Nobody will shut up about it: summer in NYC is sooooo hot and smells like trash juice. We get it!! But what do you do to beat the heat when dunking your head in a fire hydrant isn’t enough and hypothetically all of your friends with houses in the Hamptons have “forgotten” to invite you, or don’t exist? Fret not my friend. Luckily there are resources here to keep you comfortably stuck in the five boroughs and they are the New York City Parks and Recreation Public Pools. Having started out as public baths back in the Olden Days, their modern iteration consists of 34 outdoor pools that are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC all summer long*. The guide before you serves to help navigate said 34 gifts of public space, featuring rules and reviews of the finest treasures the city has to offer.
Rules Rules Rules!!!!
So you’ve decided to seek some momentary respite from the typical summer splashes of scalding garbage. But to unlock the potential of this loose band-aid smattered oasis you will have to follow a formidable list of Rules, strictly enforced by a squad of unenthused and underpaid city employees. Most of them are middle aged women and actual heroes for putting up with the B.S. of the masses all season. And they will have no patience for any of your shit. To visit the city pool is to learn the true humbling power of bowing the fuck down to a public servant, to receive a crash course in the bureaucracy of everyday life, the powerlessness in the face of arbitrary state power -- lessons better learned sooner rather than later.
The first and most important of these rules is to bring a lock. This is non-negotiable. You must show your lock while waiting in line to enter the pools, and then immediately place all of your belongings in a locker with said lock. This introduces you to second most important rule: no phones on the pool deck. Everyone has to put 100% all of their stuff in that locker, with the sole exception of a book or towel. Now, I know what you’re thinking and I’m one step ahead of you: do magazines and newspapers count as books? The answer is certainly not -- leave your copies of the New Yorker at home, losers.
This carries over to attire. You are only allowed to wear your bathing suit out on the pool deck once you’ve disrobed in the locker rooms. If you are lucky you can maybe get away with wearing your flip flops, but don’t count on it. This means that you and the hundreds of other patrons will be totally stripped of everything, under the sun as equals, whether you like it or not. No cool over-the-swimsuit mumus to keep you company, or even a colored t-shirt as they are not allowed. The city cites dyes bleeding into the pool as the reason, but previously the ban on colored t-shirts was a response to a 1989 incident involving gang warfare. Your t-shirt privileges are thus reduced to only being allowed to wear white- a lil taste of the Hamptons at home if you will. I have yet to see anyone take advantage of this in actuality, but the rule is listed on the Parks and Recreation website. The site also lists that they “may choose to check men’s shorts for a lining if [they] can’t tell if they are wearing a bathing suit” which unfortunately is enforced all too often and honestly sometimes borders on inappropriate. I’ve seen dudes get their shit checked in line many a time, although none of us have ever really been able to figure out why. So far, the closest theory is that the city doesn’t want anyone’s balls popping out and for them to then being registered as a sex offender???? Unclear.
Nevertheless, before you and your safely tucked-in balls have even made it out to the deck (and congrats if you can successfully get out there on the first try), you are forced to rinse off in front of the security guards prior to entering the pool. This probably sounds bad to the untrained eye, but every single person just turns the shower on and sort of fake touches the water, or splashes in and out. This is what goes down in the women’s locker room at least; can’t really say what happens in the men’s, but I sure am curious. “Showering” is the last step before finally making it from the long line to the locker room to the pool. Good luck getting away with not shaking your towel out though. Once I forgot mine at home so I tried to bring a giant t-shirt as a towel and was sent right on back in. Basically you are just really forbidden from bringing in drugs or alcohol, and they’ve devised a series of obtuse methods to enforce this not unreasonable request. Why there has to be so much chastising in this process of avoiding lawsuits against the city is unclear, but just do your drugs before you get there, okay?
The other big legal thing: no photos allowed. This may be obvious, as no phones are allowed on the pool deck, but perhaps you try to snap one on your way in or out, or even have the audacity to send a text from the locker room. Super Not Allowed. You may ask, how, without sacrificing my journalistic integrity was I able to take these accompanying images, and the answer is I did get yelled at every single time. I’ve developed a Pavlovian response to the shrieks of “NO PHONES ON POOL DECK” that only makes me want to do it even more for the rest of the summer.
HOWEVER, the phrase “all summer long” is a bit misleading as it neither adheres to the Gregorian notion of summer nor the vibe of it . The pools open after city kids are let out of school for the year-June 29- a simply cruel amount of time to keep the children locked away at learning, in my opinion. Then they close after Labor Day, the first weekend in September, although they always “surprise” keep the pools open an extra week to be generous. Eight weeks is not nearly enough to fully dive in so to speak *wink* especially since most of us have pesky jobs keeping us away from swimming during all available hours. Not me, personally, which is why I have undertaken the crucial public service of visiting all of them and reporting back to the masses on just what a good dive it could be ;)
So what makes all these rules finally worth it? The answer is that Astoria Pool is sincerely a UTOPIA of public space. It’s the only place I’ve ever visited that has made me feel slightly less bad about being alive in the grinding capitalist hellscape we call life. It’s a shining example of the potential to maybe allow humans to have nice things for once, even those who are not rich. This pool is so beautiful. It’s the biggest pool in New York State and was built for the Olympics or something, some lady told me while we were in line once but I forgot. She told me she used to swim there when she was a kid and it cost ten cents, which is cool to know because now it is 100% FREE. This is what I imagine living under a Socialist rule feels like -- long lines, infinite regulations, and lawn chairs for all. Who wouldn’t love it there? I’ve come to realize that the type of people who don’t mess with public pools are the same people who don’t use the library or take the bus. No offense, but what the hell is wrong with you? What would you rather have your tax dollars spent on anyway? Drones and overtime pay for corrections officers? I didn’t think so.
Speaking of tax dollars, fuck Robert Moses forever obviously, but the magnificence of Astoria Pool was commissioned by him in Summer of ‘36, supposedly as a model for all other public pools. This was the same year that the Triborough Bridge was created, which the pool beautifully overlooks adjacent to a view of the East River. It delights me to know that this schmuck would be rolling over in his grave knowing that a dead beat like me was reveling in his contributions to civil society among women swimming in full Burqinis, black children, the elderly and the disabled, etc. Astoria Pool is so big that every single type of person is there and mostly enjoying themselves harmoniously, in spite of Old Fuckface Moses’s attempts to stave off the non-whites.
It really is massive. You walk in (after the mandatory shower and towel shake of course) and are physically overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of it. It is also the only pool I have been to that has a snack bar. Sadly you are not allowed to sit at the picnic tables if you don’t buy something from said snack bar (I did get asked to leave) but there is such an abundance of free space there’s really no need. Make sure to stick money for mozzarella sticks in your book-not-newspaper before you go, and enjoy the almost full communism.
Rating: 5/5 loose band-aids
They say fascism begins at home (do they??) and no example holds truer in my regular life than interactions with the Kosciusko Pool staff. These people LOVE rules. Every time I go, there is a rule I didn’t know existed that I have already broken, and I am quickly yelled at in public for having done so. They adhere to a set of rules so strict, there is honestly no way to predict them, so keep that in mind depending on your tolerance for (or enjoyment of) public humiliation and shaming.
For example, one day, the regime started blowing their whistles all at the same time and kicked everyone out because -- gd forbid -- children in a pool were roughhousing. Another time, my ex-boyfriend had food in his bag and they said he couldn’t even bring it inside to put in the lockers, so he ate it all outside in line and then got sick. Once, my friend got rejected for not having mesh lining in his swim trunks (thankfully evading sex offender registry). I got rejected not for not having a lock (ROOKIE MISTAKE) but rather for having the WRONG kind of LOCK. The correct kind is Master Lock FYI, but absolutely no one cares enforces this rule except the Kosciuszko Pool Sickos. These people delight in turning anyone away from the only bearable thing we’ve got, and who could blame them? We don’t deserve these pools and we don’t deserve anything. But a valuable lesson in rejection and perseverance, right? The lord giveth and the lord taketh away. Work hard play hard. Etc??????
Anyway, I don’t want to act like this is a well-researched document (it's not) but a cool tidbit I learned [via google search] is that the Kosciuszko Pool was designed by Bed-Stuy native Morris Lapidus who also designed the Fontainebleau Hotel pool in my native of Miami. This was my former stomping ground for sneaking into the lap of luxury, and I spent many afternoons of my adolescence avoiding the Fontainebleau’s security guards in the same way I dodge the NYC pools’ horny dads. Amenities included lounge chairs, a hot tub, and lime-infused ice water on tap, which sadly I cannot boast of its Bed Stuy contemporary. But, first of all, who even likes lime-infused anything? Not I. I won’t even fuck with Tostitos Hint of Lime™ because that shit is objectively nasty. Second of all, Kosciusko Pool hosts splendor in its own special way, despite the prison-like ethic that surrounds it. It pretty much looks like any other giant pool, but at the end of the day, is forever better than having no body of water to swim in. It may not be much but it’s as close to my hometown swag as I’ll get around these parts. And thus, the same wave of relief still rings through me once I’ve finally made it past the line and can pee in the pool in peace, same as I once felt in ol’ Morris Lapidus’s lap of luxury. Coincidence? Never.
Rating: 1.5/5 loose band-aids
Tony Dapolito Pool
I have to say, this pool is kind of a dud. Aside from the, uh, giant Keith Haring mural that I’m sure is beloved to many and the four foot high diving board beloved to a kid I babysit, this pool boasts all the usual amenities with a little less of the pizzazz. It’s pretty regular. I recommend it if you have the misfortune of being in the Sixth Avenue SoHo hellscape and are trying to find recreation that doesn't involve getting caught shoplifting at that Whole Foods or sobbing into the Hudson. During a childcare sesh, I would watch the kid do dives here for hours while evading the longing glances of a usual assortment of single fathers not-so-innocently fishing for a new gf. Don’t know what it is about the public pool scene but for some reason there is always a dad or two somehow asking me on a date in the deep end. While getting hit on by randos under any circumstance is always unpleasant, there is something less abrasive about this setting due to the egalitarian nature of public bath.
Perhaps it’s the notion of unity with my fellow bathers. We are all there, one people, united, forced to schvitz and sweat in a city soaked with garbage while everyone else hauls ass to Long Island so they can go swimming in a place where you ARE allowed to wear whatever color t-shirt you want. Fine. Let them have their rainbow hued Lacostes and aquatic life that doesn’t involve being hosed down by a security guard or two on occasion. I will take my iPhoneless pool deck with screaming children and overworked and slightly totalitarian municipal employees disparaging me over any alleged white people “paradise” where everyone leaves their fancy shit out on the beach because they are all so rich they don’t have to worry about theft any day. It’s called solidarity.
Anyway, these dads are always trying to step to me against the romantic backdrop of shrieking children and sexy apathetic teen lifeguards. But the beauty of this no-phone summit is that I can gracefully never take their numbers down and casually forget my invite to a BBQ at their parents house that honestly sounded kinda tight because they’ve lived on Metropolitan Ave and Bedford since they immigrated from Puerto Rico and definitely would have had sick food and all my fave reggaeton songs blasting. BUT ALAS, what happens at the pool stays at the pool…
Rating: 2/5 loose band-aids
John Jay Pool
This pool is primo real estate. Nestled on a dead-end street on the Upper East Side at 77th street, it has a tucked away vibe that suggests it ISN’T free and open to the public. But don’t be fooled. This cobble-stoned castle of a pool still allows the less fortunate to bathe in its waters despite the Gossip Girl affixed zip code. John Jay (also the name of the CUNY branch that is literally cop college) overlooks the water and is even surrounded by real trees and their accompanying shade: a hot commodity in this economy.
It also has its own Yelp page, perhaps in part to its swankier clientele. Excerpts feature a lot of blatantly racist complaints about employees and rules (as opposed to this very reverential document simply outlining the rules respectfully) and basic shock regarding being separated from one’s cell phone for a few hours. The horror! Imagine not being able to do exactly what you wanted every single moment of every day.
Okay also these pools are totally clean? Why do people front like they aren’t, when everyone knows the point of chlorine is to obliterate all germs equally in every pool? That’s why you’re allowed to pee in them obviously. But complaining about a public pool being dirty is just the kind of insight you might expect from someone who posts on Yelp, I suppose; the website actually labels one-star reviews as as “Eek! Methinks Not.” Um, what century is this and would any remotely chill person even use this website? Methinks not, indeed. Apparently an “Annabelle L.” in Manhattan falls into this camp; she chronicled that she to the pool with no intention to swim and wasn't allowed to bring snacks or be fully clothed on deck. I guess no one had the heart to tell Annabelle that there is a park quite visibly right outside where she could be clothed and eat snacks at ALSO with no intention to swim. A very nice park, in fact, because as mentioned, this is the goddamn Upper East Side.
While you’re in the area in fact, might as well pop on over to Gracie Mansion to tell Mayor BDB to get the NYPD to stop arresting poor people. Haha jk ;) There is another even better park up there by the mansion (go figure!!!!!) that has swaths of gorgeous flowers and a similarly nice view of the East River with tons of little community gardens. It's the perfect area to stroll around while your swimsuit dries and you sadly ponder the question of why the hell don’t other areas have parks as freaking beautiful as this one??
Rating: 4/5 loose band-aids
Stay tuned for Pool Harvester Vol II:
Red Hook Pool
Floating dock in the Bronx
Finally, a date with a dad?
Jolie M-A is from Miami, Florida, and will forever have that area code. You can reach her at (305) 968-6907.