Mobile saunas continue to pop up at Brooklyn bars

Bushwick’s Roberta’s Pizza the latest to host HotBox

February 7, 2019 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The well-known Roberta’s Pizza at 261 Moore St. in Bushwick will soon be the latest Brooklyn business to host HotBox Mobile Sauna, a wood-fired sauna on wheels, in its backyard.

The sauna, which will launch on Sunday, is a 144-square-foot box that fits eight to 10 people at a time, and the temperature inside reaches 180 degrees. Beers, drinks and food will be available in a heated nearby “tiki lodge.” The space will also a cold shower so that patrons will be able to cool off afterward.

“We didn’t originate the [mobile sauna] concept, but to our knowledge, HotBox is the first public mobile sauna in the city,” a spokesperson for HotBox told the Brooklyn Eagle.

Saunas are small buildings or rooms where people experience intense heat sessions. The steam and high heat cause people to perspire, which is thought to improve their general health. Although the concept is found all over the world – for example, the Eastern European Jewish shvitz – the sauna as such is native to northern Europe, especially Finland.

While there’s probably no problem with drinking lightly before or after the sauna, studies, especially those done in Finland where saunas are common, say that heavy drinking and the high heat of a sauna aren’t a good mix. A National Institutes of Health study published in 1988 says, “In Finland, the consumption of alcohol has been estimated to be a contributing factor in some 20 to 25 sauna-related deaths each year.”

The firm is owned by two Brooklyn women, Jackie Aude and Paula Wegman. They told Medium they were introduced to a mobile sauna community in Minnesota, which is a traditional Scandinavian-American stronghold.

HotBox launched in March 2018, and since then it has had several “residences” in Brooklyn, including Valentino Park in Red Hook, Nowadays on the Bushwick-Ridgewood border and North Brooklyn Farms in Williamsburg, its spokesperson told the Eagle. “HotBox’s goal is make sauna interesting and accessible to folx around the city,” the spokesperson added.

“We originally brought the sauna to the farm because we thought it was an interesting project that our community would be interested in, and it would add an interesting programming element to the late fall out on the farm,” Kenneth Monroe, chef and events coordinator for North Brooklyn Farms, said.

“HotBox Mobile Sauna is becoming popular because it’s beautifully designed, and Jackie and Paula are absolute angels who do an incredible job running it,” he added.

HotBox’s sojourn at Nowadays was covered by the Eagle in November. Justin Carter, owner and resident at the bar, said that having a backyard sauna had been a personal ambition of his, and that he often goes to Russian Turkish baths in the East Village as well as Spa Castle in Queens.

Also at Nowadays, HotBox hosted “Sweat Sanctuary” events to create a monthly “safe space” for gay women as well as trans and “non-binary folx.” Wegman told Bushwick Daily at the time: “We’re queer. We wanted to make these spaces more accessible for women, queer women, trans and non-binary people that enjoy sweat sessions. There’s not a lot of spaces where that can happen.”

Roberta’s didn’t return phone calls by press time, but in response to a question about saunas’ health benefits, the HotBox spokesperson to the Eagle, “From improving cardiovascular health and strengthening the immune system, to muscle recovery and reducing stress, the benefits of sauna are time-tested. Putting it on wheels is away to bring it to new neighborhoods around NYC and to create a safe and positive alternative self-care space for all to feel good and sweat.”

Roberta’s sauna will be open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

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