Cruising down West Colfax Avenue in Denver, it’s easy to speed past an inconspicuous red-brick building with a vintage neon sign marking the spot as “Lake Steam Baths Sauna.”
But the Russian and Turkish bathhouse, operating since 1927, caters to a bevy of regular clients and curious newcomers. With remodeling plans underway, the new owners of the clothing-optional spa hope to attract even more patrons.
Owner Tyler Weston described himself as a longtime patron before purchasing the spa at 3540 W. Colfax Ave. for $2 million last October with co-owner Scott Kilkenny. The property — still open to the public — is undergoing a moderate remodeling to clean it up and fix dilapidated structures, Weston said.
Jenn McDuffie, Weston’s sister, manages Lake Steam Baths. Aestheticians, acupuncturists, barbers and other service providers could be part of a possible expansion to make the spa “a one-stop shop,” she said.
In the coming years, even more could be in store for the site. McDuffie outlined one option: redeveloping the building, with the bathhouse rebuilt at the bottom and a hotel on top. The spa would be split into male and female wings, so all patrons can access it seven days a week, she said.
But “there’s a lot of stuff that has to happen” before that decision is made, McDuffie said, adding that they’re in the process of designing plans. As for the bathhouse’s future, “we have no intentions of it going away.”
The modernized front entry, complete with new furniture and artwork, is evidence of the current renovations. A few signs hang around the facility with a request: “Pardon our remodel mess! Good things come to those who wait!”
The owners plan to keep all of the employees, Weston said.
Last year, their business acquisition made waves in the community because the buyer was listed as Boom Car Wash LLC. That LLC was “leftover from another deal” that didn’t pan out, but “it has nothing to do with becoming a car wash ever. That’s not in the cards at all,” Weston said.
Keeping Lake Steam Baths in operation means continuing a legacy that spans almost a century. Harry and Ethyl Hyman first opened the West Colfax spa to serve Russian and Jewish immigrants. At one point, patrons could use an on-site mikveh, or Jewish ritual bath.
The spa remained in the same family for decades, with Amy Hyman taking the reins in 2015. Mandated closures and capacity limits during the coronavirus pandemic put the business under pressure, forcing her to eventually sell.
Women relax in the cooler of the three heated rooms at the Lake Steam Baths in Denver on Jan. 16, 2023. Mondays and Thursdays are for women only, and Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and Friday are for men only. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Patrons soak in the whirlpool and relax in the steam room at the Lake Steam Baths in Denver on Jan. 16, 2023. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Massage therapist Charlotte Murphy, right, gives a customer a relaxing epsom salt exfoliating scrub at the Lake Steam Baths in Denver on Jan. 16, 2023. A day pass is $27 which is all inclusive. Massages are $45 for 60 minutes and $65 for 80 minutes. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
After warming up in the dry sauna, Melanie McGuire pours a bucket of cold water over herself to cool off inside the dry sauna at the Lake Steam Baths in Denver on Jan. 16, 2023. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
The entrance to the Eucalyptus steam room at the Lake Steam Baths in Denver is pictured on Jan. 16, 2023. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Lake Steam Baths survived COVID-19, and is experiencing a resurgence today. Weston notes “a lot of new faces coming in.”
The bathhouse, which permits swimsuits and full nudity, offers men’s days — Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday — and women’s days on Monday and Thursday. For an entry fee of $27, clients can access the steam room, sauna, whirlpool and showers.
Additional services include massages, reflexology and body scrubs. The business may offer the best deal in the Mile High City for a 50-minute massage at $40.
Americans may balk at the concept of nude bathhouses, but they’re mainstays in countries like Germany, Korea, Hungary, Japan and Finland. Turkish baths, or “hammams,” historically served as social and ritualistic spaces, and are still prevalent today. Popularized in Russia by the 900s, bathhouses, or “banyas,” were frequented by all social classes for both cleanliness and spirituality.
Nudity in these settings isn’t sexualized, according to the Lonely Planet travel guides, which writes about German bathhouse culture in particular. And Lake Steam Baths operates in the same fashion. The bulk of clientele strip down to their birthday suits, along with the body scrubbers. But the front desk employees and masseuses remain clothed.
Other Colorado businesses that are clothing-optional include Aurora’s Havana Health Spa, Idaho Springs’ Indian Hot Springs and Littleton’s Mountain Air Ranch, a family nudist resort.
For many clients, Lake Steam Baths offers more than relaxation, serving as a space for body positivity and community. On Thursday morning, women of varying ages, ethnicities, shapes and sizes made their rotations through the spa, conversing with friends, relatives and more.
Charlotte Murphy from Golden works as a scrubber at the facility. After the births of her children, she suffered from postpartum depression. “This was a sanctuary,” she said. “They take care of everyone in here.”
The Lake Steam Baths team abides by a “zero tolerance” policy for misconduct, Murphy added.
There’s “no one type of person who comes here,” said Emily Spence, who resides in Denver. She admitted to nerves on her first visit, but now enjoys the opportunity to unwind.
She chatted at her locker with Erika Esau, who’s frequented Lake Steam Baths for about five years. Esau affectionately referred to the business as “so old-school.”
Visits to the bathhouse are part of Su Cronk’s winter ritual to hydrate her body. The self-described “old hippie,” who moved to Denver in 1977, said the spa also helps her on her journey to quit smoking.
“[I] just like getting naked and being in a safe place,” Cronk said.
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