We?ve always stayed clear of Russian bathhouses, mostly for fear of being sweatily smacked with an oak broom or somehow getting wrapped up in a Mob deal.

But our muscles needed work, so we recently tried a hard-core rubdown at Red Square, the Wicker Park Russian and Turkish bathhouse that just reopened under new ownership.

We?d heard the old place was man-centric, but the revamped version caters to women with a pristine locker room and lady-friendly menu of services (think waxing, facials and nails).

Prepare for a cultural learning curve; interactions with staffers were more abrupt than we?re used to, and Eastern European men like to lounge in the restaurant upstairs wearing only their robes.

We paid a $30 fee to use the sauna and steam facilities--that?s on top of $55 for a 45-minute massage so amazingly intense, we were sore the next day--but it?s worth it if you allow relaxation time before and after a spa service.

Bring a bathing suit for the coed Russian dry sauna and the women?s Jacuzzi, and don?t get too hung up on bathhouse methodology--just follow a circulation-boosting hot-to-cold pattern from sauna to steam to icy rainfall shower.

Finish the day with a stiff vodka at the bar--it?s the Russian way, after all.

Red Square, 1914 W. Division St.; 773-227-2284 or redsquarechicago.com

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