Sep 7, 2022 - Things to Do

The Schvitz supplies rough luxury in the North End

A view of The Schvitz from the outside at night

The Schvitz at night. Photo courtesy of The Schvitz

Welcome back to The Schvitz — the North End's old-world bathhouse where hundreds of people unwind, unplug and purify each week.

Why it matters: A Detroit institution since 1930, Schvitz's past includes mobsters and swingers parties. The clientele is now growing as more people embrace self-care.

State of play: It reopened this week after a brief summer break.

  • The banya — or steam room — is The Schvitz's heart and soul. An 800,000-BTU blast furnace heats 15,000 pounds of rock daily to release steam at temperatures pushing 200 degrees. Nearby is a pool to cool off between steam sessions.
  • The Schvitz also serves food and offers ancient heat therapies, massages and other spa-type services.

What they're saying: Most patrons come once a week for four hours or so, owner Paddy Lynch tells Axios.

  • "They steam, they eat, they drink, they steam, they smoke, they take a nap, they steam. You really unwind over the course of four or five hours," Lynch says. "This is a place where time is sort of supposed to be forgotten."

Flashback: Lynch, 38, bought the building in 2017 after discovering The Schvitz a few years earlier. A funeral director by trade, he realized the place needed repairs and saw potential for growth.

  • About 500 to 600 people now visit per week, up from about 150 when he bought it, Lynch says.
  • He strived to maintain the building's sense of history and old-school charm after taking over, but ended the swingers nights to make it more welcoming.
  • "Rough luxury" is how Lynch describes the vibe.

If you go: Most guests bring a water bottle, shower shoes and a lock for the locker room. Bathing suits are required on co-ed days.

  • Day passes are $40 and you can BYOB.
  • Renting a robe is $5, and sandals and locks can be purchased for $10.
  • Check The Schvitz's website and Instagram for hours and more info. Time is blocked off for men only, women only or co-ed visitors.
Schvitz owner Paddy Lynch
Schvitz owner Paddy Lynch. Photo: Joe Guillen/Axios

Zoom in: Here's a Q&A from our conversation with Lynch:

Axios: What was the Schvitz like before you bought it?

  • Lynch: "The Schvitz had basically been operational continuously since 1930 … There was a point in the '90s, I'm told, where the hot water wasn't even working anymore. But people still came. It was pretty well-known as a swinger, lifestyle place on the weekends for at least a couple decades. Saturday nights were the main night. And then during the week, Wednesday and Thursday especially, were the very, very traditional men-only days — Jewish guys from Birmingham and Bloomfield coming down, first-generation Russians and Ukranians from Hamtramck, Chaldean guys, sort of an old-world, eastern European-style environment. That's how I came to know the place myself."

Axios: How did you learn about it?

  • Lynch: "A good friend of mine whose dad used to come here introduced me to the place … You go down the long hallway, turn the corner into the dining room and there were like 10 or 12 old Russian and Jewish guys eating steak in their robes and drinking vodka and smoking joints and we were like, 'Oh my god, this is incredible. We'll be back next week.' It was a moment. Even though the place was kinda dingy and kinda tired, the steam was awesome, the heat is unmatched and I found it to be — at that time in my life, this is about 10 years ago — I found it to be a real sanctuary."

Axios: What was swingers night like? You said you shut it down?

  • Lynch: "There's no judgment. Whenever it comes up, I'm grateful that that community helped keep the lights on and helped keep the place going. Without them, this place may not be here today. Basically, The Schvitz got busted in the '90s 'cause it was sort of operating like a brothel once a week … I'm sure there are small portions of the population that are resentful (swingers night was shut down). But to me, it was like, this place needs human beings … and most human beings like to keep their sexual lives at home or more private. I didn't lose sleep over it. I kind of knew it had to be done."

Axios: What is the heat in the banya like?

  • Lynch: "It's above and beyond any kind of heat you would get at like a Lifetime Fitness or your normal athletic club. It's not like a little sauna with an electrical unit. It's not a fake steam room with steam being pushed out of a pipe by some machine. It's seven tons of rock. To me, that's the heart and soul of the place. Forget all the other history — swingers, gangsters, you name it — all that kind of stuff can go on anywhere. The heart and soul of this place, the reason why I think it survived is because that heat is so incredible."

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