40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#88: Tony Dapolito Recreation Center Outdoor Pool

Village street scapeLocation: Greenwich Village, Manhattan

Configuration: 6 striped 50-foot “lanes”

Fee: Free

I never expected to like the Tony Dapolito Outdoor Pool. Known for being short and crowded, the pool attracted my visit two Fridays ago solely by virtue of its participation in the city’s Early Bird lap swim program–and only after I’d exhausted the rest of the list.

I was in for a pleasant surprise: I thoroughly enjoyed my swim, the company, and the sense of a New York from yesteryear. Tucked so snugly in to a Greenwich Village block that it almost feels like a backyard pool, Dapolito is an old school treasure. Despite its location in one of New York’s most desirable neighborhoods, there’s nothing fancy or pretentious about it. What’s more, I felt like a youngster among the small crowd of chlorine addicts.

Keith Haring mural

Lap swimmers swim the short way across, each in his or her own invisible “lane,” gazing upon the 1987 Keith Haring mural at entry and when resting. I loved the colors and sense of whimsy in this large work along the western edge. As the morning progressed, the sun lit up splotches and eventually the whole thing.

Ellen, Hannah, Dapolito entrance

Ellen and I await the magical swim time.

Ellen–who swims here every morning and then hits Asser Levy at the end of the day–was my Dapolito mensch, providing encouragement and patient answers to my countless questions in the week leading up to the swim. She advised arriving well before 7:00 a.m., wearing my swim suit under clothes that can be ripped off in an instant, tucking my swim cap into my top, and nonchalantly hustling through the locker rooms and out to the desk once the doors open. I followed her instructions to a T

The rat race, as she calls it, is for a spot in one of the 6 black-line-marked “lanes,” which you can either swim on top of or in between, meaning there are about 13 of these highly desirable slots. (If this sounds like a recipe for collisions, it is.) Those not early or quick enough can swim sans black lines in the shallow end of the pool or across the diving well if there is enough demand. That’s right, this is one of the few city pools that still has diving.

We waited about 20 minutes out front before the pool opened. It was nice to catch up with Ellen and also meet the reigning champion of NYC lap swimming. My stress from the hustle dissipated a few laps in–yes, I got a spot among the black lines, with belated apologies to any regular I may have displaced–when I realized how fun it was to rack up laps at such a clip. Dapolito is a great place to work on turns and streamlining, since you have so many opportunities to push off the wall. I got down to seven strokes per length and knocked off 200 laps in what seemed like no time.

Although it’s tiny, this pool has WPA origins just like many of my favorite behemoths. Its older, indoor sibling closes for the summer season, but all visitors get to pay their respects and admire its empty beauty on the walk from the locker room.

I don’t find myself in Greenwich Village very often, but if I’m down there again at the right time I would definitely return to this charmer.

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