Feels Great

New Day Spas That Can Give You a Rosy Glow and Take the Kinks Out of Your Back

By: Brooke Lea Foster

I'm on my back with my eyes closed, and it's snowing. Small flakes are flying everywhere, sliding across my cheeks and down by my ears. xxxx Only I'm not outside. I'm in Spa du Monde, getting a facial--I'm being exfoliated. Later, when I'm led to the cashier, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My cheeks are rosy.

Spa consultant Geno Stampora is not surprised. "Anyone who has that healthy glow," he says, "has it because they are letting someone else take care of their skin."

The good news is that finding a day spa has never been easier. "It used to be you had to go to Arizona, Colorado, or even West Virginia to find a good spa," says Stampora. "But now we've got a number of really classic ones in the area."

In 1998, there were 860 day spas in the United States. One year later, there were 1,600. In Washington, new spas have sprouted up in the past year and a half since we last reviewed spas ("Look Good, Feel Good," February 1999, and on www.washingtonian.com).

And two more are opening in the coming months. Elie.Elie (Tysons Corner Center; 703-893-2711), set to open August 15, hopes to cater to the tech set by providing Internet access and by tracking client progress through digitized photos. The long-anticipated Residences at the Ritz-Carlton, Washington, in the West End of DC, will have a spa--Splash, scheduled to open in late September.

One reason the industry has grown so rapidly, says Stephanie Matolyak of Spa Finder Magazine, is that the concept behind spagoing has changed. Fewer people visit a day spa just to "get beautiful." Now more often they go to feel whole and gain a sense of balance in life.

To deliver this spoonful of serenity, day spas are offering more treatments that incorporate elements of the natural world as well as ancient healing rituals. Seaweed facials and mud masks have been around for years. But ecotreatments such as hot-stone therapy, on the menu of several area spas, and the Himalayan rejuvenation treatment (steam bath, massage, exfoliation) at Georgetown's Aveda Spa, are recent additions--proof that spagoing is becoming as globalized as the economy.

It's also becoming more expensive. Basic treatments, says Matolyak, now include elements such as aromatherapy, causing prices to rise. A few years ago, the average price for an hourlong massage or facial was about $60. The prices at new spas are more in the range of $75 to $100.

Geno Stampora thinks that staff at area spas are better trained than ever, and I found that most of the aestheticians and therapists who worked on me were more than competent. The good ones tailor services to your needs, then talk you through the treatment, explaining what they're about to do.

The spa experience is a lot of what counts: It is as much about having a place to escape to as it is about feeling rejuvenated when you leave. Try to choose a spa that matches your personality--sporty, sweet, or sophisticated--because atmosphere can make or break the experience. It's also where the new-spas-on-the-block differ most.

Here's a look at some newcomers.

 

Seven New Spas, and How They Stack Up 

Spa du monde (4301 CONNECTICUT AVE., NW, Suite P1; 202-966-9000), a sophisticated girly haven in Van Ness, features treatments collected from the owner's world travels. Examples include a Middle Eastern Ayurvedic scalp treatment, beauty rituals from Africa, and a Spirit massage based on ancient Chinese practices.

From the moment I arrived, the attendants made me feel comfortable. I was greeted warmly, offered juice, and directed to one of the comfortable armchairs in the sunny lobby. A few minutes later, I was led to the locker room, a small but elegant enclave. The treatment area, with several rooms and a quiet place to eat (a spa lunch is included in some packages), is private; it's two doors back from the traffic of the hair salon.

The facial was relaxing, cost $50, and made my skin look so healthy that a passerby commented.

 

From its red-, blue-, and white-tiled locker room to its multiroom fitness center, the Capital City Club and Spa (16th and K sts., NW, in the Capital Hilton; 202-639-4300) feels more like a sports club than a day spa. The art-deco lobby, sunken below the gym, is dimly lit, as is the treatment room, which has only the light of a single candle. The white plush robe and squishy flip-flops are cozy, but I thought the temperature here--probably kept cool for gymgoers--was too low.

The spa's subdued design ensures that men will feel comfortable. The services are well priced, and springing for two treatments gets you access to the gym equipment and classes for the day.

The massages may be better suited for weekend athletes with sore hamstrings and triceps than those simply looking to relax. My 30-minute massage ($40) was soothing in the beginning, then frustrating; the attendant chatted almost the entire time. Also annoying: The next day, my neck was sore from the pummeling.

 

Minutes after arriving at the Estée Lauder Spa (Bloomingdale's, Tysons Corner Center; 703-556-4651), I'm filling out a form that asks questions such as "What do you want to get out of this treatment?" I check "relaxation."

Later, I appreciate it when Andrew Halasz, my massage therapist, takes time to look over the form and discuss what he's going to do to help me relax. He's warm, friendly, and not too chatty. He's also gliding over but not digging deep into my muscles--which are, admittedly, free of kinks after weeks of spagoing--and so his hourlong aromatherapy massage ($70) lulls me to sleep.

Outside the treatment room, the spa feels like an extension of an Estée Lauder product counter. Large portraits of model Elizabeth Hurley hang throughout, and both the waiting area and the lobby have product displays. The spa's design--white leather couches, white Formica doors, and department-store lighting--is sleek and immaculate, but not at all cozy.

 

They try to do a lot with a small space at the Nail and Body Spa (3225 Spartan Rd., Olney, 301-570-6245; 12185 Darnestown Rd., North Potomac, 301-977-6245). The Olney location is in a modest storefront in a strip mall. Everything from the pastel-color lobby to the pedicure area feels cluttered. The nail room has a dozen tables crammed into a space a little larger than a master bedroom. Steps beyond that are two tiny treatment rooms.

The Olney spa has been open a year, so slips such as a towel lying in the corner of the bathroom floor, a rip in one of the lobby chairs, a massage therapist who wears jeans, and paper-thin doors in the treatment room are not easily overlooked. There is no locker room.

The upside: I had a terrific massage ($60) from Mindy Buttermore. Buttermore really worked on my muscles, but it wasn't painful, and I wasn't sore the next day.



 

If walking up the purple-carpeted stairs at the homey Sugar House Day Spa and Salon (111 N. Alfred St., Alexandria; 703-549-9940; www.sugarhousedayspa.com) doesn't make you feel like royalty, the attendants will. All are friendly, professional, and very attentive. Unfortunately, I was late for my appointment. So my 30-minute Hydrating Essential Oil Wrap ($45)--a combination of massage, moisturizing treatment, and a final wrap in a blanket--was cut short. The wrap was relaxing, but it left me greasy, and I wasn't offered the chance to shower before putting on my clothes.

Still, the small dose I had of Sugar House was enough to make me want to go back.

Tucked into a three-story historic townhouse, the spa features such details as Oriental rugs in the massage rooms, exquisite wall designs in the locker room, and cream-color settees in the waiting area that make it feel as intimate as a friend's house. It's obvious the spa was planned with the guest in mind: Massages and facials are on the top floor, where it's quiet.

 

The lobby of the Aveda Salon and Spa (1325 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-965-1325) is great for browsing--which is good when an attendant is running late, as mine was. The walls are covered with shelves of hair, skin, and body products. But its busy storefront is a slight drawback--the hectic city street follows you right inside.

Down a narrow stairwell are four treatment rooms, painted to match four Aveda scents (Lavendou, Rainforest, Euphoric, and Madagascar). At the end of the hall is the nail area, a tiny room that looks like a closet with a table in it. I was led into Lavendou, a pretty room with light-purple walls and painted exposed brick. The 30-minute "express facial" ($45) was relaxing--until the steam machine, which had been overfilled, began to shoot hot water onto my skin.

Despite the glitch, the Aveda facial seemed more thorough than the one at Spa du Monde, with two masks, not one, and a good dose of steam. This facial also left my skin glowing and made it softer.

 

Celadon (1180 F ST., NW; 202-347-3333, www.celadonspa.com)w is not a spa where you might spend a day lounging in a terry robe, slipping from one treatment to the next--mostly because there's no area to lounge or lunch in other than the waiting area of the hair salon.

But this beautiful new downtown salon and spa, situated in the Arnold & Porter building at Metro Center, is ideal for a quick escape from the office--for a facial, a body treatment, or one of the best massages ($85) anywhere. (Ask for Susan Marshall.) It's a sophisticated, serene space, graced by gleaming mahogany cabinets, cool limestone, and splashes of restrained color, primarily celadon. The owners--one of whom, Kevin DePew, is among the city's best hairstylists--pay attention to detail. A nice touch: Treatment rooms have adjoining showers, so there's no need to traipse down a hall in a towel. Another plus: a friendly, solicitous staff that tries very hard and, from what we've seen, is very good.

For reviews of other tried-and-true spas we've visited over the years, see www. washingtonian.com