Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside was, in first half of the 20th century, its downtown core. Now, the crumbling bricks of formerly grand hotels are all that is left to remember days past, or so I thought. Since1928, Hastings Sauna and Steam has been a Finnish-style sweating haven, on the edge of the Downtown Eastside.
When I arrived in the warm lobby, my fears about its dubious location vanished. I knew I had discovered a relic. The old wood interior and friendly reception transported me far from the rainy, pavement I had just left. During my tour I noticed: The walls are painted chipboard, the tiles are cracked from the heat, and the corners in the change rooms are a little dusty, but all the hardware is original. Everything is old, but so old that its actually back “in.” The décor reminded me of the tiny hipster-chic shops I love to browse in Vancouver’s up and coming design heaven: Main Street.
There are two sauna options: gas and electric. For men there is also the choice of public and private, but women are required to go with the private option. Gas saunas provide a really wet steam, whereas electric saunas are much drier. I chose a gas sauna, and I was given a choice of temperature. I said “Average” because I was not sure what the customary temperature was. “Average” as it turns out was scorching, but I wouldn’t have changed it a degree.
The three attached compartments that made up my private sauna space were a changing area, shower, and sauna. The sauna came equip with a rope that I could pull while I was sitting on the bench to douse the rocks in water and create steam, and a bottle of eucalyptus water to make the steam really stick to your lungs. The changing area had a cot for relaxing after my steam. I had access to the sauna and shower area for 60 minutes and the changing area for the full 90 minutes.
Thankfully, I had the foresight to pack a pair of flip-flops and a large water bottle and I was very glad I did. Though they sell water bottles, there is a water cooler, and they even provide cups in the shower room, I was still glad to have my own. Flip-flops in these situations are invaluable, and in this case especially if you need to make a trip down the long carpeted hallway to the toilet.
Hastings Sauna and Steam is not just detoxifying; it’s also an experience. You don’t have to go alone either. Take your friends and get a group room, take your team and rent out the whole place, or take your darling and shake up “date night” a bit. For between 10 and 22 dollars a person the relaxation and health benefits of the sauna are worth every penny.