Boris Kotlyar

Mermaid Spa founder talks about bringing the Russian banya tradition to Coney Island

This interview was conducted and recorded in Russian. Read Mark Markov's transcript and translation below.

A native of Kiev, Boris Kotlyar is one of the owners of Mermaid Spa, a Russian banya on Mermaid Avenue just outside of Sea Gate in Coney Island. In the mid-1990s, together with Ukrainian-American friends who felt the lack of an authentic Russian bathhouse in Southern Brooklyn, he set about researching how to build a banya. "We wanted to make something as close as possible to that which we remembered," he recalls, "but also to make use of the benefits of modern technology, and to unite the two in one."  Kotlyar describes the cultural traditions of the bathhouse, including the venik, a bundle made of twigs on which birch or oak leaves have begun to sprout, which is used to give a massage. 

An engineer by training, Kotlyar first immigrated to Pennyslvania in 1978, where he managed heating, cooling and ventilation systems before moving to New York and starting his own business in that field. He recounts the many changes that he has seen in Coney Island, Brighton Beach and Kiev over the past three decades.

This program is part of the Cultural Immigrant Initiative supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger.