The Schvitz | A Continuous Lean.

The Schvitz

Dec 29th, 2008 | Categories: Cleveland | by Michael Williams

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.

The parking lot attendant that prevents customer's cars from disappearing.

The fancy spa exterior.

I would have tried to take some interior photos, but we went on December 26th and it was packed early due to the holiday.

The Schvitz

Comments: 21

21 Comments to “The Schvitz”

  1. Steve
    on Dec 29th, 2008
    @ 1:25 PM

    Unless you’ve experienced something like this, you probably don’t understand. I grew up outside of Boston and visited a similarly unprepossessing Finnish Sauna with my family many times over the years. Same locker, steam room, and basic set up. Instead of oak twigs, Finns use birch. Stones are superheated and a generous ladle of icy water creates clouds of steam. Benches are set at different levels, the higher, the hotter. One always felt somehow purified after a 40 minute soak. And beer never tasted so good once you’d emerged. I’m pretty sure the place I went to has since vanished. I hope the schvitz fares better.

  2. Sean
    on Dec 29th, 2008
    @ 1:44 PM

    That place must look pretty impressive in the warmer months when the Ivy is in full blast!

    My friend out in Kensington Bk keeps telling me about a “Schvitz” there that’s an all day affair. Going to go one of these days…

  3. Gianni
    on Dec 29th, 2008
    @ 2:41 PM

    Brilliant post, once again. If you ever happen to be in Helsinki, try the Harjutori Sauna: http://www.aatos.fi/sauna.

    Classic Finnish Sauna doesn’t get any better. The Harjutori guys are the real thing – on the website they keep you posted when the stones in the bathhouse stove are changed etc. Shady neighborhood with cool bars included.

  4. stephanie
    on Dec 29th, 2008
    @ 4:35 PM

    A true Cleveland secret. It’s always interesting to find out who knows about it, and who goes. It’s a mysterious place.

  5. Jason
    on Dec 29th, 2008
    @ 6:18 PM

    I’d love to see some indoor shots from your next visit.

  6. giuseppe
    on Dec 29th, 2008
    @ 11:19 PM

    I wish.

  7. Sid
    on Dec 29th, 2008
    @ 11:45 PM

    That sounds like it would be amazing on a cold winter day.

  8. abh1wordpress
    on Dec 30th, 2008
    @ 10:35 AM

    This is fascinating. Your photos are real nice too.
    Happy New Year.

  9. CJ (Dad)
    on Dec 30th, 2008
    @ 5:50 PM

    When Michael first started going for steam and steak all my high school buds would tell him stories of our experiences in high school none of them true. He enjoyed every minute.

  10. Joel Libava
    on Dec 31st, 2008
    @ 11:06 AM

    Michael,
    Thank you for the memories.
    The place has atmosphere.
    Joel Libava

  11. Tom Sawyer
    on Jan 4th, 2009
    @ 12:02 PM

    My son, 28, took me and his 2 brothers here for a Christmas present. Well needless to say I, and the 2 sons, were quite apprehensive as we turned down Luke Ave. Being the first to arrive, this past Friday, we had to knock at the door marked only with an “entrance” stick on sign. Walking up the old stairway certainly did little to calm our fears. Changing into only a towel almost was too much but the wine, cigars, snacks were the beginning of an unbelievably 6 hours of pure enjoyment. A rare treat in this world of chaos. The steam, pool and showers that were unchanged and the palatza treatment united us with this old world tradition and the wonderful crowd that soon followed. I felt the history of this retreat. It was the best 6 hours (could have easily been 9 if we didn’t have to return to reality) I have spent in a long time.

  12. Charles G.
    on Jan 5th, 2009
    @ 12:56 PM

    Had an offer to go to this place over Thanksgiving, but my father-in-law didn’t do it enough justice in his pitch so we never made it… (I think my brother-in-law wasn’t too into the idea of hanging out buck with his wife’s dad anyway.) Will definitely hit it next time, sounds too good to pass on twice…

  13. Allen Miller
    on Jan 7th, 2009
    @ 8:34 PM

    I have been to the Schvitz too and blogged about it too.

    I think you have done a LARGE disservice to the guys that run this place. If you will notice – they have gone to lengths to not publicize the location of their facility. I don’t think you really have a right to do this for them since they have obviously wanted to have some privacy. You might want to think about removing all the location information – or at least ask permission first.

    Regards,
    Allen

  14. Bryan
    on Feb 13th, 2009
    @ 10:12 AM

    why did you disclose the location of this? WTF.

  15. Michael Williams
    on Feb 13th, 2009
    @ 10:23 AM

    Sweet Jesus. The location isn’t a secret.

    ACL

  16. Joe
    on Mar 30th, 2009
    @ 11:42 AM

    I grew up in the 60′s on E. 116th near Woodland Hills Park and this place . I came back in the 90′s several times for a schvitz and steak. Terrific! It’s been too long and I want to go back , but is there a phone number you can call to find out when it’s open?

  17. miles
    on Apr 28th, 2009
    @ 5:52 PM

    you are dealing with sacred land. there is none left in cleveland its all taken. pull it

  18. Vick
    on May 1st, 2009
    @ 4:57 PM

    let cleveland be what it truly is…a real city with good and honest hard working citizens that care about people. I love this place, but don’t be broadcasting it out to people that just want make a buck off a story of a great establishment, rather than experiencing it 1st hand on a regular basis. Hopefully this will be the last comment on the site

  19. mr frank
    on Jun 25th, 2009
    @ 12:44 AM

    I’m 73 now..In then 1940s when my friend an I were 10 …He and I would go there on our bikes
    on thursday nights (ladies night) and beaver shoot
    we would have to stand on our bicycle seats at the windows on the first floor for the best shots…

  20. tari
    on Dec 15th, 2009
    @ 8:30 PM

    I’ve never been to it just in Detroit.

  21. Butch
    on Dec 21st, 2009
    @ 1:50 PM

    I can’t find a phone number anywhere… Can someone send it to me?