If Red Sanduny is Toronto’s sauna-equivalent of Las Vegas, Banya Tea House is the Mississauga equivalent of a quaint hometown cul-de-sac.

If these two sauna’s declared open-war against each other I’m not sure which place would be left standing – Sanduney with it’s age, flash and international pedigree? Or Banya with it’s hearty, friendly, stand-by-me like atmosphere?

Banya is a wonderful little gem-of-a-find, tucked in what seems like a back-commercial alley about 100 meters inside Mississauga on Dundas Street west of Toronto.

It’s non-descript entrance hides a tucked away space crammed with sauna goodness, wall-to-wall.

Obviously gerrymandered into the space, Banya holds a small change room and 3 rock’in kick ass saunas/steam rooms.  The lounge area outside of the saunas feels like you’re in the middle of a TV studio set with fake walls and an outdoor patio set that sits in front of concrete walls.

The small space leads to relative sauna ease.  While Sanduny is an epic palace of facilities, Banya is like your parents cabin in the woods…of saunas.

Leading out from the change rooms (that have funky electronic-bracelet lockers for some reason) you’ve got showers on the left and saunas on the right.  Dead-set ahead you’ve got a old fashioned Finnish sauna with wood so fresh that sap is melting out of the side panels.  It’s nice, sweet, smells nice and is good and hot.  To the right of that you have the ‘turkish hammam’.

OK, Toronto Sauna is not sure what’s Turkish about it. But it’s nice.  The ambiance of a gay bathhouse and tiles galore, with deep steam.  The sink in the steam is a real treat to cool down and clean up in sweet, steaminess.

The feather in the cap of Banya though is the brick-fired sauna.  Piping hotness!  Unbelievably hot!  When you throw water on it, you’re risking second degree burns!  And the homey nature of Banya really shines here.  The sauna has an area to set up for a kick ass massage and Banya ensures that you can get it done!  Broom-whisks, eucalyptus and Russian birch branches are available to get the blood flowing from repeated whippings and beatings on your back.

Outside of the sauna are a couple of kickin cool downs – a ice-cold cool pool and a bucket dump of water.

After a few couple rounds, head to the living room or kitchen…cause there’s actually a living room and kitchen.

The living room feels like grandpa’s rec room – lots of couches, tables and ottomans centered around Russian comedy shows.  The kitchen is filled with booze, tea and a host of sausage and meat dishes.  Vegetarians can usually get something rustled up from the chef.

And the chef, receptionist and owner are all the same folks.  Cause Banya really is a homey and nice place.  They cook your food on a stove (that looks like it could be in your kitchen), serve you homemade Kvass (a real treat) and even get in the sauna with you to give advice and give you a free whisking. (OK, this probably doesn’t happen that often, but it happened to us). It’s such a friendly place that you’re more than likely to strike up a nice conversation with tons of folks.

Overall, it’s so small and geared towards Russians that it’s not likely a place that gay couples could go and be cutesy, much less get it on. And like home, I’m not certain how the owners would serve transfolks, but they do have gender-neutral bathrooms.

But for those looking for a relaxing get-away, real-sauna experience and a very welcoming atmosphere – Banya is your best bet.

And it’s only $30!

Overall Rating (Out of 5): 5/5

Cleanliness: 5/5

Facilities: 5/5

Cost: $30

Coed: Yuppers

Queer or Straight: Mostly straight, but don’t expect a queer analysis

Facilities: brick-fired sauna, ‘turkish’ steam room, Finnish sauna, cool-pool, restaurant, lounge room, change room