The video producer and YouTube host has a bathtub in his East Village kitchen — and he’s gleefully soaked up the unusual amenity since 1980.
That year, Steinfeld nabbed the sixth-floor walk-up for the bargain price of $190/month. His tub was an oasis in a neighborhood that still felt “like a war zone,” he said. Perched on four feet, it doubles as a laundry basin and can easily be converted to extra counter space when Steinfeld places a cover on top.
At first, Steinfeld shared the three-room flat to reduce costs while he worked as a photographer — he washed in the morning and his roommate in the evening. For privacy, neither man cooked while the other soaked.
“We were roommates in college, so the bathing thing wasn’t a big deal,” Steinfeld, who is now in his 60s, recalled. “He was only there for a year.”
Now Steinfeld lives alone and says his rent “hasn’t gone up that much.” He enjoys what he calls “bathtub yoga.” “I like to really stretch out,” he said.
A number of old New York City apartments have the same quirky setup, thanks to legislation in the early 20th century that mandated all residences have a sink and bathtub for sanitary reasons. Units that haven’t been renovated since the early 1900s — or were redone without relocating pipes or plumbing — may still have a tub or shower in the kitchen.
When these bizarre-looking homes come on the market, they make a splash. In June, a studio in Williamsburg with a tub and shower in the kitchen listed for $1,650 a month, garnering a storm of comments and likes on Twitter. “Luxuries or weird? Kitchen or bathroom vibes? You decide,” read the apartment description for a unit at 114 Walton St. “Weird, but good-priced if you don’t care (or do care and wanna be a weirdo).”
An L-shaped pad on a third-floor walk-up at 164 Mott St. in Chinatown currently sports a $1,500/month price tag. “THERE IS A BATHTUB IN THE KITCHEN,” the owners write in the listing (in case there was any confusion).
The kitchen bathtub is at least ubiquitous enough to infiltrate pop culture. The 1988 cult classic “Married to the Mob,” in which Michelle Pfeiffer plays the wife of a murdered mafioso who flees the suburbs for the city, was shot in a kitchen bathtub unit at 71 Clinton St. on the Lower East Side. (The apartments, now hawked for about $2,500 a month, have since been renovated to separate the kitchens and bathrooms.)
The rare vestiges are clustered in areas with tenement-style buildings, such as the East Village and Lower East Side, according to Jason Eisner, an educator manager at the Tenement Museum.
Conditions in those buildings at the turn of the last century were dire — lacking lights, running water and ventilation. At 97 Orchard St., for example, a former tenement now part of the museum had four toilets and one single faucet in the rear yard that were shared by an entire building.
“People were doing their laundry in the backyard,” said Eisner. “They were getting the water that they need and schlepping it up the stairs [for cleaning dishes, laundry and themselves], in the dark.”
The unhygienic conditions spurred the passage of the New York Tenement House Act of 1901, which regulated things like access to air, light, water and indoor plumbing. After being disputed by landlords, the reforms became mandatory in 1905. With it came gas lights, one toilet on the floor for every two families, a sink in every kitchen and a tub.
“But where are you gonna put a tub? Those apartments are small,” Eisner said. “The only place to really put a tub would be what [was expanded to become] a larger room, as a result of having to put the sink in.” That room was the kitchen.
The kitchen tubs became a soapstone symbol of reform, and those that remain are illustrative. “It was standardizing the basic minimum standard of life in New York City,” said Eisner. “The tub in the kitchen is a reminder that we live in a city that has a living history.”
In the modern era, though, kitchen baths evolved to serve a more superfluous purpose: as the centerpieces for memorable parties. In the ’90s, for example, Noah Fecks hosted soirees from his Ludlow Street specimen.
“I used to have parties where I would have a bubble bath, drink Champagne, have a bunch of people over and be in the tub the whole night,” the 45-year-old photographer, author and TV host told The Post.
And long before televisions in bathrooms were de rigueur in posh hotel rooms, Fecks jerry-rigged a comparable arrangement.
“I had one of those cross-trays where I could eat in the bathtub and had the television set pointed to where I could sit in the bathtub and watch,” he said. “For 1998, that was pretty decadent. I could watch ‘One Life to Live’ while eating granola.”
‘But where are you gonna put a tub? Those apartments are small.’
Another Lower East Side resident, Adam Aleksander, used his kitchen tub to entertain dates. (It fit two.) The events producer also pumped up dinner parties by transforming it into a prep table with a custom-made cover or turning it into an oversized ice bucket to chill beer or lobsters.
Aleksander, 37, moved into his tenement apartment in 2006. But in 2013, the building was bought and renovated. And despite being promised his apartment wouldn’t be touched, the place was gutted. “They broke the bathtub into a million pieces,” he lamented. The new floor plans featured showers.
A judge nixed Aleksander’s dreams of getting the bathtub reinstalled in the kitchen, but was sympathetic in his ruling, saying, “Sometimes you just want a bath!” As a consolation, Aleksander could choose a drop-in tub for the bathroom.
The luxurious porcelain model does the trick, but the renovation is not without hiccups. When running a bath, Aleksander sometimes runs out of hot water and is forced to heat more on the stove in giant pots. It would be so much easier, he said, if the bathtub were still in the kitchen.