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Adults swim

Bring your ID, but leave the kids and contraband at home

Adult night at Safari Joe’s H20 is Thursday night, 7–11pm

Greg Bollinger

It’s exhausting, dodging the dragon’s breath every time you go outside. But if your quest is an unholy, full-body submersion at a midtown oasis, where every Thursday evening is an adults-only party for thirsty swimmers reliving spring break—it’s worth it.

On a Thursday evening in early July, after a $20 entry fee and a bag-search, I walked through a revolving metallic turnstyle and entered Safari Joe’s H20.1 A giant red-footed tortoise greeted me with a languorous nod.2 A pair of macaws,3 native to the rainforests of South America, acted out the early stages of a summer fling, and a green iguana eyed a tasty cricket. I felt like Herzog in the jungle—I loved this place, but against my better judgment.

I walked past all types of bodies floating down the winding lazy river. A group of bearded men in their 30s were staking out a cluster of lounge chairs near the rock-climbing wall by the first pool. Swimmers held their beers just above the surface of the water like wobbly periscopes. A couple, partially submerged in the shallow end, snuggled up like the macaws I’d seen earlier. Straws touching lips, hands touching hands. A belly with a large Punisher tattoo.

Typically, a live band plays during the adult swim, but this was karaoke night. A DJ introduced two girls who tag-teamed “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” with a perfection that suggested they’d done it a hundred times before.

At the Shark Bar (Tiki-style, of course) a plastic shark hung overhead and a gyrating slushy machine churned cotton candy-flavored booze. Another option is a red flavor, which tastes strawberry-ish. Both come in a refillable plastic green or pink cup for $10. (The Shark Bar also sells low-point beer.)

I stood in line for a drink while a blonde wearing a bikini and baseball cap sang “Pony Up” by Ginuwine. She reminded me of Ashley Benson in Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers.” I imagined her in a pink ski mask, pointing a pistol and making non-negotiable demands with a canvas bag over her shoulder.

The teenage lifeguards kept close watch from their posts near the wave pool—you never know what might go wrong in 650,000 gallons of water, even during the calm sections of its recurrent surge cycle.

Alchemists called water the “universal solvent” because the arrangement of two positive hydrogen atoms and a negative oxygen atom dissolve more substances than any other liquid. Its elemental symbolism conjures purity and wisdom. Cancers, Pisces, and Scorpios, the water signs of the Zodiac, are assumed to be intuitive, emotionally sensitive, and difficult to confine, a tendency to leak into areas or overflow. Water is perceived as a cleansing force in the Bible and in Tarot.

Cleansing this was not. Elemental, it was. The primal exhilaration of the wave pool was something I’d forgotten, something lost in the mundane encroachment of adulthood. Immersed in this aquatic concourse, I drifted between inflatable rafts and floated through manufactured swells, my feet intermittently touching the floor. When I opened my eyes beneath the surface in the deep end, my sympathetic nervous system responded with every instinct I had to get my head above the water.

On a different wavelength, I heard a woman’s gravelly, uneven rendition of “Lithium” by Nirvana: “I’m so ugly, but that’s okay, ‘cause so are you.” Her voice made me realize I was thirsty again. It was time for a refill.

1) You probably used to know this place as Big Splash, which closed in 2015 and reopened in 2016 as Safari Joe’s H20 under the auspices of Joe Estes (“Safari Joe”). Estes looks like a combination of the best parts of Steve Irwin and Fabio, and also has a very Google-able past.

2) A card near the tortoises’ home said they “have nerve endings all through their shells and can feel touches and scratches. If you can reach one, pet it!”

3) Macaws’ strong beaks are perfectly suited for cracking nuts and seeds, according to information taped on the cage. Then, below, a fair warning: “WE BITE! Please keep your hands out of the cages.”

For more from Kathryn, read about her evening at Fair Meadows Race Track.