Steam Dream: Dillons Russian Steam Bath
While its Brahmins were busy repressing themselves and making sure alcohol wasn't being consumed on the Sabbath, Greater Boston's Russian community was having a shvitz. Now, for just one green portrait of Andrew Jackson, you, too, can enter this semi-secret world of communal gender nudity for an old-fashioned Russian banya/steam bath.
Dillons owner Lisa Rizzo is petite, but makes up for it with a commanding personality. She's had to stay tough since her husband, Anthony Rizzo Jr., died in 1999, shortly after their son, Anthony III, was born, and just seven years after they bought Dillons, a squat brick building in Chelsea that gazes out at the underside of the Tobin Bridge. A sign on the building front advertises its longevity: it's been there since 1885. Ironically, Rizzo's now managing a business that she technically can't enter more than once a week. That's because Dillons is an old boys' club.
"The men get to enjoy it a little more," she says, laughing and entertaining a female reporter on a Monday evening — the one day a week such a gender intrusion would be permitted. For the rest of the week, Scottie Cone fills in as manager. Cone's "right-hand man" is 80-year-old Patsy Mattaliano who, like a lot of customers, has been coming here since Eisenhower was president. "First thing people will ask about when they come in is, 'How's Patsy?' " says Cone later. "He's the backbone of the place."
A group of North Shoremen comes in regularly, according to Cone, to practice singing in their barbershop quartet. "In the daytime, you'll get your white-collar workers, then your blue-collar workers and your politicians. They can be sitting next to each other, the best of friends, and they only know each other from Dillons."
That lack of a caste system is one of the most dominant features at Dillons. Says Cone: "You check your attitude — and your clothes — at the door."
Dillons is also one of the only Boston-area establishments that gives traditional platza (the Yiddish word for shoulders). This ancient skin treatment, at least on ladies' day, involves lying naked on a wooden bench in the sauna while a female employee hits you with a soap-filled bouquet of oak leaves. At the end, your skin is rinsed with cold water, which — depending on the chilliness factor requested — sometimes fills the lounge area out front with the sound of screaming.
Rival sauna Boston Banya, in Allston, also does platza, but because it's co-ed there's no nudity — swimsuits are mandatory.
DILLONS RUSSIAN STEAM BATH | 77 Chestnut Street, Chelsea | Men: Tuesday–Friday, 11 am to 10 pm; Saturday, 11 am–8 pm; and Sunday, 7 am–1 pm; women: Monday, 4–9 pm | 617.884.9434 | dillonsrussiansteambath.com
No-Piece Bathing Suits: Nude Beaches
In Southie, old-timers fondly recall the glory days on the men's section of the L Street Beach, where wooden slats ran all the way into the water, automatically creating more privacy for potential skinny-dippers. But spokespersons for the Curley Community Center — which was built during the Depression and the Web site of which boasts that its "salt-water showers, handball courts, and twin glass solariums were said to be the first of their kind in the world" — have a simple response to all that lore: "We do not allow naked bathing."