Imagine a Zen, dimly lit oasis where salt wafts through the air and Middle Eastern music softly bounces off the rafters—that's the general gist of Aire Ancient Bath House in downtown Manhattan. You'd never expect to find this gem of a spiritual haven in its otherwise bustling neighborhood, where sirens and car horns cut through the air like a knife, but upon googling the location before my arrival, I learned that Justin Bieber frequents these exact baths. Needless to say, a spa experience fit for Bieber was intriguing.
Upon walking into the locker room, I was handed a lush robe and some slippers that were supposed to "remain on [my] feet at all times." I hurriedly slipped on my bathing suit, grabbed my robe, exasperatedly stretched the slippers over my size-10 feet, and followed the guide out to the baths. Suffice it to say I'd never seen anything like them before in my life.
The room itself is huge—sky-high ceilings, candles burning along each pathway, a slew of various-size pools, and a giant glass sauna in the center. The guide walked myself and another bath-goer through the entire ritual that I only half-listened to as I gazed at my surroundings in complete awe. What I did pick up from her instructions was that the experience was meant to be detoxing, so by working your way up in temperature, you'll get acclimated to the hottest pool (102°F), after which you're then supposed to slip into the cold pool (61°F) and then retreat back to the hot pool. This process, she explained, helps get the blood flowing to detox your body and move nutrients throughout your bloodstream. Whatever the reasoning, I couldn't wait to dive in (but not literally—the pools are far too shallow).
I began my treatment in the sauna to open up my pores and really kick-start the detoxing experience. The room was so hot that they even had sinks in case visitors needed to cool off. I sat on the large marble slab in the center and took slow, deep breaths to try to take it all in. However, I found my mind wandering: Gotta answer that email when I get back. Oh! I need to contact that person later. Did I unplug the curling iron this morning? Gosh, I hope so. Do I have renters insurance? I'll need it if the latter's true. It was like I couldn't shut off my brain to relax for even a minute. Feeling sweaty and about as "steamed" as I could get, I decided to venture into the pools.
I took my guide's advice and progressed my way through the salty water—first was a calm lap pool at just the right temperature, and then came the Jacuzzi tub followed by the hot pool. It was incredibly relaxing and definitely not too hot for my liking; I take scorching showers and can handle boiling pasta without so much as a flinch (a superpower, I presume), so it didn't phase me too much. Making my way into the cold pool, on the other hand, was another story. Metrus, get in the water! I could hear my high school swim coach saying. I kept laughing to myself because I was that terrified of taking the plunge—something I'm sure the other bathers appreciated. Oh, did I mention there are other people bathing with you? It's quite a trip.
I finally stepped in about waist deep and almost immediately scurried over to the hot pool—ahhh. The temperature change felt so good, so much so that I actually couldn't wait to go back into the cold pool and do it again. It was weirdly exhilarating and calming at the same time, and I finally felt relaxed enough to let my mind take a break. No wonder Biebs loves coming here.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted an attendant walking toward me and feared that he would pluck me from the pools to begin the next phase of the treatment: a detoxing facial. Poor me, I know, but I wanted just a few more minutes in the pools. Oh well—Champagne problems.
I headed into the facial room, where I received the most luxurious and soothing treatment. The woman painted Tata Harper's new Purifying Mask ($65) on my face; it smelled like lemongrass and essential oils, which seemed perfectly appropriate given the Zen environment. While the mask dried on my skin, I received a scalp massage that I'd give up my firstborn to have on demand for the rest of my life. After the mask was wiped off and the final steps of the facial were done (I can't even remember what they were—I was still stuck on the scalp massage), I was told the entire treatment was complete. I'd never been so disappointed yet completely thrilled at the same time. I felt wholeheartedly cleansed and refreshed—mind, body, and soul.
Long story short: This was one of the best experiences I've ever had—truly. If ever you're in the NYC area and have a chunk of change to throw around (the treatments can run anywhere from $80 to $600), take a trip to this spa—and say hi to Bieber for me.
What's the most indulgent treatment you've ever received? We want to hear!
Opening Image: Harrogate Turkish Baths