For a certain set of Washington, cherry blossom season is like Coachella, Mardi Gras, and New Year’s Eve rolled all into one—basically a time for DC bars, restaurants, and stores to absolutely lose their normally tightly wound shiz over these little buds. The general sentiment of the season seems to be “Hey, look at this [INSERT: COCKTAIL, EDIBLE PRODUCT, NOVELTY ITEM, CAFFEINATED BEVERAGE HERE]! Let’s put a freaking cherry blossom on it and charge $20!”
To actually try one of these Cherry Blossom Extravaganzas™ is to confront a great frustration of mine, a hill on which I am most prepared to die: the bastardization of natural flavors and scents. And for this activism you should thank me, lest we forsake nature and forget that the profile of a banana Laffy Taffy is not that of an actual piece of fruit and a pineapple candle does not imbue the delightful nasal tingles of a freshly sliced piece of tropical joy. (And don’t even get me started on blue raspberry—bring me someone who has captured a blue raspberry in the wild and I’ll subsist only on banana Laffy Taffy for the rest of my life).
All this to say, pick up a cherry blossom Baked & Wired cupcake or throw back a cherry blossom gin and tonic at the pop-up bar and, no, that is not God’s flavoring as He intended it. I’ve yet to test this theory, but I’m pretty sure if you went down to the Tidal Basin and munched on a cherry blossom petal, it’s not the Compass Coffee cherry blossom blend you’d be tasting. Just sayin’.
But beauty treatments—now that’s another story. Would these petal imposters be more convincing when slapped onto my epidermis? When they were quite literally put in and on my face, where they’d be impossible to ignore? Would my taste buds and olfactory glands be less offended in a setting where humpback whale noises play on loop? Well, pull back the petals—let’s see.
Cherry Blossom Ritual at the Watergate Hotel
My first stop is the Argentta Spa at the Watergate Hotel, which is basically Ground Zero for cherry blossom mania. Not only can you book a cherry blossom three-course tasting menu, you also can take a cherry blossom truffle-making class, a cherry blossom flower crown-making class, a cherry blossom afternoon tea… I mean, not even cherry blossoms like themselves this much.
I check in for the cherry blossom manicure and pedicure, which is part of the cherry blossom ritual, a spa package that costs $425, or roughly 106 Baked & Wired cherry blossom cupcakes. I’m given a robe and slippers to wear, and am taken to a relaxation pod to wait. Cucumber water, trail mix, and fresh fruit abound, and because I am a feral animal who can’t restrain herself around food in the wild, I stuff three green apples into my backpack. Honestly, there’s a good chance I could live in this little orb for the rest of my life, where nary a blossom rears its pale head in sight, and subsist solely off spa water and cashews and be perfectly content, although malnourished.
I’m reluctantly herded from my embryonic cocoon to the treatment room, where my technician hands me a glass of champagne and a server comes in with a pink cocktail on a tray. It’s their signature drink created for the festival, and although it’s watermelon, not cherry blossom-flavored (ahemmmm), it’s still, you know, pink (and also loaded with tequila, which, hey, you won’t hear complaints from me).
They only have bougie nail polish brands (no Wet ‘n’ Wild in the Watergate, Washingtonians!), and, channelling my inner cherry blossom, I pick pink and white.
I instantly feel bad for my technician—she is so kind and hospitable, but I can tell she is appalled by what passes as my self-care routine on a journalist’s salary. Since I am lazy and never take off my nailpolish, I have more layers of paint on my toes than a slice of the Berlin Wall, coats and coats of shades stacked upon one another over decades.
I apologize for what clearly has been the millennia since I got a pedicure, and she’s overly generous—it’s not that bad—but she is curious, asking in the most delicate ways possible as she works from my feet to my hands just how in the name of cherry blossoms are my appendages so gnarly. Do I cook often? Run long distances? Walk barefoot over hot coals? Operate an 18th-century gristmill with bare hands?
But damn, she gets in there—I’m impressed by her tenacity and resilience in the face of my neglected digits. No hangnail proves too insurmountable; no callus too challenging. She scrubs my feet and legs with a cherry seed scrub, and soon I’m in a catonic state, falling into a slumber as sweet and soft as the tender, pink heart of a blossom first tasting spring air.
As she sends me on my way, and my pink toes, several skin layers lighter, shuffle happily in their disposable flip-flops, I hear a chic woman who looks entirely at home in a spa locker room request to have her car pulled around front. And that’s when I remember: I don’t really belong here—I’m the girl that will have to scooter home in paper flip-flops.
Official ranking: 4 out of 5 Baked & Wired cherry blossom cupcakes
Cherry Blossom Treatment at Aura Spa
At the Aura spa, located in the Vida fitness center, I’m handed a glass of cherry blossom-infused cold brew tea, which has hints of vanilla, I’m told, but kind of just tastes like Tidal Basin pond water. I miss the cucumber water in my Watergate pod. 🙁
But! Oh man, am I about to have my cherry blossom-manicured-and-pedicured world rocked. As someone who never gets spa treatments, this is better than living in a world that is banana Laffy Taffy-free: You’re rubbed with a warm, cherry blossom-scented cream, which is exactly how I would imagine it feels to live in a cozy, slightly melted Yankee Candle.
Then out comes the giant mitt, and you’re exfoliated until you’re just a pure, newborn-esque bundle, all the past grievances and misdoings and poor decisions wreaked upon your body stripped away in one cosmetic catharsis, as if you were just imagined into being, as if you just showed up here.
And the massage—oh, the massage! Admittedly, there’s not an ounce of discernment in my body when it comes to things like this. Back scratches, head rubs—I want them all, all the time.
(My boyfriend often tells me that if someone offered me a back scratch, I’d truly do whatever they wanted: rob a bank, skydive without a parachute, streak naked down Connecticut Avenue, anything. I could never be a secret agent; all a terrorist would have to do is start rubbing my head and it’d be OH MY GOD THE CODE TO THE NUCLEAR FOOTBALL IS *2457 and then Earth would be obliterated and all that’d be left would be a couple packs of Twinkies and Elon Musk staring at our smoking skeletons from Mars.)
Towards the end of the treatment, the masseuse asks me how I’m doing. I’m so zen, so deep in a state of otherworldly, sublime, ethereal bliss, racing through the cosmos and transcending realities, that I open my mouth and all that comes out is “ghoooooooooo.”
As I leave the spa and walk through Dupont Circle, my body slicked down like a duck in an oil spill, the volume on everything seems turned up a little higher, the colors brighter, the smiles on the baristas bigger, the buses chugging along a little cheerier. And, oh, hey—is that a cherry blossom?
Official ranking: 5 out of 5 Baked & Wired cherry blossom cupcakes
Cherry Blossom Youth Infusion Facial at the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown
When I get to the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown, an extremely cheerful concierge—like, extremely cheerful, like as in my dude must live, breathe, exist, eat-sleep-and-die cherry blossom season—takes me down to what he calls “the leisure level.” Which, of course, is only fitting, as now I’m a spa-dwelling, manicured, coiffed lady of leisure.
As soon as I’m robed up, lying on a bed in a spa room where a sound machine is emitting something that sounds like a pod of dolphins rustling through a tree canopy, the aesthetician starts slothering a glop of things on my face. Supposedly said glop contains cherries, magnolia bark, red currants, and elderflower, but I kind of suspect she’s just putting cherry Yoplait on my cheeks.
She asks how often I get facials, to which I, of dazzling wit, respond: “How often is never? Hahahahaha.” The dolphins rustle loudly through the trees. A glop of cherry Yoplait rolls down my neck. Somewhere, a dermatologist wails into the ether.
When we get to the exfoliating peel, she puts a little net over my face to protect me from what I can only assume is a glowstick she’s rubbing over my face. I immediately think of a clump of Brussels sprouts in their net packaging, elbowing each other aside as they strain to breathe through the holes. (Yes, I am the Brussel sprout in this metaphor. Stay with me here.)
I’m plucked and scrubbed, rubbed and extracted, until my pores are as all pores aspire to be, as smooth and deep and limitless as a cavern pool. She finishes by massaging a hair mask into my scalp, and yes, there it is, I can almost see it—why, exactly, someone would shell out $275 for this.
As I leave through the Ritz’s lobby, international businessmen and fashionable tourists sitting in plush chairs while the clink of $18 martinis fills the air, it’s with the confidence I imagine must settle into the center of perpetually done-up and flawless women. A tightened armor, a straighter spine—I look as good as money can buy.
And then—wait. It hits me. I look around, up the cobblestoned street, down to the water. I realize where I am. There, a few blocks away, sitting pleased and cozy like a close-mouthed smile, it stands: Baked & Wired.
And you know what? Screw it. I got a cupcake.
Official ranking: 4 out of 5 Baked & Wired cherry blossom cupcakes