I committed to a weekend at home in New York—a rarity and a treat for this travel addict. As such, I knew I needed to spend the time wisely: grocery shopping, cleaning, exercising, relaxing, all the things that I rarely get to do.
For the requisite relaxation, I enlisted my friend Sarah for a Sunday afternoon of brunch and the Baths. Because there is no better form of local relaxation than half a dozen Bloody Marys, followed by a sit in a sauna gossiping with your girlfriend.
The Russian & Turkish Baths are in my neighborhood, the East Village, and a destination I’ve always had on my radar. “It’s a cave,” said my friend Joe. “Be careful.” Other friends had waxed poetic about the spot as a go-to hangover remedy.
I envisioned a huge steamy pool surrounded by lots of glamorous treatment rooms. Oh, and gorgeous half-naked men, of course. But we’ll get to the baths and their reality later. First, we met for brunch.
We agreed to meet at Babu Ji, the Indian restaurant in Alphabet City that is my ultimate favorite (and named one of the best new restaurants in New York by many a title). The spot has been teasing me with brunch clues on Instagram for weeks.
Alas, the place was empty and dark, so we trekked up East 11th Street to find another destination. “I just want a Bloody Mary,” Sarah kept texting. Alright, challenge accepted.
There are places in New York that I pass a million times and never think to step into, no matter how charming or nearby they may be. Flinder’s Lane is one of them, tucked nicely onto Avenue A right next to Tompkins Square Park.
The restaurant claims to be Australian (there are a lot of Aussie spots in this ‘hood), but I’m thinking it’s more British ex-pat, as the menu touts a nice mix of Indian curries and classic English brekkie dishes.
Regardless, my first and only question when I walked in was, “Do you have Bloody Marys?” The hostess looked at me strangely and pointed me to the lovely small wooden bar. I ordered a cafe latte and waited for Sarah to arrive on her cross-town bus.
Behind the bar, the servers were bopping about: chopping fresh fruit and vegetables for juices, steaming coffee drinks, and shaking cocktails. This is where all the action is, and though the restaurant has nice high tops and even a patio in summer, the bar was plenty cozy.
When Sarah arrived, we ordered Bloodys, which were a homemade mix of tomato juice, red peppers, spices and 42 Below vodka. They were garnished with lemon wedges and the largest olives I’ve ever seen. They were spicy and perfect, and we were satiated enough to check out the menu.
Meanwhile, the soundtrack was jamming. The music was a mashup of ‘80s classic pop and the likes of Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation. I was happy as a clam, seat-dancing in my barstool and watching the servers mix up the most gorgeous cocktails I’ve seen pass a bar at brunch. They were garnishing cocktails with flower petals, fruit slices, and creating beautiful art in coffee. It was captivating.
We ordered the avocado toast to share, and immediately our waitress asked, “With or without bacon?” Of course with bacon! It makes everything more delicious. The avocado toast was everything we wanted: poached eggs, arugula, an over-roasted tomato and dukkah (an Eqyptian condiment). It gave the enormous piece of toast a slightly crispy and salty kick.
Sarah ordered the steak and mushroom pie, a traditional Australian dish and the chalkboard special of the day. It came with a side of crispy roast potatoes and an arugula salad. The pie was hearty and rich, served in a flaky pastry crust that was true to its Australian roots.
I was delighted to see a true English brekkie on the menu, something I always keep an eye out for. This was the real deal: two eggs (I had them over easy), with thick buttered mushrooms, oven-roasted tomatoes, strips of bacon, pork sausage, and toast. All with a nice side of baked beans. This is the ultimate comfort brunch dish, and I was quite happy.
We were each four or five Bloody Marys in by the time our plates were cleared, meaning we were well on our way in our afternoon of relaxation. Once we paid the bill (which was shockingly painful—those Marys are $13 a piece!), we walked up a block to the baths.
Ah, the baths. The outside looked a little sketchy, and the lobby reminded me of a skating rink from my ‘90s childhood (complete with snack bar). Get your locker key, your old towel, your plastic sandals, and make your way down the tall stairs, the lady at the counter instructed.
Inside, the bath itself wasn’t as big as I was expecting, and was surrounded by smaller steam and sauna rooms of various heat degrees and type, including several aromatherapy rooms. Sarah and I looked at the groups of sweaty fat men sitting on benches around the perimeter, then looked at each other and shrugged.
We ended up spending the rest of the afternoon there. Sarah even nipped to the roof deck for a 30-minute massage, one of many treatments offered to us. At one point we were offered a massage with a wad of wet oak leaves. Apparently it’s good exfoliation, but the bucket of leaves looked suspect, so I politely declined.
While it wasn’t the glamorous spa of my dreams, it was definitely a local retreat to sit and steam and sweat and think. Plus, getting the occasional bucket of ice-cold water dumped on you by a laughing old fat man certainly makes for an interesting Sunday afternoon.
The Bitches say: B+. The Australian restaurant checks all the boxes for this English lass, except those Bloodys were mighty pricey. Make it a pre-Baths pit stop.
Flinder’s Lane serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays.