When I was seven years old my father took me to a place my family calls ‘The Bathhouse.” The official name is “The Schvitz,” and my dad has been going with his high school buddies since around 1968. The Schvitz has been in operation since 1927 — when it actually functioned as a proper bathhouse on Cleveland’s east side. Back then, 116th Street & Kinsman was a thriving neighborhood full of Hungarian immigrants. Today the area has changed but The Schvitz remains in its original location. Tucked away in a windowless brick building on Luke Avenue that can barely be seen from the street. If you don’t know it is there, you aren’t going to find it. I clearly remember a run-in with the Cleveland Police as a seventeen year-old on my way to meet my dad and his friends for some steam. It seems Cleveland’s finest assumed the only reason I was in that part of town was to score drugs. When they pulled me over, I politely explained that I was in fact looking for The Schvitz and asked if they could point me in the right direction. Removing all suspicion, the cops were happy to let me go and escort me over to little Luke Avenue.
These days The Schvitz is a steam room / bar / restaurant / private club for men. Membership is informal, one just needs to go with a member and pay a nominal fee. Now I know what you are thinking, but its not that kind of place. The Schvitz is as old school as it gets. You get there early, say three or four in the afternoon and head upstairs to grab a locker and get a towel. Next it’s down to the steam room to “get some steam” as my dad says, talk with your buddies and get a sort of massage (generally administered with oak leaves) called a platza. The steam room consists of two gas powered ovens that heat sandstone rock. The facilities are basically unchanged since the late 1920s, save a fire that devastated the original locker room and dining area in I believe the 90s. Outside of the steam room are showers and an unheated pool full of 40 degree water. The idea is, you emerge from the steam room hot from the heat and then jump directly into the cold pool. It is one of my all time favorite things on earth.
Once you have had enough steam, you head back upstairs to the sparsely decorated dining room (a photo of General Patton urinating into the Rhine is displayed prominently), to shoot the shit over beers. Once you have had enough steam and enough beers, you indulge in a massive steak. After dinner you head to the lounge area to get horizontal and have a few more drinks before you head home.
A lot of articles have been written about bathhouses, but nothing compares to The Schvitz. It is something that I hope to always enjoy on my trips home to Cleveland for the holidays. I really treasure all of the memories and male bonding I have enjoyed there over the years.
I would have tried to take some interior photos, but we went on December 26th and it was packed early due to the holiday.