The 10th St Baths (as it’s known colloquially) first cropped up on my radar when I was living in Alphabet City. I’d walk past the sign that read “Russian & Turkish / Since 1892 / Baths / Health Club,” and imagine hirsute old men in floral shower caps, scrubbing each other’s slouched backs with pink loofahs. (Spoiler alert: this was not the case -- probably because we live in New York, not in a cartoon.) Spa Castle horror stories muddying the local bathhouse industry be damned. I decided that I had to go.
The Baths, which are open 365 days a year, are co-owned by two men who alternate weeks because they refuse to work together. One owner, David Shapiro (alongside his son, Dmitry Shapiro, the general manager), is set on bringing the bath business into the 21st century, and has introduced electronic bookkeeping, Facebook, Twitter, and Groupon and LivingSocial deals. Boris Tuperman, the other owner, is old-school and a bit of an enigma. Dmitry hesitantly describes Boris as “a character whose methods are antiquated,” yet Yelpers more readily cite him as “rude,” “arrogant,” and “mafioso.” Rumor has it that Boris and his staff have more than a few tactics on rotation for swindling customers out of money.
Since the two parties split in the late ‘80s, the only thing they seem to agree upon is keeping the details of their falling out facing away from the public. Utility and maintenance costs are shared, but profits are not. The interactions come to a head in comments laced with passive aggressive undertones. When Boris says, “My week is better because I keep the room hotter,” Dmitry shoots back in a New York Times story, saying, “that doesn’t make the place better, it just makes the place hotter.”
Far from hurting business, the rivalry has arguably fueled public interest. Regulars and those familiar with the establishment are used to hearing the terms “Boris Week” and “David Week,” and commiserate over having non-transferrable passes. Dmitry insists there is no juicy story worth going into detail about, but the mystery remains a good conversation piece.
At any rate, this was a David Week. I arrived at roughly 3pm, an hour after the men’s-only shift had opened up to coed attendance. There were a few people dining on pork stew and Polish sausage at the cafe in the upstairs reception area, and though I’d heard great things about it, I resolved that meat plates before an afternoon of swimwear and sweating were decidedly unnecessary. After checking my valuables in with the receptionist, she pointed me to the changing rooms.