Sudden underground asphyxiation, thumb cramps, shortness of comprehension, tightness of face, dissociative drinking—what’s a well-balanced urban lifestyle without a few stress and fatigue-induced health concerns? It would be pointless, because without any ailments, you would never go to the spa, and a life without spas is as pointless as a life without the city. You might as well go live in the country, where life is a spa every day and honeybees bring you tiny silver spoonfuls of honey, and frogs wearing suits put towels over their tiny arms and accompany you to naturally-occurring hot springs, where you’re served cold Muscadet and brushed with eucalyptus. That’s what the country is like. Are you there? Probably not. Go to these three spas, which are some of the best in Brooklyn, to cure what ails you.
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CITYWELL: FOR A STEAMY ESCAPE
CityWell is a hydrotherapy spa hidden inside a completely renovated townhouse in Gowanus. Owner Liz Tortolani, who was born in Vermont, is obsessed with making the city livable for blitzed-out New Yorkers, and has built the sort of playhouse/distraction/stress-reliever she always wanted. The space is split between a curvy white indoor section designed by architect Deborah Mariotti: steam room, gorgeous blue-tiled rain showers, massage room, and a backyard, which includes a whirlpool, massage tent, hammock, barrel sauna (planned for this winter), and fire pit. Although the website says tops are optional, consider that your audience might include anyone tall enough to look down on your spa playground experience from the windows in the surrounding four buildings.
In the spirit of making New York survivable for everyone, CityWell offers a wide range of experiences. For $400, you and a lover can steam, get an individual rub-down, luxuriate in the whirlpool, and sway in the hammock with a mimosa (highly recommended; I did this with my brand new husband and it almost erased our full-body post-wedding tension). Or, for an easy $15, you can go to community steam, offered three days a week. If spa parties are your thing, you and up to ten friends can spend four luxurious hours with the place to yourself for $500. One last clarification: although it may contain any number of unresearched benefits, none of the water at CityWell is sourced from the neighboring Gowanus Canal.
AREA SPA: FOR A SENSITIVE YET UTILITARIAN MASSAGE
As I walked into Area Spa, a lady stumbled out the door and fell into my arms. “Sorry,” she heaved, “it was just such a good massage.” She’s right—the massages here are really good, and not at all frilly or seance-y. Robert (ask for Robert—he’s been at Area Spa for fifteen years) does a fantastic one-hour, full-body deep tissue massage for a decent price ($90) while “Relaxing Classical” plays on Spotify in the background. “Deep tissue” is a good all-around descriptor for the massage, but more accurately, it’s the Robert Classic: a sensitively utilitarian blend of sports, Swedish, and deep-tissue, given with a lotion “he thinks is lavender”—in other words, you won’t get stuck with a parade of mists and oils.
When I accidentally asked Robert if he ever felt like a butcher, he rescued me by laughing, then explained the concept of fascial chains, which are long bands of muscle groups, the manipulation of which can affect posture, balance, and alignment. Fascial chains are where butchers and massage therapists meet—but no, Robert doesn’t feel like a butcher. He’s excited about muscles, and will fix yours.
Area Spa also offers prenatal massage, “because it’s basically required in this neighborhood” and a variety of facials using all-organic products. Another bonus? Free yoga at their yoga studio down the street with every facial or massage.
TRES BELLE MEDI-SPA: FOR A PROFESSIONAL-GRADE FACIAL
At 224 square feet, Tres Belle Medi-Spa might be the smallest small business in Boerum Hill. Owner Allison Tray is definitely in the running for both smallest and friendliest, and might be the only spa owner in Brooklyn with experience in stand-up comedy. She’s been running Tres Belle in the neighborhood for six years, and Paula Genna, the Senior Aesthetician who gave me my facial (she’s treated Björk in the same bed, omg eek) has been there for three of those years. The skin-rejuvenating menu includes IPL (otherwise known as a photofacial), VI Peels, and Microcurrent—these non-surgical anti-aging treatments are what earn Tres Belle the title “medi-spa”, and they’re the reason to visit, unless you’re on a mission to permanently remove a portion of your body hair with lasers; the sweeties at Tres Belle are good at that, too.
I was blessed with the microcurrent facial, which is essentially a series of targeted low-level electrical shocks, and the treatment has been said to reduce inflammation and promote collagen production. At Tres Belle, Paula gives you a facial before plugging you in: her attentive, light-fingered approach was perfect. Not everyone is this lucky, but my colleague left feeling slightly drunk, a bizarre side-effect of the current. Me? Allison directed us across the street for a few drinks, waving us out and smiling from the door. Two manhattans later I felt a bit drunk, and very pretty.
Images by Nicole Fara Silver