Secrets of Spa Castle
In the middle-of-nowhere Queens, there is a strange, wonderful place called Spa Castle. It looks like a spaceship from Las Vegas decided to land in the suburbs. Venture inside to the brightly lit, colorful interior, and the feeling of displacement will only increase. People at the counter take your money ($40 to get on a weekday, $50 on a weekend) in exchange for what looks like a child’s clunky rubber Swatch with a pink face if they think you’re female, and usher you into a locker room. There you dispense first with your shoes and then your clothes, which you trade for a shapeless one-size-fits-most pink and gray uniform.
Except you don’t need the uniform at first because Step #1 at Spa Castle is to enter THE BATHS, where nature in all its beauty and diversity is on display.
“Very beautiful place. Love all the floors. Hate how every women is naked and ugly in the lockers room.” —Google reviewer Steph M.
“SEX CLUB! up to 2 years ago I always took my child and we had great time, since I deliver the second child I didn’t came, Yesterday I took my two kids, 5yrs and 2yrs, in the pool on the top floor there was a couples having sex in the pool and no body said anything and the manager didn’t care.” —Google reviewer Yuval Silk
Spa Castle gets some of the most hilarious bad reviews on the Internet. Here are some more:
“Spa Castle should be renamed Public Pool” —Consumer Affairs reviewer Ashley
“It’s obvious you all need to attend Charm School and start being nice to people.” —Consumer Affairs reviewer Lynn
“The sleeping chambers were filthy, with people laying on the vinyl chaise longues without a towel, half of said chaise longues were always broken; people were often seen “doing everything but” in there, and in the outdoor pools, drinks in hand. We’d watch whole groups commandeer a whirlpool with cocktails and french fries. Calling it a “spa” is kind of a stretch.” —Gothamist commenter ThatGirlinNewYork
The watch operates your particular lockers — a smaller one for shoes, and a larger one for clothes and valuables. While you’re inside, you can also swipe it for food, drinks, and rentals of various kinds. If you’re squeamish about walking around barefoot, one of those rentals can be for disposable slippers; another can be for a regular-sized bath towel, since the free mint-green ones are about as useful as dishcloths. Still, who cares? Abandon all hope of modesty, ye who enter here. It’s a surreal, vanity-free fantasy land, from the hot pools downstairs to the themed saunas upstairs — including jade, gold, and salt — and then of course the rooftop hot tubs. There’s also an ice sauna, 41 degrees, for when you want to cool down before heating up again.
Yes, there are children. One farted loudly in the sauna and then collapsed into giggles the last time I was there. Yes, some couples get cozy in the hot tubs, though I haven’t seen “people doing Everything But,” like in a YA novel. If the threat of either of those inevitabilities shocks you, stay home and take a shower. If you think you can hack it, though, here are some Spa Castle secrets to make your experience more enjoyable:
+ BYO bathing suit and bath towel. Not for the downstairs pools; as we’ve established, those are safe spaces in which to be a baby again, to immerse yourself in womb-temperature water without fear of being judged for your pudge. (Except by mean Internet commenters whose jealousy at your unselfconscious comfort with yourself takes the form of rancor.) No, the top floor indoor and outdoor hot tubs require bathing suits, and if you haven’t brought one, the rentals, available for $4, are hilarious black one-size-fits-most thingies that will make you wish you could just go starkers. That said, on my most recent visit when I had left behind the shoulder bag I so carefully packed, I sucked it up and paid the $4 so that I could submerge myself on a cold October night and stare at the stars, and it was 100% worth it.
+ Eat beforehand. Stop in Woodside on the way and treat yourself to some amazing Thai, or in Flushing for Chinese. There is a food court at Spa Castle but do you really want to gorge yourself on overpriced french fries during a detox? Ditto the neon beverages available in the swim-up pool bar. Drink afterwards if you want to: go pretty much anywhere in Queens with your friends and drink more cheaply, toasting how great it feels to be all fuzzy-headed, relaxed, and not totally broke.
+ Don’t take your chances with the shuttle from Manhattan. Find a car. Parking at Spa Castle is both valet and free-of-charge. It’s part of the pampering package!
+ The best times to go are Friday evening or a weekday morning. The tickets are cheaper than on the weekends and all levels feel both emptier and more regal without the masses of children running around. From June until early November, Spa Castle stays open til 2:00 AM, so you can hang out on the roof in the quiet darkness with the steam rising up around you and feel like you’re at some private ski chalet. Albeit one where some couple might be doing sex to each other in some shadowy corner.