515 15th St., NW
Washington, DC 20004
Nearby Metro Stops: Federal Triangle
By the time I arrived for my facial at Bliss, I’d already read some online reviews of this new downtown DC spa—and not all were glowing.
“It’s not really a day spa,” more than one visitor had said, complaining that the locker room and waiting area were too small to really linger. Worse, in the eyes of at least one reviewer, the much-ballyhooed free brownies in the customer lounge were too tiny.
So maybe my expectations had been lowered by the time I set foot in the spa, which is in the W Hotel, the revamped property that once housed the Hotel Washington. Bliss, after all, had arrived with such fanfare—many Washington women were already fans of the New York spa’s blue-and-white-packaged body and skin-care products.
I was greeted by a bubbly receptionist amid a sea of blue and white. Or should I say a sky: The walls and ceiling are covered in the company’s signature blue-sky-and-white-cloud design along with such Blissisms as: “May we have your ‘tension’ please” and “All systems ‘glow.’ ” Products line shelves on two sides, and mirrors trick the eye so that the space seems larger than it is. I found it fun but a touch disorienting—it’s hard to find the door from the spa lobby into the treatment rooms. While most spas aim for soothing decor, Bliss at first blush was more stimulating than soothing.
The decor quieted down behind the spa door. I was escorted to the ladies’ locker room—while it’s not huge, it’s plenty spacious to change comfortably and, if you desire, take a steam shower before or after a treatment. The locker room is stocked with Bliss products, naturally, along with such nice touches as hair dryers and contact-lens solution. Sleek glass tile covers a number of surfaces.
Once in a robe and the spa’s “slippers”—blue Havianas flip-flops—I made my way to the women’s lounge right outside the locker room. The aesthetic is sleek and modern—shag pillows, acrylic tabletops, modular wall art. I took a seat on the L-shaped banquette and, before filling out a one-page medical history, poured myself a glass of water and helped myself to snacks. There were olives, cheese and crackers, and, yes, bite-size but rich brownies from Bread & Chocolate. I liked the portion size—who wants to fill up before lying down on a treatment bed? Besides, if you think they’re too small, you can have more than one.
The lounge may not have been the coziest I’ve experienced at local spas—it’s chic, though a bit cool in feel—but I would have been happy relaxing there with a cup of tea and a brownie (or two).
Right on time, Shae came to retrieve me for my hourlong Best of Skintentions facial ($120). I liked that she asked a lot of questions about what I already used on my skin so that what she put on wouldn’t react badly. When I mentioned that my face had been breaking out, she asked if I wanted to add a fruit acid treatment to the facial—an upcharge of $25. Would I be pushed to buy other products and extras? But her recommendation seemed geared more to helping me combat the breakouts, and after I declined the acid add-on, she didn’t try to sell me another thing.
While jazzy music played—not the cliché New Age soundtrack of some spas—Shae cleansed, exfoliated, masqued, and massaged. Hot towels were frequently wrapped around my face and then used to wipe away cleansers and masks. Shae’s extractions were more painful than I’ve had in the past, but she made up for that discomfort when she massaged my shoulders, neck, and arms. She’s a trained massage therapist—she does rubdowns at another salon, though not at Bliss—and it showed in her strokes. (Only later did I realize that I didn’t also get a foot massage—I’m a sucker for them—which is promised in this facial’s online description.)
All in all, it wasn’t one of the best facials I’ve had, but that may have been less a reflection of Bliss or Shae’s skill and more that my current skin-care regimen, which includes strong products such as a glycolic-acid wash, limited what Shae could use. The next day, my face looked like it had been worked on: My pores appeared larger, there were red marks where she’d done extractions, and my skin was oily and blotchy for two days. I didn’t look dewy and clear, as I have the day after other facials. But I hadn’t looked even close to dewy and clear going in.
Even a spa started by a woman who wanted to make products for acne-prone skin can’t work miracles. Still, I’d be tempted to try another treatment, such as a massage, at Bliss. It’s a good choice for those who like spas more mod than girly, and for those who work in downtown DC and want a convenient spot for a pop-in.