends with them and this is how it spreads out.”

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The coed Russian Dry Sauna is the hottest room at Red Square, heated to 221 degrees Fahrenheit. (Hannah Levitt/MEDILL)

Prior to Glukhova’s father and his business partner taking ownership, the bathhouse had a women’s day only once a month. Now it welcomes women and is more family-oriented, which makes it easier for everyone to experience the Russian tradition, Glukhova said. It also stands out as the only coed bathhouse in Chicago, with a large facility and offering many services.

“I don’t think we’re competing with anyone because it’s unique,” Glukhova said.

“Here we can accommodate a lot of people at once and then on top of that we have the restaurant so people can steam, go to the restaurant, steam again, go back to the restaurant,” Glukhova said.

Red Square has also run promotions on Groupon, Gilt City and LivingSocial, and they advertise on Facebook, Instagram, and in Russian newspapers.

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The Traditional Platza scrub service uses oak leaves that have been soaked in hot water. (Hannah Levitt/MEDILL)

Glukhova said that the clientele is about 60 percent American and 40 percent Russian and Eastern European. She said there was an increase in Americans visiting the spa in 2016.

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A spa menu on the women’s side of the spa. Entry to Red Square is $30 for the day with the option to add additional services including scrubs, massages, nail services and tanning. (Hannah Levitt/MEDILL)
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A hot tub in the women’s side of the spa. Customers can use the hot tub between services or steam sessions. Red Square also has a cold tub on the men’s side. (Hannah Levitt/MEDILL)

Chicago resident Tisha Velasquez has been going to Red Square Spa, since she was a young girl, along with her mom and sisters. They would steam, relax and participate in the traditions of Russian-style bathhouses, such as the Platza scrub with oak leaves. But they could only go on the one day per month that women were allowed in the bathhouse.

As of Red Square’s reopening in 2013, Velasquez has been able to go to Red Square whenever she wants.

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The dining room in the restaurant, which serves traditional Russian cuisine such as borcht and beef stew with potatoes. The dining room is set up to look and feel like a train car. (Hannah Levitt/MEDILL)

“The upgrade is beautiful,” Velasquez said in an interview. “The restaurant is good, all the food is good, the steam bath is beautiful, it’s hot, the vapor room is good.”

The price points also draw Velasquez to visit frequently. She tries to visit at least once a month, and as often as twice a week, depending on her schedule.

“For the price you pay to be there, you could be there all day if you wanted to,” Velasquez said. Her favorite service at Red Square is the massage.

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The bar area of the restaurant. Customers are encouraged to visit the restaurant/bar between steams and spa services for traditional Russian food and drink. (Hannah Levitt/MEDILL)

Red Square’s busiest days are Saturdays and Sundays, when up to 300 people visit the bathhouse. During the weekdays, they see 20-50 customers. The number of customers on a given day often depends on the weather, and winter is the busiest season, according to Glukhova.

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The exterior of Red Square. Red Square is located at 1914 W. Division St. in Wicker Park and the building has been a Russian-style bathhouse since 1906. (Hannah Levitt/MEDILL)
Photo at top: Red Square customers can relax in the co-ed sitting room between steams. “Your heart rate goes up so you have to give yourself time between sessions,” frequent Red Square customer Tisha Velasquez said. (Hannah Levitt/MEDILL)