DETROIT (WXYZ) — Non-descript is an apt description of the two-story building on Oakland Avenue in Detroit's North End neighborhood. Its only identifier is the small neon sign in the window.
Inside The Schvitz Detroit is where the real story and history are told.
“It was originally the Oakland Baths or the Oakland Bath House, but everybody called it the Schvitz. Schvitz is Yiddish for sweat,” said owner Paddy Lynch.
“What’s the biggest draw. Is it the heat?" asked WXYZ’s Dave LewAllen.
“I would say it is,” said Lynch. “Incredible heat, very therapeutic, people love it and I think you have to acknowledge that that is the heart and soul of the place.”
The steam room in the basement of The Schvitz reaches 200 degrees. A dunk in the cold pool is a waiting refresher after a sweat.
The building itself dates to 1918.
“Charles and Harry Meltzer got control of the building in the late 20s and they’re the ones who converted it from a Jewish Community Center to a Schvitz, to a bathhouse,” said Lynch.
As we looked through old photographs, Lynch detailed more of the club’s history. Members of the notorious purple gang were regular visitors. Illicit activity took place on the second floor, which we visited. It awaits restoration as an event and banquet space.
“They used to have Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah, High Holidays and then, after the early years, gambling, high stakes gambling, bookmaking, racketeering, women, you name it,” said Lynch.
The club’s decline in the late ’70s ushered in bawdy behavior among adults. Weekends were reserved for couples nights – a place for swingers.
All that is in the past now. Lynch bought The Schvitz in March of 2017—and he told me as many women as men now visit the club—for steam--and the women-only days—which includes the popular Sunday brunch--and women-only hours on Tuesdays.
“Women have been able to participate and develop their own culture within the Schvitz of getting self-care services and meeting up with their friends and meeting new people,” said Torya Schoeniger, The Schvitz head of Women’s Programs.
“So, it’s not that hard of a sell because once you take heat, once you go down in the sauna, it’s kind of life-changing,” said Schoeniger.
Something else women previously missed out on, James Collier’s steak dinners.
“You can’t go wrong with salt, pepper, and a little garlic,” said Chef James Collier as he prepares dinner. “Keep it simple, keep it safe.”
Starting this week, The Schvitz will open to the public on Fridays, for men and women, with swimsuits mandatory in the steam room and dry sauna.
“James is going to be putting out his famous steak dinners, which his uncle established here. We had a number of women lamenting the fact that they couldn’t get the traditional steak dinner that the men get to enjoy every week, so Friday nights will be an opportunity for women to come in and have the big steak dinner, which we’re really looking forward to,” said Paddy Lynch.
This being my first visit to The Schvitz, I had to find out if the meal measures up to the accolades. And I can report--it does.
“We have sometimes over 500 visitors a week in the colder months, so I think the place feels this re-energized spirit, which is really a beautiful thing, in my opinion,” said Lynch.
The Schvitz has a schedule for men and women so it's best to give them a call for availability.