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The Best City Pools in New York

Photo-Illustration: Curbed; Photos: Getty

Note: General swim at all outdoor public pools is limited to 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. daily, owing to the national lifeguard shortage.

For the Most Space

Astoria Pool, 19th St. and 23rd Dr., Queens

When Adam Ganser, executive director of the advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks, moved to the city in the ’90s, he marveled at the sheer size of the Astoria Pool — the Art Deco–style pool is 330 feet long and permits 2,178 swimmers. “I had never seen a body of water that large that wasn’t one of the Great Lakes or the ocean,” says Ganser. “It was a sea of water and of people, so beyond the scale of anything I’d experienced before in a pool.” Built under the WPA, the pool, which opened in 1936, has straight-ahead views of the RFK and Hell Gate Bridges and a handsome triple-tiered diving board (a relic from hosting three Olympics trials that’s unfortunately now off limits to swimmers). Swimming in sight of the bridges makes her feel like she’s in a bygone era, says Annie Madden, a grant-making foundation’s special assistant, who praises the “beautiful, high-ceilinged” changing rooms with old-fashioned — but quite clean — wood stalls. Astoria, says city employee and former competitive swimmer Annie Mabus, is the only public pool with a snack bar (burgers are on sale). “It’s shocking to me it’s a public space,” she says.

For Something Pontoon-Inspired

Floating Pool, Hunts Point–Barretto Point Park, the Bronx

Built on a retrofitted barge, the Floating Pool has seven lanes and spends the summer parked in the middle of the East River, just off Barretto Point Park in Hunts Point. Since it holds just under 200 swimmers, there can be a line, but according to paralegal Sabrina Rivera, a Bronx resident, it’s well worth it. “You feel like you’re walking on a plank onto a boat,” she says. The pool has comfortable built-in concrete seating — which allowed Rivera to watch her sons enjoy being in and on the water at the same time. “It feels like you’re on top of nature,” she says. “The barge ebbs and flows — not a lot, but you can feel the river.” The pool’s creator, urban planner Ann Buttenwieser, was inspired by the city’s 19th-century pontoon-style public bathhouses that floated on the East and Hudson Rivers — until the water became too polluted to bathe in directly. Buttenwieser chose to anchor it in Hunts Point, where children didn’t have any public pools to go to, so she brought one to them. “It’s a treat for the kids in that neighborhood,” says Rivera.

For Longer Laps

Chelsea Piers Fitness, 60 Chelsea Piers, Manhattan; 265 Schermerhorn St., Brooklyn

Last winter, when ocean-swimming became untenable, Allaire Conte, who competes for Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers, tried repeatedly to reserve swim lanes at her local Y, but “right as the clock turned, somehow the lanes would already be booked every time.” After polling several open-water swimmers about training during the off-season, she found that most of them were Chelsea Piers devotees. (From $200 a month.) Conte now swims at the Downtown Brooklyn location, reserving 45-minute time slots — her former gym only offered 30 — when its three available lanes open for reservations 24 hours in advance. (The Chelsea location has six lanes.) While more expensive than swimming at the Y, “there just isn’t the same kind of competition for lanes,” she says. There’s also a co-working space within the gym (a handy place to stand by if you’re wait-listed for a lane), plus a hot tub, steam room, and sauna, which Conte has found helpful for her tendinitis and swimmer’s shoulder.

For Plane Watching

TWA Hotel at JFK Airport, 1 JFK Access Rd., at Idlewild Dr., Queens

Creative director Michael Quinn discovered the rooftop pool — and bar — at JFK’s TWA Hotel when he booked his sister and her family a room there for their stay. “We had a martini with no one around,” he says, “just watching the planes take off.” You don’t need to be a hotel guest to visit the infinity pool, which overlooks one of JFK’s busiest runways, 4 Left/22 Right, where you can watch planes take off for Abu Dhabi, Mexico City, Athens, Copenhagen … There’s a sloped “beach” entry (no steps), underwater seating, a TWA mosaic on the floor, and water heated to a balmy 95 degrees year-round. A session fee (from $20) gets you access to the pool, bar, and observation deck. Furniture designer Kouros Maghsoudi advises prebooking (though walk-ins are accepted based on availability). It’s so close to the planes, he says, that “you feel like you’re swimming on the tarmac. Which is really what makes it fun.”

For Ample Lounge Chairs

Manhattan Park Pool House, 36 River Rd., Roosevelt Island

The best thing about the Manhattan Park Pool on Roosevelt Island, according to Stroller in the City founder Brianne Manz, is that “it’s big enough that it never feels overcrowded.” This is likely both because it’s a bit hard to find (it’s a tram-and-a-bus ride away for non–Roosevelt Island residents) and because management only gives out up to 40 day passes on weekends (passes for nonresidents are $55 on weekdays, $70 on weekends and holidays). The result: an unusually ready supply of lounge chairs and umbrellas. The pool, Manz says, is also just really nice — there are clear views of the city, and the deck is painted by a different local artist each year. This summer, the pool was done over by Brooklyn artist Hratch Arbach — he created an immersive “ocean wonderland,” using nearly 75 gallons of paint, that involves a series of tree-trunk-like concentric circles with bubbles streaming out from the center.

For a Neighborhood Spot

Hamilton Fish Pool, Houston and Pitt Sts., Hamilton Fish Park

One summer, project manager Alexandra Gagné made it her mission to visit all of the city’s original 11 WPA–funded public pools. Finding Hamilton Fish was a revelation: She couldn’t believe that an Olympic-size pool existed just off Houston Street on the Lower East Side. Other people seem to have the same reaction to the pool. Hamilton Fish is “very empty compared to other pools,” Madden says. “It always feels like you’ve found this little hidden oasis.” A brick Beaux-Arts building that walls off the pool from the rest of the city adds to its tucked-away feel. “It feels like a country-club pool,” says Mabus — one that made a great spot for some of her first dates with her partner. Nora Cronin, who swims for Team New York Aquatics, loves that the swimmers reflect the community: “Folks from Chinatown use the facility alongside hipsters from the East Village. It’s an amazing way to be swimming next to your neighbor and to see the whole city come together in one public recreation space.”

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