There’s something fishy about Aquaticca: A huge, fish-filled aquarium undulates through the salon, giving clients something to look at besides themselves as they wait for their hair color to finish processing.
The gleaming blue-and-silver decor is a refreshing change from the peach tones of most spas. Aquaticca has been open since April 2004, but everything on my visit, ten months later, looked brand new.
My Signature Facial started with a skin analysis with a dermascope. It looks like an old-fashioned box camera. Like a photographer of old, I put my head under the curtains to see a magnified image of my face. Dawn, my esthetician, looked through the other side of the lens and pointed out areas of sun damage. Under the unforgiving blue light, I could see the faint outline of the sunglasses I always wear outdoors and the hyperpigmentation on my cheeks, nose, and forehead from years of sun exposure.
Dawn diagnosed dry skin with only a few oily spots near my nose. She cleansed my face with a creamy lotion. Then she used a magnifying mirror to “map” my face—looking for imperfections and any spots or moles that could be signs of trouble.
Because my skin tends to turn red, she used only minimal steam to open my pores and exfoliated with an enzyme lotion rather than a scrub. Scrubs would exacerbate the capillaries close to the surface, she explained.
After removing a few blackheads, Dawn spent a long time massaging my face, neck, and shoulders with a soothing lotion that smelled like lavender. The massage went on so long that I thought it would take the place of a mask. But as soon as the lotion was smoothed away by hot towels, Dawn painted my face with a vitamin-enriched mask. While it worked, she massaged my arms.
The mask was whisked away with more hot towels, and eye cream, lip cream, and moisturizer were patted onto my face and neck. The entire process took almost two hours.
At the end, Dawn gave me a copy of my face map and samples of the Dermalogica products she used. My skin looked plump and glowed with good health. At $95, the signature facial was a bargain.
A day before my appointment, the salon owner had called to say that as a first-timer I was entitled to a complimentary deep conditioning and that because I probably didn’t want to go back to work with greasy spa hair, I’d get a shampoo and blow dry. I didn’t have time for the conditioning, but I did get my hair washed and blown dry.
When I received my bill, I discovered that only the conditioning was complimentary. I was charged for the other hair services. I was given a discount on the facial because I was a new client and coupons for future services, so it all evened out. But it pays to ask in advance.
Bottom line: The setting is beautiful, and the signature facial is a great deal, but ask before you accept other services.
Aquaticca Salon & Day Spa, 4720 Hampden La., Bethesda; 301-652-0550; www.aquaticcasalon.com. Parking for Aquaticca is in the Monument and Colonial garages next door. The spa pays for the first hour.
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Aveda spas are not for the faint of nostril. Perfume, or as Aveda calls it, Purefume, permeates the air of every Aveda salon I’ve set foot in. Not surprising, because aromatherapy is the cornerstone of Aveda treatments.
If you don’t have allergies or an ultrasensitive nose, the citrus and floral notes set a relaxing mood, just what you want in a spa. Aveda Bethesda is a brightly lit storefront with shelves of products packaged in Aveda’s trademark earth tones and an open second-floor “loft” housing the hair salon.
Tucked in the rear of the main level is the spa: a postage-stamp-size manicure-pedicure area plus three treatment rooms.
I was there for a Tourmaline facial—80 minutes of ultra exfoliation for $95. So it was a real lift to start with a foot soak. As my feet luxuriated in water spiked with bath salts and glass stones, the therapist waved vials of scented oil under my nose for a yea or nay. Turned out I was in a frankincense mood that day (it was the Christmas season), and my sensitive skin and psyche were crying out for a woodsy scent.
Lights low, New Agey rock playing, I lay on the well-padded table and the facial began. Margie had a lovely touch, slathering cream on my hands and slipping them into terry mitts (a heavenly hand and arm massage would come later), applying unguents and a cool fruit-acid mask with the scents I’d chosen, and giving me an honest-to-goodness head, neck, and shoulder rub. There were no extractions, no pain, just soothing sensations.
I was meeting my husband for dinner afterward, so Margie and I had agreed: no oil in the hair. Years back, I’d emerged from another Aveda spa looking like a greased watermelon. This time, when I left, I felt as ready for the runway as I’ll ever be, cheeks rosy, eyes bright, skin flawless and as soft as my baby daughter’s.
Bottom line: I’d go back in a minute for that great facial and the extras that came with it.
Aveda Bethesda, 4807 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda; 301-652-1610, www.aveda-bethesda.com.
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Cahra is more salon than day spa. You walk through the lobby, filled with hair products for sale, past the hair stations, and upstairs to a tiny waiting area and three treatment rooms. You don’t get a robe or slippers. You leave your clothes on a chair in your room. There aren’t any female massage therapists.
None of this mattered. Steve, an auto mechanic for 22 years before deciding three years ago he’d rather work with people, gave me the best massage I’ve ever had.
A few minutes into my $75 one-hour Swedish massage, Steve asked if he could cover my eyes, which he’d noticed I wasn’t closing. I was so tense about having a male therapist that the dim lights and soft music of Pachelbel’s Canon weren’t helping. “It makes the world go away,” Steve said as he placed a cloth on my face. The darkness did the trick.
“I won’t see a thing,” he said early on. Steve draped the sheet over me like a tent when I switched sides. I wasn’t paying for a deep-tissue treatment ($85), but I asked him what one was like. He felt cricks in my upper back and said he’d do deep tissue until I wanted him to stop. I didn’t. He rubbed the pressure points on my palms and temples, did soothing stretches throughout, and finished with a gentle back scratch. Steve went an extra ten minutes, and we chatted afterward about exercises.
When I’d called Cahra to make my appointment, the desk attendant told me that Steve has a great reputation. It’s easy to see why.
Bottom line: The facilities aren’t as nice as some local day spas—there’s talk of expanding in the near future—but who needs fancy facilities when the treatment is this good.
Cahra Salon and Spa, 5 Grand Corner Ave., Gaithersburg; 301-921-6655; www.cahrasalon.com.
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I arrived at Elaj Aveda expecting to fill out the usual new-client forms in a bright anteroom while people bustled past. Instead I was ushered back to a small locker area to change, then to a dim, soothing room where a copper basin waited. It was lovely to write while sipping tea and soaking my worn feet in heated water, if only briefly.
David Green, a ponytailed masseuse, asked about health issues before having me lie on the warm, surprisingly comfy table. With a confident touch, he found all my painful knots and worked to smooth them out. Lotion was fragrant but not overly so, moisturizing but not greasy. I’d asked for “a basic” and gotten Elemental Nature Therapeutic Massage, billed as customized; “a variety of massage techniques will be utilized.” Deep-tissue massage is $10 more per area, hot-stone work $15 per area; Green did use a hot stone on a particularly stubborn knot, but I was charged the stated $90 for a full, relaxing 60 minutes.Prices here are higher than you might find elsewhere, but so is quality. I’d like to be a regular.
Bottom line: The services are excellent, but the extras make this place outstanding.
Elaj Aveda Day Spa, King Farm Village Center, 801 Pleasant Dr., Suite 110, Rockville; 301-977-1514; www.elajavedadayspa.com.
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When the Red Door opened its newest salon, in Bethesda’s Wildwood Shopping Center, the ladies’ dressing room was so crowded that half a dozen naked women were practically touching as we got ready for our treatments. On a subsequent visit, things had calmed down. But even on that early visit, calm ensued when I put on the Robe.
Arden’s spa robe is made of luxurious brushed cotton, backed with fine terrycloth. It is so nice, I was tempted to buy one, even at $160. Alas, no one (husband, are you listening?) took the hint at Christmas.
This is not your grandmother’s Elizabeth Arden. The friendly, professional staff works in a stylish oasis of dark wood, brushed steel, and hot red accents. My massage therapists have been talented and caring. The posh waiting area, with its red feather wreath, may make you feel like Catherine Zeta-Jones, featured in all her glory in Arden’s current ad campaign.
Bottom line: Red Door at Wildwood is a beautiful addition to the area’s day spas.
Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon & Spa, 10213 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda; 240-644-1319; www.reddoorsalons.com. Also at 5225 Wisconsin Ave., NW, 202-362-9890; 1101 S. Joyce St. (Pentagon Row), Arlington, 703-373-5888; Spectrum Center, Reston, 703-467-8488; and 8075 Leesburg Pike (Fairfax Square), Vienna, 703-448-8388. Opening soon in the new Fairfax Corner Shopping Center.
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The Friendship Heights branch of Parisian spa franchise Jacques Dessange doesn’t win any points for style. The waiting area has the feel of an old doctor’s office—a lone coffeemaker surrounded by Styrofoam cups, an uncomfortable couch, and dingy gray painted walls. Luckily, there’s Miti, the receptionist, to warm up the place. She’s friendly and welcoming and takes me on a tour before my facial appointment.
I settle onto the couch with an outdated copy of Jacques Dessange’s in-house magazine (in French), the only reading material in the waiting room. Fifteen minutes after my appointment was supposed to start, I’m still waiting. Miti apologizes, but I still wait another 15 minutes for my facial to begin.
My aesthetician doesn’t apologize, just hands me a towel. Her treatment room is the size of a closet, with a chair for nail treatments and a reclining chair for skin care. The messy remnants of another client’s waxing job litter her cluttered counter. The room is not soundproof, either—one hears people walking overhead, chatting in the next room, and using the intercom.
There is only one type of facial at Dessange—the 75-minute Sothys facial ($90). The treatment starts off normally enough. The aesthetician steams my face and does a series of soothing massages with masks and cleansers. She’s silent throughout the process, and I’m relaxed. Without warning, she begins pinching extractions. I’m used to extractions that hurt, but I soon feel a sharper pain and wince. She is using the tip of a syringe to clean out my pores, and then uses a lancet for others.
She follows that by going over my face with a glass wand filled with ultraviolet current, which crackles and buzzes like a bug zapper. It’s supposed to kill the bacteria on the skin.
When it’s over, my skin looks blotchy and red, and purple in the spots where she used the needle. A day later, the needled pores were still dark pink, sore, and starting to scab.
Bottom line: Both my skin and my wallet hurt.
Jacques Dessange, 5410 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase; 301-913-9373; www.dessange.com.
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Step inside Jolie, and you may find makeup artists, hairstylists, and clients bustling about the white lobby. The receptionists are brisk and efficient, even if you show up 15 minutes early, as I did—they whisked me into a cushy, roomy robe and escorted me to the “relaxation room.”
I took a seat at one of the glass-topped tables—wishing for an upholstered couch instead of an iron chair—and helped myself to some lemon water and a hard candy. Too bad there were no magazines, but it was too dark to read anyway.
I had opted for the $80 Body Bronzing treatment. My technician, Megan, first gave an invigorating massage with honey-salt scrubbing solution, then applied mild self-tanner all over, preserving my modesty with discreetly placed towels. Megan was extremely friendly—maybe a bit too much; I felt compelled to make conversation when I just wanted to be quiet. At least she was sheepish about plugging the self-tanner and moisturizer. Afterward, I was free to relax in the treatment room or back in the too-dark relaxing area.
Jolie has an air of professionalism mixed with comfort: Lights are low; the decor is Pottery Barn—tasteful, with lots of sage green and taupe, tasseled pillows, and brass mirrors; and the Murad products convey dermatologic validity. Sadly, after Megan’s friendliness, I found the checkout desk a little brusque.
Bottom line: If only they’d give you good reading light, a junky magazine, and a warmer goodbye, it’d be perfect.
Jolie the Day Spa, 7200 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 301-986-9293; www.joliethedayspa.com.
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The “spa” at Mosaic is really two treatment rooms off the airy salon, but burgundy accents, swaths of shimmery gold fabric, and world music give the place a bit of relaxed drama. There’s coffee, tea, and hot chocolate in the tiny waiting area and a computer monitor to catch up on e-mail (free wi-fi, too, if you’re toting your own laptop). Another nice perk: Mosaic gives points for every dollar spent, which can be used to “buy” other treatments once you have enough.
Flickering candles in the treatment room set the right mood for my 20-minute Tech Neck rubdown ($35). The spa offers other quickie massages as well as lengthier ones plus facials and body treatments. And though I need to remove clothes only to the waist for this massage, I decide that wearing my snuggest jeans while trying to relax is a dumb idea.
Marie, the massage therapist, uses oil of black pepper to warm muscles before shifting to a variety of techniques—kneading, pressure points, chopping motions—to work out kinks. There’s enough going on to keep things interesting, and her hands are wonderfully powerful. Though the treatment is billed as a neck-and-shoulder massage, this former nurse covers a lot of ground, spending time on oft-neglected areas such as the spot where spine and skull meet (lots of little muscles there, she says) and going as far down as the hips. Marie dims the lights when she’s done, gives me a few minutes to relax alone, and then returns to help me sit up and sip water. It’s a nice way to ease back to reality.
Bottom Line: A quickie massage is perfect for a recharge.
Mosaic Total Body Salon, 8001 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 301-986-9151, mosaic-bethesda.com. Open Tuesday through Friday 10 to 7, Saturday 9 to 5.
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Natural Body Spa & Shoppe touts a large male clientele, which is why I went. I briefly spied another man when I arrived on a weekday afternoon; otherwise it was all women. By the time I left around six, several men were waiting. Presumably most come after work.
Natural Body is a franchise; the Potomac branch is the first one in this area. (An Arlington location is slated to open in late March.) You enter through the store, wall-to-wall with body-care products—the company specializes in natural treatments.
The spa in back looked like an office suite outfitted in a day by Anthropologie. I was scheduled for a “gentleman’s facial” and deep-tissue massage. The facialist told me to take my “top” off and left.
Should I remove my shirt and leave my T-shirt or strip down to my waist? Was I supposed to get under the sheets and blanket of the massage table?
I removed my shoes and shirt, kept the T-shirt, and stood waiting, annoyed that I wasn’t given specific instructions. On the facialist’s return, she nervously corrected me that I was to take the T-shirt off. Now I was annoyed and embarrassed.
The facial ($75) was wonderful, though—soothing, fragrant, and imparting a ruddy glow.
As I sat in the small waiting area with a female client before my massage, wearing a robe over my pants and socks, two men struggled awkwardly to move a massage table past where I was sitting. Add “self-conscious” to my list of feelings.
This was my first deep-tissue massage ($80 for an hour), a more rigorous form than Swedish. I’m not used to wincing during a massage, but the release after each intense kneading was worth the pain.
Bottom line: Some kinks in the system, but no kinks left in me.
Natural Body Spa & Shoppe, 1081 Seven Locks Rd., Potomac; 301-610-5004; www.naturalbody.com. Also: 4100 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 703-243-4015; 1104 24th St., NW, 202-775-2070; 43670 Greenway Corporate Dr., Ashburn, 703-726-9935.
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O’Hair Salon & Spa is airy and spare, with stone floors and sunlight streaming through the windows. Upstairs is a busy hair salon; downstairs is the spa, with a small changing room, a charming cafe table, a buffet with tea and water, and treatment rooms, including one where you can “spa” with a friend.
After donning an elasticized velvety white towel, crisp seersucker robe, and plastic slides, I headed to one of the facial rooms for my 90-minute Plaisir de Sens ($125), billed as a facial with stone massage.
Stones, pebbles, and gemstones are used in creative ways: tucked between toes and fingers, under muscles of the back, down the center of the stomach, and to massage temples, shoulders, neck, and back. At the same time, fragrant exfoliants, masks, and moisturizers are applied to the face, making for a transporting experience.
I’m not a fan of stone massages, which have always left me feeling: “Is that all?” This was an exception. In addition to the stones and pebbles, Mon was also doing marvelous things with her hands—Swedish massage strokes as well as more intense shiastu. I was so relaxed that even the click-clacking of heels on that stone floor upstairs didn’t faze me.
Best of all was the placard at the front desk declaring the spa as a “nontipping” environment, which means therapists don’t accept or expect tips.
To gild the lily, a few days after the treatment, there was a follow-up call to make sure I was pleased with my visit.
Bottom line: An attractive, user-friendly spa where you can get a wonderful facial-massage combo.
O’Hair Salon & Spa, 424 Main St., Gaithersburg; 301-977-0800. www.ohairsalon.com.
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I arrived on a quiet Monday afternoon at Perez Salon and Day Spa, in Rockville, for my $75 European Revitalizing Facial and was escorted to the back of the hair salon, through a door, and into a dark, narrow corridor. I could barely make out a couch and one chair. My aesthetician was there to meet me. She led me into a tiny room, handed me a terry wrap-around and told me to take off my top and bra. I pointed out a brown stain on the white blanket covering the treatment table.
“Don’t worry. It’s been washed, but that stain didn’t come out,” she said. After that, I didn’t mention a similar stain on the green towel underneath. I was happy to keep my slacks and socks on.
My aesthetician was all business. She didn’t talk, and there was no music. I had plenty of opportunity to study the stained ceiling tiles and wonder when this place last had a facelift.
My face was cleansed, and then she turned on a steam jet full-blast while she massaged my face, neck, and shoulders.
“That’s really hot,” I complained.
“You need it, your pores are really tight,” she replied. “I won’t torture you for much longer.”
After a few bad moments of extractions, she applied a soothing mask and left me for 15 minutes.
My skin looked smooth, pink, and plump when I left. But the experience was not comforting.
When I asked at the desk if I could put the tip on my credit card, the disinterested receptionist said “no” but pointed out an ATM machine. At this point, the aesthetician was sitting at the desk next to her. I filled my little tip envelope and left as quickly as I could.
Bottom line: After the stained blanket, it went downhill.
Perez Salon and Day Spa, 1677 Rockville Pike, Rockville; 301-881-5052; www.perezsalon.com.
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One of the stylists had stomach pains, and her pals were cooing sympathetically and offering remedies. The scene reminded me of a similar one in a beauty parlor my mom used to drag me to when I was a child.
Progressions may have all the trappings of a modern salon—a nifty boutique with beauty products, jewelry, and gifts; tea, coffee, and cookies for the taking; and gleaming wood floors and faux leopard accents. But in some ways, it’s a throwback. There’s a girly feel that makes it comfortable for young and old.
You can’t get a massage here. Just facials, body treatments, manicures, pedicures, waxing, and, of course, everything to do with hair. Spa treatments in this bustling place are done in three small treatment rooms in the back.
My Spa Pedicure ($60) was in a cramped alcove with not much going for it in the way of visuals. With a stash of boxes, it seemed like a storage area. But once the pedicurist, Trin, flipped on the massager on the thronelike chair and started working on my feet, that was forgotten—a stack of magazines helped, too. The pedicure included a pleasant mini foot rub, and the polish remained in mint condition for several weeks.
Back at the manicure station in the middle of the salon, Trin—who has since shifted from doing manicures to hair—turned her attention to my hands (manicure, $20). Again, the massage was nice. Wearwise, the fingers didn’t do as well as the toes: The polish had chipped by the next day.
Bottom line: A fine neighborhood choice, and the children’s play area with toys is a real come-on to moms.
Progessions Salon, 12211 Nebel St., Rockville; 301-231-8757; www.progressions.com.
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Housed in a large, airy space decorated to look like a lavish Tuscan villa—but feeling like a department store—Robert Andrew is more than a place to get a massage. Hair is styled under a tent. In between hair and nail treatments, ladies read beside a stone fountain. Rows of cosmetics and skin and hair products sit below windows fitted with flowerboxes. A grand staircase leads upstairs to a nail salon.
Tucked behind glass doors, the spa is more intimate. A bubbly receptionist greeted me in the lobby, lit partly by a fireplace. She led me into an immaculate locker room, colored in warm beiges. Glass bowls, holding roses floating in water, were scattered about. A basket on the sink offered iced cucumber washcloths.
I could’ve stayed in the cozy relaxation room for hours. (Another nice touch: Men have a private relaxation and treatment area.) Several large rattan chaise lounges with squishy cushions were clustered near a second fireplace. Tea, water, and fruit were set out on silver platters. A few spagoers talked about how glorious their massages and facials were. I grew excited for my Aroma Classic facial ($70).
My aesthetician, M.J., cleansed with a rosy scent, exfoliated with a paste that smelled of lemons, and applied a mask she said had lavender, thyme, and rosemary. Halfway through, she decided my skin was dehydrated and tailored the rest of the facial to my needs. When she was done, I didn’t apply an ounce of makeup: My skin was rosy and glowing.
Bottom line: The spa, 20 to 30 minutes from the Beltway, is worth the drive even from downtown DC.
Robert Andrew: the Salon & Spa, 1328 Main Chapel Way, Gambrills; 301-261-3844; www.robertandrew.com.
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If you can get past the movie crowd—literally—at White Flint Mall, you will be glad you found Roxsan.
The brochure promises the $75, 50-minute Swedish massage will produce the “deepest of calm to your being.” So true. I could have slept for six hours when it was over.
My massage therapist, Karla, was relaxed and friendly, to just the right point. As I chatted, she answered minimally and let things quiet down naturally. I appreciated this as much as the heated bed. Soft music blurred most of the sounds from the other side of the wall, and I fell in and out of that neither-here-nor-there zone of consciousness. Karla knew what areas needed work without my telling her.
Roxsan’s open waiting area has a sign reminding clients to turn off cell phones and leave children elsewhere. Unfortunately, this should-be serene space is close enough to the pedicure chairs that I got a lesson in blackjack while I drank my postmassage herbal tea.
Bottom line: A good value if silence is not mandatory. Appropriate to its milieu, Roxsan has an alluring gift shop.
Roxsan Stonewater Spa & Boutique, White Flint Mall, third level, North Bethesda; 301-881-7505; www.stonewater.com.
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Spalon could be seen as discreet. Or it could be seen as impersonal. After two visits in which only one of four employees said much or even smiled, and no one called anyone else by name, I lean toward the latter.
Both times, I entered Spalon’s sunny lobby in plenty of time to fill out the usual medical forms and permissions—but there weren’t any. My only welcome was grunts and a nod toward the hallway. The first time, there waited a sixtyish, crewcut Siberian whose belly bulged out of his white T-shirt. In broken English, he gestured into a changing room, then instructed me to don a robe and follow him across the hall. Classical music played, but the sheet and thin blanket left me to shiver. When the man asked how long it had been since my last massage and I answered vaguely, he came back with “Jesus Christ! You need to come in here twice a month!” Given the lack of a medical form, I asked the man not to touch my neck, which suffered whiplash years ago. I had to ask four times. (He no longer works there.)
In my next visit, a pleasant young woman greeted me and asked about my wants and needs in coming in for a massage—a marked contrast from before. The massage table was slightly warmed, and the aromatherapy lotion didn’t seem as chilled. Under dimmed lights, her treatment ($85), like the man’s, was competent. I was happy that she didn’t surprise me with chiropractic-like snaps, as he had, and that she moved carefully around any sore points. (She too appears to be gone.)
The day spa is attractive but, both times, was not as calming and cozy as many competitors. It took several minutes of wandering the halls to find my way to the lobby, where two stone-faced women watched in silence as I paid. The second time, at least, one then smiled and said goodbye.Owner Rita Gleizer is concerned about her spa’s image and apologized profusely when she heard the miseries of my first visit. A colleague who visited raved about her own experience. Perhaps if you get the right person and the right conditions, you do okay. Me, I’ll go elsewhere.
Bottom line: Spalon is pricey but worth it, if you get the right person.
Spalon Day Spa, Fallsgrove Village Center, 14925-A Shady Grove Rd., Rockville; 301-610-7733; www.spalondayspa.com.
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If you expect a full-service day spa, Zoe Salon & Spa in Gaithersburg will disappoint you. If you want a great massage and can forgo niceties like changing and shower facilities or a serene waiting area, then you’ve come to the right place.
I booked a one-hour, deep-tissue massage for $80. A bubbly receptionist pointed me to a chair in the hair salon. If there is a Zoe, she didn’t put her personal stamp on the place. The salon is bright and characterless.
Terri, my massage therapist, took me back to a treatment room, asked questions about my health and where I wanted to be touched, and left while I stripped and got onto the massage table. She told me to lie face down.
My first surprise: It was the most comfortable massage table I’ve ever tried. The head cradle was larger, so I could breathe more easily. The cradle height kept my chest from being pressed flat on the table. Terri put a hot towel on my back and began to massage my legs. Throughout, she asked about the pressure and whether I was warm enough. Otherwise, she kneaded and I drifted off to the New Age spa soundtrack.
Halfway through, I turned over and Terri worked on my neck and shoulders. She put hot towels around my feet and worked each toe. I emerged greasy but feeling terrific.
Bottom line: No ambience, but great massage.
Zoe Salon & Spa, 701 Russell Ave. (Lake Forest Mall), Gaithersburg; 301-921-8801; www.zoesalon.com. Also: 11906 Lee Jackson Memorial Hwy. (Fair Oaks Mall), Fairfax; 703-359-6529.