40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#14: Manhattan Plaza Health Club Pool

on March 16, 2012

Manhattan Plaza pool atriumLocation: Hell’s Kitchen, New York

Configuration: 4 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: Fitness Passbook pass (otherwise $35, or $25 with coupon)

Total Fees to Date: $128.91

If I could magically find myself living next to any Manhattan pool, with complimentary lifetime membership, Manhattan Plaza Health Club is the one I would choose. It’s lovely as a pool, with good temperature control, properly adjusted chemicals, amply wide lanes, and plenty of dedicated hours for lap swimmers, but the poolside amenities, colorful clientele, and “no attitude” atmosphere are what make it really special.

Topping the list of amenities is the solarium-like setting. The pool is on the third and top floor of the health club tucked into this legendary Midtown apartment complex. Thanks to its domed glass ceiling and retractable roof, you can readily tell that you are in the heart of the metropolis. The Empire State Building is often in view, though not today due to overcast conditions, along with more nearby towers such as the two comprising Manhattan Plaza itself.

Laura and Hannah lounging

Testing out pools is a tough job, but someone has to do it.

The designers planned well, leaving plenty of room for lounge chairs, greenery, and hot tubs, making this a destination for more than just a swim. There’s a shower on deck in case you forgot to rinse off before coming up, shallow and deep nooks in the pool so that classes and stationery workouts don’t interfere with lap space, and a pair of toilets immediately down the stairs inside the locker room so you don’t have to trudge through the whole locker room to empty your bladder. These people knew what they were doing! The only detail missing is backstroke flags.

A complex of nearly 1,700 apartments, Manhattan Plaza opened in June 1977, a summer that challenged New York with an ongoing fiscal crisis, a major blackout, and a serial killer, among other problems. The neighborhood was on the rebound when I moved to town in the early 1990s, no doubt partly due to the thousands of actors and artists who call the towers home. It was here that Larry David lived across the hall from the “real Kramer,” inspiring the Seinfeld series. Andrea McArdle, who is a legend to women of my generation as the original Annie, is another well-known tenant.

I was feeling a bit grumpy and under the weather when I arrived, and just setting foot on the pool deck changed all that. The shallow-end nook was packed with people of a certain age enjoying a lively water aerobics class led by an instructor who must work in the performing arts. Her soundtrack included jazzed-up versions of hits from The Sound of Music, and her enthusiasm was highly contagious; I was sorry when the class ended and may have to schedule my next visit in order to try it for myself.

My swim buddy today was Laura, who I first met years ago but got to know better since last summer, when we both began sabbaticals from unsatisfying job situations. She and I swim in the same outdoor pool each July and August, and she went in with me on the group purchase of 2012 Fitness Passbooks so we could do some indoor pool-hopping together. Our visit here lasted a few hours today, as we rotated among pool, hot tub, and lounge chairs–perfect practice for my upcoming four-day swim meet in Reykjavik, where geothermal pools and hot tubs are said to be quite abundant. (I hope to get in more training for these conditions soon!)

Laura and I enjoyed people-watching and chatting with the lifeguard and some other swimmers. (Alas, we missed Anderson Cooper’s visit.) With the exception of two people who had a loud altercation in the lane by the wall, everyone was in good spirits and quite friendly. Both the lifeguard and a woman who swam in the same lane as me knew other swim buddies of mine, adding to my growing sense that NYC swimmers are a big, happy family. With pools like this, it’s no wonder.

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9 responses to “#14: Manhattan Plaza Health Club Pool

  1. Jo says:

    This pool sounds ace! I would live to go there when we next visit you- do you really glimpse views of the empire state and skyline as you swim?

  2. Janet says:

    So, thinking ahead to Iceland . . . any advice for those all-important hot tub to competition pool transitions?

  3. Hannah says:

    Word to Janet: Practice, practice, practice.

  4. Hannah says:

    I got turned away from MHPC today; no guests on weekends during the summer. The fab pool deck is just too crowded for non-members, or so they say. Very disappointing. Don’t they know who I am???

  5. Amy Cooper says:

    Hey, I think Sally and I were swimming the day you visited. If you ever want to visit on a weekend just let me know, I have unused guest passes that are simply going to waste. I just stumbled across your blog last weekend while I was stalking the 8 Bridges swimmers and I can’t stop reading about all of these great pools tucked into corners around the city. You should try to get into the little 15 yd pool at Columbia Medical Ctr Bard Gym, I swam there through grad school… 10strokes,flip,10strokes,flip… At least the water is cold.

    • Hannah says:

      Yes, I remember seeing you there! I thought that even member guests weren’t allowed at MHPC on summer weekends. With outdoor pool season now here, at least I have plenty of other pools to keep me busy.

  6. mlewis says:

    Shhhh! Manhattan Plaza Health Club’s pool is our secret. I’ve been swimming there since 1987. The water aerobics class that has music puts me off because it is SO LOUD. I avoid being there when they do that (Tues.-Thurs. 6pm for almost an hour).

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