Putting on the Shvitz

On an un-chic stretch of Pico Boulevard — somewhere you wouldn’t happen to be unless you were looking for Roscoe’s Chicken ‘N Waffles — is a Los Angeles landmark. One that has only recently opened its doors to women.

City Spa is one of only a handful of old world saunas left in America. A tradition brought over by European Jewish immigrants, “the shvitz” was and still is a place for men to schmooze, bond and sweat. Now, though, women can see what they’ve been missing.

After almost 50 years in business, City Spa began admitting women on Monday and Wednesday nights. Last month, they opened up Saturday night to women as well, and I showed up to see what this “shvitzing” is all about.

You know you’re breaking new ground when the women’s bathroom still has a urinal.

I stuff my belongings into a huge wooden locker and slip into my “toga” — a green sheet-like thing that’s a few inches too long for me. With my spa-issue blue plastic sandals, I look like I’ve defected from a low-budget Greek chorus. As unflattering as this ensemble is, I’m already dreading its removal, which will leave me wearing only my bathing suit, an ill-fitting and overly cheerful two-piece I bought at Ross for $9.

Shuffling to the sauna, I think, this ain’t Elizabeth Arden. No red doors to beauty. There are, however, special rooms for working out, chatting, game playing, and even a sleep room filled with cozy looking cots. Rich wooden furniture is everywhere. A so-called “B.S. Room” invites you to sit in its lush black chairs.