District of Columbia
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Fast and Thorough: Andre Chreky, the Salon Spa
For working women in downtown DC, this day spa’s efficiency is a plus. Even at lunchtime in the pre-Christmas rush, I spent less than a minute on the salon’s sofa before being whisked upstairs in what must be DC’s tiniest elevator.
In the treatment room, New Age music from a hidden CD player soothed, as did massage therapist Teneisha. We’d decided on a mixture of hot-stone and Swedish massage. After studying a medical form I’d filled out, she adjusted the warm blankets, suggested two or three deep breaths, and got to work: shoulders, back, legs, and feet. (Hot stones + oiled feet = bliss.) When I turned face-up, she massaged legs again, then arms and hands. With a couple of quick strokes across brow and ears and a whiff of refreshing peppermint, our hour was up. On the way out, she offered me a half pint of bottled water.
Teneisha’s soft voice told me just enough about what she was doing but otherwise let me unwind and drift. Some clients might find her heavy exhalations annoying, but I took them as a cue to breathe fully myself and keep that oxygen flowing.
The $100 massage, slated for 55 minutes, lasted 60—and I was in and out in 66 minutes, including paying. The foyer in this retrofitted townhouse gets cramped with just four people in line, but who cares? I felt calmed and lighter the rest of the day and slept deeply all night.
Bottom line: There’s no spa lounge for relaxing with juice, nibbles, and a magazine. But if you’re seeking big indulgence in a small timeframe, it’s tough to do better than here.
Andre Chreky, the Salon Spa, 1604 K St., NW; 202-293-9393; www.andrechreky.com.
Anü Day Spa: Looks Can Be Deceiving
On the second floor of a rowhouse on Capitol Hill’s busy Pennsylvania Avenue, Anü Day Spa isn’t beautiful. You climb steps covered with shabby blue carpet to get to the front door. But inside you’ll be treated like royalty.
After welcoming me and hanging up my coat, the friendly receptionist offered me tea. She led me to the waiting area, a soothing room painted beige with white trim. Ella Fitzgerald played on a CD player, which for some reason was on the floor. I sunk into a brown leather couch and filled out a skincare questionnaire. I liked that it asked “What type of treatment did you have last?” and “What did you enjoy the most and the least?”
Since it opened a year ago, the spa hasn’t done any major renovations to the building it’s in. When April led me down a hall to one of three treatment rooms, I felt like I was following a friend to a bedroom in a group house. The paint on some of the trim was cracked. Nearly all of the furnishings looked like they were from Ikea. There were no lockers, and I wasn’t offered any cushy slippers.
Somehow all of this made Anü charming to a twentysomething spagoer like me. There was no pretension—Anü felt like the spa next door.
I was signed up for Anü’s Classic Facial, which the receptionist had suggested when I called. April lathered my face in a soft citrus scrub. She tenderly wrapped my cheeks in hot washcloths. When she realized how dry my skin was, she painted on a hydrating face mask.
While the mask dried, April gave my neck, shoulders, and arms a thorough massage, which makes Anü’s Classic Facial a great value. For $85 plus tip, I left with my cheeks rosy and soft, my upper body loose and relaxed.
Bottom line: Luxury isn’t one of Anü’s selling points. But the spa is a good value, and you’ll be treated well.
Anü Day Spa, 709 D Street, SE, Second Floor; 202-544-8268; www.anudayspa.com.
Pretty But Brusque: Celadon Spa
I wanted to love Celadon. I’d heard good things about it from friends, and the menu of face and body treatments looked fun. When I arrived, I found the shelves lined with a rainbow of candles, soaps, and lotions from boutique lines like Molton Brown, Red Flower, and Calypso. Heaven for a girly-girl.
But when I checked in for my apple-and-paprika facial ($100), I waited 15 minutes for someone to fetch me. (The aesthetician was running late, but the gaggle of receptionists never said a word.) The aesthetician apologized and showed me to the faintly lit treatment room. I climbed under the warm blankets, and she immediately started slathering without really taking time to look at my skin.
She rubbed my face and neck with apple pulp, a deep exfoliator. She covered that with a thick slick of paprika. The mixture became warm and tingly, and soon my face was emanating heat. While the concoction set in, she did a fast, lotiony hand and arm massage. I’d forgotten to take off my rings and watch, and she rubbed right over them.
Much of the facial involved sitting under masks, and my aesthetician passed the time shuffling papers behind me. The massages felt nice but seemed rushed. The “calming” stonecrop mask that followed the apple-paprika treatment burned. The towels used for the brisk ruboffs were too hot. Extractions were done suddenly, without asking.
When the facial was over, she presented me with a long list of Ole Henriksen product recommendations, all sold at Celadon. To her credit, she gave me samples and wasn’t pushy.
Bottom line: Though my face was blotchy and red when I left, my skin did look bright and flawless a few hours later. But the service sure didn’t make me glow.
Celadon Spa, 1180 F St., NW; 202-347-3333; www.celadonspa.com.
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Head to Toe Bliss: Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon & Spa, DC
I’d been warned that Red Door could be snooty and brusque. But that was not my experience at the Elizabeth Arden day spa in Chevy Chase DC.
I had the best pedicure of my life: an incredibly comfortable chair to sink into, a bowlful of warm, bubbly water to rest my feet, even a layer of marbles to rub my soles against. My nail technician, Fanny, rubbed my calves, clipped my cuticles, polished my nails expertly, and left me to rest with warm towels wrapped around my legs—and I didn’t have to say a single word the entire time. She didn’t push any products or other services. I sat back, relaxed, and focused on nothing but that week’s Us magazine.
The price of a pedicure ($45) is not bad, considering the luxe treatment and plush location—Arden-trademark red sofas, black-and-tan terrazzo floors, flowers everywhere.
Bottom line: Just a block south of Mazza Gallerie and Chevy Chase Pavilion, Red Door is a great postshopping treat.
Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon & Spa, 5225 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-362-9890; www.reddoorsalons.com. Also at 10213 Old Georgetown Rd. (Wildwood Center), Bethesda, 240-644-1319; 1101 S. Joyce St. (Pentagon Row), Arlington, 703-373-5888; Spectrum Center, Reston, 703-467-8488; 4210 Fairfax Corner West Avenue (Fairfax Corner), Fairfax, 703-968-2922; and 8075 Leesburg Pike (Fairfax Square), Vienna, 703-448-8388. Opening soon in the new Fairfax Corner Shopping Center.
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Erwin Gomez Salon: So Edgy It Might Raise an Eyebrow
If you ever visited Erwin Gomez—the makeup artist and brow-shaping guru known for tweezing the Bush twins’ arches—at his old perch in the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon in Chevy Chase, you may have noticed the glittering disco ball hanging in his closet-size treatment room. It felt a little out of place at the matronly salon.
But not at the Erwin Gomez Salon & Spa, which he opened in new upper-Georgetown space in December. With a catwalklike entryway, Asian-inspired touches (swirling dragons and smiling Buddhas), a throbbing soundtrack that veers from the Black Eyed Peas to Christina Aguilera, and the spritely Gomez running around in tight leather pants, this definitely doesn’t feel like your typical ladies-who-lunch respite.
I’d booked a 70-minute massage ($150) with Patricia, who led me into a spacious, blue-lit treatment room. The pulsing club soundtrack gave way to XM’s New Age channel. Patricia asked whether there was any spot that was especially tense, and we agreed that she’d concentrate on my back and shoulders. I settled face-down on one of the coziest heated and cushioned massage beds I’d ever laid on.
Her massage, which included stretching, pressure points, and traditional Swedish strokes, was deeply soothing: It didn’t feel like a superficial rubdown that would relax me only for a few hours; it felt like she was releasing tension that had been locked up for months. “Does this hurt?” she asked, going over a muscle in my lower back. It was the only spot that did.
Next, I’d booked a lava-stone pedicure ($80) with Nia. I’m not usually one for luxe pedicures—I always go the cheap and speedy route when it comes to nails—but the spiffy nailcare room, complete with laptops that guests can use to surf the Internet, beckoned. Nia was meticulous, doing the entire pedicure in a copper bowl, and it was one of the loveliest-smelling pedicures I’d ever had. (Fresh lemons and limes bobbed in the warm water.) But in the end, my nails didn’t look so different than after a pedicure at my usual spot, where the service is a third of the price.
Bottom Line: Modern touches—such as laptops for use during pedicures—are great, but the pulsating, clublike vibe may put off spagoers looking for a quiet, cozy setting. Prices are a bit higher than average, too.
Erwin Gomez Salon, 1519 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-7290; www.erwingomezsalon.com.
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Posh But Pricey: Four Seasons Fitness Club and Spa
The Four Seasons Hotel is so swank that its spa and fitness center boast patrons in designer spandex and Juicy Couture jogging suits. Luckily, when I visited, I was provided a plush terrycloth robe that dispelled any worries of fashion inadequacy.
I had signed up for a half-hour Swedish massage—at $75, it was the cheapest thing on the menu—but I wasn’t denied any of the luxury. Fresh-squeezed juice—a choice of orange or grapefruit. Use of the steam room and sauna—though not the fitness center. A sizable locker.
My massage therapist, Emily, kneaded out kinks in my shoulders, back, upper chest, and feet. When I mentioned that the arch in my left foot was tight, her fingers drove out the crick. Hot towels were placed on my back and feet. Classical music soothed in the background.
I was crushed when Emily chirped “thank you” and flipped on the lights—next time, I’ll pay the extra $35 for a full hour. Payment, too, was a bit jarring: I was presented with the bill while still in the massage room.
In the locker room, I lingered under the blast of the shower. I couldn’t find a comb, despite the hair dryers, lotions, and other amenities. A follow-up call revealed that combs are provided, so maybe I didn’t look hard enough—I was too pleased with my knot-free body to care about the tangles in my hair.
Bottom line: The Four Seasons is about providing the best, which extends to the massage therapists it hires. We hear Rebecca’s rubdowns are terrific, too.
Four Seasons Fitness Club and Spa, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-342-0444; www.fourseasons.com.
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Simple But Good: Ilo Salon & Day Spa
In a crisp white room, sunlight flickered through the blinds as Kelly, my aesthetician, painted cool strokes of cleanser across my face. On the top floor of Ilo Day Spa in Georgetown, I thought I was in heaven.
The two floors below were bustling with activity—Ilo is a popular hair salon—but when I arrived for my Saturday-afternoon facial, I was whisked upstairs, where it was calmer. In a private bathroom, I changed into a strapless nightgown (dubbed a “cozy,” though the scratchy cotton was anything but), a robe, and slippers.
My monosyllabic answers to Kelly’s skin-care questions were the only thought required from me. I lay back on the massage table with my head in the clouds while Kelly gently rubbed in cleansing solution and exfoliating scrub. A steady blast of steam was combined with ultraviolet light, supposedly to fight bacteria in my pores. My face didn’t show any battle scars: When Kelly was finished, my skin felt smooth and dewy.
She capped off the $90 facial with a shoulder massage, which, while not the best, was relaxing enough. As I was leaving, she showed me the products she’d used and handed me a brochure with the products circled, so I didn’t feel compelled to buy them on the spot. She gave me some suggestions on moisturizing and exfoliating, so I could give myself a mini-facial at home—though it wouldn’t be as nice.
Bottom line: It lacks the frills you might find at true day spas, but the simple approach leaves you feeling good.
Ilo Salon & Day Spa, 1637 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-342-0350; www.ilosalonspa.com.
Spa at the Mandarin Oriental: Is Washington Ready?
As I leaned back on a tile banquette, let steam wash over me, and stared up at the ceiling—lit with points of light like stars—I thought: This is the life.
But whose life? I wasn’t sure it was mine.
At the new Spa at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in DC, the steam room—the most fantastical I’ve ever seen—is fit for a princess. And isn’t a day at the spa a princess fantasy?
When I arrived, a female spa attendant beckoned me to sit on a leather bench. A wall of water trickled behind me. The spa has a serene Asian sensibility and lovely design.
A male attendant walked over with a tray bearing a ceramic cup of mandarin-orange-flavored water and rubber slippers and asked to take my shoes. On went the slippers as my black slingbacks were carried away on the tray.
The first woman crouched before me, so I was looking down and not up—this would be a theme—to proffer my locker key. The locker room is roomy enough for a royal entourage. Each locker is stocked with not only a robe and towels but deodorant, toothbrush, and toothpaste. Nice touch.
As requested, I had arrived an hour before my treatment, bathing suit in hand, for the “heat experience.” Kinh, a “spa facilitator,” walked me through my options: the Vitality Pool, a room-size whirlpool; the Amethyst Steam Room, named for the block of amethyst geode in one corner; and the Experience Shower.
The idea was to alternate my exposure to hot and cold, which, I was told, would help stimulate circulation, remove toxins, and start the relaxation process.
I plunged into the heated Vitality Pool, lured by the lounge-chair-shaped cutouts. You lie on top of jets—two near your shoulders and back, two near your hips, two under your legs. Kinh cautioned that the jets were strong; the pressure, she said, would lift me, so I’d float.
She activated the jets, but the sensation wasn’t so much like levitating as it was like being adrift. I had to hold onto the wall while I maneuvered myself up and down and around.
After ten minutes in the pool, I followed Kinh’s advice to a beautifully lit bowl of crushed ice. I was to scoop up ice and rub it over my now-warm body. It sounded torturous, but it felt invigorating.
I stepped into the shower. Did I want a “tropical rain” or “cool mist”? There were four choices. I pressed the button for tropical rain and was standing under a warm downpour. Each “shower” lasts 20 seconds. My favorites were “gush shower,” a cold waterfall, and “body jets,” a gentle kneading from several sides.
I was the only spa patron on that Tuesday afternoon. When I stepped into the steam room, I could hear Kinh scrubbing the shower and refilling the ice. I didn’t always see her, but I knew she was there.
Five minutes before my treatment, I headed to the relaxation lounge, where a row of five white-sheeted beds, each adorned with a purple orchid blossom, were separated by curtains. A counter held water, leather-encased magazines, and kebabs of fresh fruit stuck into a pineapple. I settled in with Marie Claire.
A therapist came to claim me for my Time Ritual, the spa’s signature treatment, billed as a “journey of the senses” that addresses not just physical but spiritual well-being.
Time isn’t cheap: The two-hour Time Ritual is $300. A regular 80-minute massage costs $195, a facial $195 with extractions.
For $350 (with the 18-percent tip), I expected the best treatment of my life.
The session started with my sipping “Worry-Free” tea while the therapist washed my feet.
She asked questions: What had brought me in today? What treatments did I like? (Massage.) Did I like body wraps? (No.)
The Time Ritual is not a set treatment; the therapist talks with you to decide what you need. Mine settled on a body polish, facial cleansing, and hot-stone massage. I settled on the table.
The body polish was the most gentle I’ve had, and not a bit of rough skin was left when she was done. The facial cleansing was no more than a face wash.
She was caring and warm. When I mentioned that some of the stones in the hot-stone massage were cutting into my spine, she offered to continue with a regular massage and skip the stones. The massage was nice but not out of this world.
A friend who had the Time Ritual said that although it wasn’t the best massage of her life, checking out for two hours was relaxing. She loved being waited on hand and foot.
The price of this bliss seems high. But I’ll admit that I did sleep soundly that night and the next, and a kink in my shoulder disappeared.
And I do think about that steam room. Next time I’ll book a lower-priced treatment, like a $65 pedicure, and still get my gush shower. A girl can dream.
The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, 1330 Maryland Ave., SW; 202-787-6100; www.mandarinoriental.com.
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The Spa at Mint: Fresh and New
A soothing shade of mint green is a recurring motif at this airy spa and fitness center. (Anyone can use the spa, but the sun-filled weight rooms and class spaces are for members only.)
Set off from the clang of iron-pumpers behind closed doors, the spa feels like an oasis. Straw mats, a dramatic twig sculpture, and wooden benches make for an earthy Asian feel against the pale green walls. In keeping with the theme, sprigs of mint show up in water pitchers and tea, there for the pouring.
My 90-minute, $150 Thai Yoga Bodywork session was as relaxing as any massage. (Mint’s roster of spa treatments is mostly massages.) Using acupressure on trouble spots and manipulating my limbs, Kelly, the massage therapist, woke up every muscle while I made like a limp noodle. Part of the idea is to let go and allow someone else to pose your body in yogalike stretches. The result: You feel both relaxed and energized afterward.
Wanting to hold on to the vibe as long as possible, I capped off the afternoon with a fresh-squeezed carrot juice and a salad at Green, the spa’s juice bar/cafe.
Bottom line: The Asian look, juice bar, and holistic massages make this a great spot for the urban hipster.
The Spa at Mint, 1724 California Street NW; 202-328-6468; www.thespaatmint.com.
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Nusta Spa: It Is Easy Being Green
One of the best new spas to open in Washington, Nusta, which was built with recycled and renewable materials, is also the area’s only eco-friendly spa.
That’s not the only way it’s friendly. The moment you arrive, the staff greets you warmly. If you happen to bump into the owner, Elizabeth Snowdon, as I did, you’ll find her to be very enthusiastic, as she thanks you for coming in.
Even if you didn’t know about the “green” design, you’d notice that Nusta looks different from most Washington spas. Forget Enya and candles. Instead of being frilly or Zenlike, it’s modern and airy—a blizzard of white. But those white treatment rooms can be bathed in color, if you prefer. Are you in a blue mood? Orange? Yellow? The technician will turn a dial on the LED lighting until the color suits you.
Designed by Washington-based architecture firm Envision Design, the spa features carpet and tile with recycled content, wood harvested from an old barn and from renewable forests, and energy-efficient lighting, heating, and air-conditioning systems. The classic modern furniture is by Knoll and Herman Miller, companies dedicated to environmental consciousness. Even the ingredients in Nusta’s signature line of products, and the paper and ink it uses, were chosen with eco-friendliness in mind.
The spa opened in May, and staffers at The Washingtonian have had several treatments, including a massage and two facials. We loved each session.
My facial was by Tonia, who came to Nusta with 15 years of experience. I felt in very good hands as Tonia cleansed, moisturized, and masked my face and performed extractions with sure but gentle fingers. Another staffer loved her facial by Carmen.
In the South American language Quechua, Nusta means “royalty,” which provides a clue as to how the spa plans to treat clients. In keeping with that philosophy, it’s open Saturday, Sunday, and until 9 pm on weekdays, and its pretty locker rooms are stocked with amenities like moisturizer, hair balm, and razors as well as hotel-quality robes.
My one quibble: The prices can be high in comparison to other local spas. The 50-minute facial is $95. At that price, you usually get a longer facial with more of a shoulder massage, maybe heated hand mitts. A 50-minute massage is $90.
Bottom line: The prices may be high, but given the sophisticated atmosphere and expert treatments, it’s easy to spend your green here.
Nusta Spa, 1129 20th St., NW; 202-530-5700; www.nustaspa.com.
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Ritz-Carlton Georgetown: A Real Gem
Good things come in small packages—and the boutique spa here is one of them.
A tiny entrance done in beiges and warm browns gives way to several treatment rooms and a small but plush lounge with low lighting, cushy chairs, and a bowl of fruit. Though the spa’s treatments with Prada products beckoned—the entire roster is fairly brief—what I craved was a great massage. And I got one.
In the Tranquility massage (50 minutes, $115), my therapist, Yanick, used moves from various disciplines including Swedish and deep tissue—working pressure points with her thumbs, kneading with her palms, and using her elbows in long sweeping motions to ease stressed muscles and trouble spots. It was certainly tranquil, and more important, I felt as if my aches and pains had melted away.
As small as the spa is, there is a sauna and steam area for lingering after treatments as well as a well-appointed locker room. The hotel’s lobby lounge is a favorite après-spa spot for gal pals who sip Champagne and nibble on appetizers. Some even make a day of it, shopping and dining in Georgetown—valet parking is free with a spa service, so those in the know take advantage.
Bottom line: The spa’s free valet parking is a great opportunity to spend the day in Georgetown—have a treatment, then shop, lunch, or meet friends for cocktails.
Ritz-Carlton Georgetown, 3100 South St. NW, 202-912-4175; www.ritzcarlton.com.
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Qi Spa: A Promising New Spa
When I called Qi Spa to make the appointment for my sports massage, the receptionist told me twice to arrive no less than 15 minutes before the treatment so I could fill out a client-information card. So I arrived at 9:35 for my 10 am appointment. Although the spa was supposed to open at 9, the door was locked.
Ten minutes later, a woman arrived and opened the door, and I followed her up the stairs. She looked surprised to see me. I told her I was there for a massage, and she said my therapist, the owner, would be there shortly.
Ophelia Zhao arrived a few minutes before 10 and led me to a treatment room. The room was small and warm, painted mint green, with unlit candles on the walls. I asked to use the restroom before I got undressed. It was far from a posh spa locker room—there were exposed light switches and no soap.
This was late December; the spa was in a transition and it showed—it had recently opened as an offshoot of the nearby Hummingbird Spa. Zhao said the staff was temporarily changing from a computerized appointment system to a paper appointment book, and they had my appointment down as the day before. That’s why she was late.
After all that—or maybe because of that—the massage was the highlight of the experience. Zhao made sure the pressure was just right and the room temperature comfortable. I had a sports massage with wood oil; among the other treatment choices are a Swe-Thai massage with fire oil and a BlackBerry Thumb Massage.
Despite the disorganized start, I left feeling relaxed. But I’m not sure it was worth the price—$100 for 60 minutes. And I’ll probably wait to return until the rough edges are smoothed out.
Bottom line: A spa in transition, the growing pains showed, but the treatment was relaxing.
Qi Spa, 3106 M St., NW; 202-333-6344; qispadc.com.
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Lives Up to Its Name: Serenity Day Spa
Usually I don’t take off all my clothing for facials, but the staffer who led me to the spacious dressing room encouraged me to take it all off “so you can really relax under the covers.”
Ashley was one of three smiling, stylish women who welcomed me as I walked through the frosted glass doors of Serenity in DC’s Tenleytown. Its modern spaces are softened with plants, potpourri, heated cider, and cookies.
Micky, an aesthetician with 20-plus years of experience, shared her knowledge and asked questions about my skin-care routine. During my $100 Collagen Facial (the price has since gone up to $125), she told me I had beautiful skin. Flattery is a great approach.
Although she had recommendations, I didn’t leave with a list of “must have” products. Without pressure, I found and bought YonKa’s $29 hydrating mask on my way out, where two apparent regulars were finishing half-day packages. I asked if they lived nearby.
“Bowie,” one said. “My husband works nearby. After he gave me a gift certificate, I’ve come regularly with friends. We love it.”
The cashier jumped up. “I almost forgot; we give a little gift when you come for a package.”
After they left, I asked, “I’m just curious, what did you give them?”
Ashley jumped up again. “I’ll get you one, too!” she said.
Embroidered makeup bag in hand, I understood why you’d drive there from Bowie. I felt as relaxed as if I’d had the half-day treatment too. Serene, you might say.
Bottom line: Incredibly warm staff might pull you into a long-term relationship.
Serenity Day Spa, 4000 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-362-2560; www.serenitygift.com. Also locations at Worldgate Sport & Health, 13037 Worldgate Dr., Herndon, 703-709-6596; and Old Town Sport & Health, 209 Madison St., Alexandria, 703-549-9212.
Because Serenity is affiliated with Sport & Health clubs, spa guests can get a free pass to the gym.
In and Out: Skin Savvy Spa Express
When a spa has “express” in its name, it’s probably not a place you’ll want to spend the day. But it sounded like a quick fix.
I went to Skin Savvy for the Anti-Stress Mini-Facial. For $40, my face would be cleansed in 30 minutes flat.
It’s a small place, tucked on the third floor of a Dupont Circle rowhouse, so it took a few calls, during business hours, to get someone on the phone. When I went in, the friendly woman at the front desk knew my name. Soft music and pastel blue walls relaxed me as I filled out a questionnaire.
My attendant, Chris, led me through a glass door and past the nails room, where a cozy brick fireplace was lit by candles. (The room is now used for facials.) My door was a white drape; only a wooden partition separated me from the next bed.
Chris had a bubbly personality—she came in saying, “Okie, dokie, artichoky.” She talked just enough to tell me about the mask and the creams she would be applying. Midway through, she asked if I was okay. I was enjoying it, but I could have gone without the steam that was pointed at my face for most of my facial.
I was surprised when my time was up. Chris politely reminded me that a “mini” doesn’t include extractions. For that, you need the $70, one-hour Deep Cleansing Facial.
I’m tempted to linger next time and try the Mini De-Stress Package: the facial, 25-minute massage, and manicure for $105—a good value.
Bottom line: In-and-out treatment has its drawbacks.
Skin Savvy Spa Express, 1730 Connecticut Ave., Suite 3-B, NW; 202-319-1231; www.skinsavvyspa.com. Walk-ins welcome.
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Somafit: Beauty Inside and Out
Somafit is not your mother’s spa. For one thing it’s not just a spa but a health club too. For another, it takes an à la carte approach. You pay as you go for classes—Pilates to yoga—and there’s no initiation or monthly fee.
It’s one of the most stunning spas around—not a surprise as Adamstein and Demetriou, the architects responsible for all those trendy Washington restaurants, own the place. Think pop shades of cobalt, orange, and aqua against expanses of white and pale wood floors. Cushy cubes and chaises offer seating. Photographs of undulating blue-green water have a soporific effect even before you hit the treatment rooms. Lockers are chic slats of pale wood. Tinted green glass and ultramodern fixtures give sinks and showers a Met Home edginess. And there are hairdryers, razors, and all manner of hair products and toiletries there for the using.
Spa treatments include body wraps and scrubs, facials, and manicures and pedicures, but I’m booked today for a massage ($95 for 50 minutes). After slipping on a waffle-weave robe and slippers, I pad my way to the waiting area with its array of fruit and cookies.
My masseuse, Marie—the spa has male and female massage therapists available on different days—ushers me into a sleek white-walled treatment room with a vaguely Asian wood ceiling panel and a wall recess brightened by an orange Gerber daisy. Like the rest of the spa, the room is spare, no tchotchkes to interfere with the Zenlike aesthetic. Thankfully, spare doesn’t mean spartan. The massage table is padded, heated, and swathed in fluffy towels. After a few questions about my preferences and general health, the massage begins to the strains of classical piano music—several cuts above the usual New Agey spa Muzak.
The therapist uses a mix of Swedish, shiatsu, and acupressure techniques to ply a tense neck, achy shoulders, and feet that have been in too-high heels all day. The unscented Biotone lotion—there’s a cream and oil to choose from, too—is marshmallow light and doesn’t leave a greasy film as she uses knuckles, elbows, and thumbs to work out all the kinks.
Things finish with a flourish and a tall glass of water. I’m not ready to return to the real world just yet, so I linger—in the sauna and the steam room where any remaining cares melt away.
Bottom line: A chic and restful refuge where you can take time out and really feel transported. Word to the wise: There’s no street parking after 4:30, so book appointments early if you don’t care to pay for parking in the garage.
Somafit, 2121 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-965-2121; www.somafit.com.
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New and Promising: Soul Day Spa
An unexpected oasis in an otherwise dodgy slice of the city—the spa keeps its doors locked during business hours—Soul Day Spa provides earthy indulgences like Tahitian body polishes and milk-and-honeysuckle pedicures for downtown girls.
Soul, which opened in July, inhabits a converted brownstone on the corner of Florida Avenue and North Capitol Street, with three floors of pristine but low-tech treatment rooms done up in browns and creams. On two levels are spa areas; on the second floor is a four-station hair studio specializing in African-American styles.
When I arrived for a pedicure on a Wednesday afternoon, my nail technician was waiting at the door to escort me in from a pouring rain. I hadn’t parked far; I was in an empty gravel lot next door. Nicole—the owner, who occasionally doubles as receptionist—welcomed me warmly and offered me juice or tea.
My pedicure was done in an oversize armchair laden with jeweled pillows concealing a vibrating back massager, which was not as relaxing as the pedicure itself. (It felt like I was sitting over a Metro station.) My technician, who did not speak English very well, filled a copper tub with smooth stones, rose petals, cranberries, and warm water, then spiked the brew with the most delicious-smelling pomegranate-scented oil—which stayed with me through the rest of the day.
The selection of nail polish was good, but sparse, and the nail technician didn’t seem to fully understand a few requests I made. The sugar scrub and lower-leg massage were highlights.
Although Soul’s brochure states that guests who book nail services will be required to purchase their own nail kits (to be stored at the salon) for a one-time $10 fee, none of this was mentioned to me, nor did it show up on my bill.
To develop a client base, Soul runs specials such as 20 percent off all services on your first visit. With deals like these and a little polishing of rough edges, Soul could soon be crowded on rainy Wednesday afternoons.
Bottom line: A comfy, lovely place, with warm but not remarkable service. A good choice if you live nearby—although, with prices as high as Elizabeth Arden, there’s no reason to go out of the way.
Soul Day Spa and Salon, 25 Florida Ave., NW; 202-986-7685 (soul); www.souldayspa.com.
—L. ADRIENNE WICHARD
Pros at Pampering: Splash
George Clooney was no longer in residence when I showed up at the Sports Club LA in the Ritz-Carlton, but if he had been, I might have spotted him through the glass walls of the basketball court on my way into the spa, Splash.
Not that I would have had much time to admire the view: Within seconds I was whisked from the spa reception desk into the locker room, given a plush terry robe and slippers, and told to wait in the cozy low-lit waiting area.
Jo Jo, my therapist, was engaging and extremely informative about what we’d be doing for the next 90 minutes. Splash specializes in body treatments using milk, honey, seeds, and fruit. In the past few months, besides the usual roster, there have been seasonal scrubs like pumpkin, peppermint, and fresh strawberry.
I’d just been reading about the wonders of pumpkin in some women’s magazine, so the pumpkin scrub ($143 for non-club members) seemed appropriate. Jo Jo started with a warm slow drizzle of honey and milk on my back. Then, onto my entire body, she painted an exfoliating mixture of pumpkin pulp and grape seeds that she had crushed to a paste in a small pumpkin.
After showering off the dried scrub—I had to go back to the locker room, so next time I would book the one treatment room that has its own shower—it was time for the 25-minute massage included in the package. Jo Jo worked at a leisurely pace but managed to hit every tight muscle. And at the end my skin was courtesan soft.
Even better, I didn’t have the usual slick of oil all over my body. Jo Jo had used a light, easily absorbed lotion rather than massage oil. If I’d had more time, I might have slipped into the salon to get my nails done, checked out the boutique with its trendy yoga and workout gear, or grabbed a bite at the stylish cafe and bar.
Bottom line: Luxurious and service oriented.
Splash, 1170 22nd St., NW (in the Sports Club LA/Washington at the Ritz-Carlton); 202-974-6600; www.thesportsclubla.com. Sign up for two or more spa treatments of at least 50 minutes each, and you can use the adjoining Sports Club LA—which also has babysitting, for a fee; reservations are a must.
A Hidden Gem in Adams Morgan: Synergy Day Spa
Synergy Day Spa isn’t easy to find—my cabdriver didn’t know where Vernon Street was, so it’s a good thing I had printed MapQuest directions. But it’s worth seeking out.
On the top floor of an Adams Morgan rowhouse, Synergy is small, with just two treatment rooms. Given its size and lack of off-street parking, it’s probably not a place you’d drive from Herndon for. But if you live or work near Adams Morgan, it’s a nice option.
I’ve been to Synergy twice—once for a facial and once for its Power Nap Eye Treatment—and both times received a warm greeting and good service. The $105, 75-minute facial was expertly done, the esthetician’s strokes soothing and feathery.
The spa is pretty and relaxing; there are no hair services. While the whole spa is compact, the back room where I’ve gotten treatments is spacious, with a place to sit while you take off your shoes and enough room to change and hang up clothes. Before or after a treatment, clients can enjoy a small assortment of beverages and snacks, but the only place to really partake is on the leather seats in the main waiting area—although each time I’ve visited, during a weekday afternoon, there were no other clients.
And each time I’ve left with a goodbye as warm as the greeting—and with free samples of the Bioelements moisturizers, eye creams, or other products used during my service.
Bottom line: Solid neighborhood spa with warm service.
Synergy Day Spa, 1806 Vernon Street, NW, Suite C; 202-667-1855; synergydayspa.net.
Suffering for Beauty: Toka Salon Full Service Day Spa
I’m hardly a prima donna. But getting a facial at Toka Spa made me feel like one. After an hour, all I could think about was how unrelaxed I felt.
After being greeted by a grumpy receptionist who continued a phone conversation with a friend while waving me off to the waiting area, I plopped into a comfy black velour chair. I wished there was tea.
The four treatment rooms, painted the color of mangoes and fitted with wall-length mirrors, are pretty. My aesthetician escorted me to one and gave me a thin blanket to cover myself with after I disrobed. There was no locker room and no hangers in the room. The treatment table wasn’t heated. I left my socks on to keep my feet warm.
The treatment started off nicely. A papaya cleanser was buffed off with a smooth spinning device. A cocoa-butter scrub left my skin soft and tingly. The aesthetician put a cloth over my face and with a wandlike device zapped my face—supposedly to stop pimples. The facial took a downturn when she started extractions—which lasted a good ten minutes. They were so painful I began digging my fingernails into my hand. When I said “Ouch,” she said, “This is the painful part.”
After being left in the room for 15 minutes—I was so cold I was rubbing my hands to warm them up, while spa staffers talked and laughed loudly outside the door—the aesthetician returned to wash off a mask. One wipe with warm water and I heard a cell phone ring. I heard her say, “Hello.” She went out in the hall and chatted. When she returned, the water was cold, and she continued to wipe me down with it.
She later apologized and said her sister was in the hospital, so she needed to take the calls. I just wanted to escape.
Bottom line: Save your money. This place is not cozy or relaxing.
Toka Salon Full Service Day Spa, 3251 Prospect St., NW; 202-333-5133; www.tokasalon.com.
—BROOKE LEA FOSTER
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Tranquil Space Yoga
When you walk into Tranquil Space Yoga’s new home on 17th Street near DC’s Dupont Circle, it’s easy to miss the spa. The first two stories house a boutique and three studios, which bustle with yogis. When I told the friendly receptionist I was there for a massage, he asked me to fill out a form, then led me up two flights of stairs to the tiny spa.
Called the Lotus Lounge, the waiting room is a small alcove with a white couch and wicker coffee table. Pink sponge-painted walls and glass chandeliers give the space a warm, boutiquelike feel.
The receptionist went back down to man the cash register at the boutique and left me alone on the third floor. I wasn’t offered a robe or slippers as I waited for my massage therapist, and the only reading material was one issue of Yoga Journal. While some day spas leave snacks out, all I saw was a tray of green apples and a water cooler with lemon slices.
The three treatment rooms are just as small and simple. After my massage therapist, Erin, left me to undress, I realized there wasn’t anywhere to put my clothes, so I folded them into a pile on the ground. When she began the deep-tissue massage ($100 for 50 minutes), my worries faded away.
I had told Erin that my neck and shoulders were full of tension. She started by having me lie face-up, asked me to do some deep breathing, and spent a long time slowly warming up my muscles. She struck the perfect balance among kneading knots, stretching muscles, and gently rubbing my pressure points. Her touch was firm enough to drive out cricks but not so strong that it was painful. As she pulled on my arms, I felt the stretch in my neck and shoulder blades. I briefly dozed off as she rubbed the arches of my feet.
In addition to the typical offerings—deep-tissue, Swedish, aromatherapy, and hot-stone massage—the spa also has more off-beat services such as astrology readings, henna body painting, and ear candling.
Bottom line: Although it lacks the amenities you find at other day spaces, Tranquil Space gets a massage right.
Tranquil Space Yoga, 1632 17th St., NW; 202-328-9642; tranquilspace.com.
—MARY CLARE FLEURY