Chicago: home of deep dish pizza, Michelle Obama, and the world’s first skyscraper. And it also has some pretty spectacular beauty spots, too. After hours of research, I decided to check out three unique places while I was there — a Roman-inspired bathhouse, an elite membership club with an ever-growing waitlist and a spa frequented by Oprah herself.
AIRE Ancient Baths
800 W. Superior St., Chicago, IL 60642
If today was my last day on earth, I would die a happy woman knowing that I had felt true peace. I owe this newfound tranquility to my experience at AIRE Ancient Baths, a Roman-style bath house located inside of a restored paint factory in River West Chicago.
As you enter, you are led to a locker room filled with amenities (the only thing you need to bring with you is a swimsuit). You are provided neoprene swim booties, a robe and a towel and led down a candle-lit stairway to the baths. Think elevated castle dungeon that was taken over by roman self-care addicted royals.
After a tour of the baths, — floatarium, balneum, caldarium, tepidarium and frigidarium — you are left to roam on your own. Every 45 minutes a bell chimes, but there are no clocks in sight. After indulging in some complimentary tea, I head into the floatarium. This saltwater bath is heated at 97 degrees and has the same salt density as the Dead Sea. Reminiscent of my float therapy experience, I let my mind wander for a few minutes. Then, I moved onto the indoor/outdoor steam bath (native to the Chicago location), which was hands down my favorite of the bunch because I love a good outdoor oasis. I wondered if it was possible for life to get any better as the cool Chicago air hit my face.
Moving on, I hit the balneum jet baths that are set at a warm 98 degrees. There are a ton of seats that allow for the jets to beat you into relaxation. I then mosey over to the salt exfoliation area. I grab a from the mounds and get to scrubbing. After rinsing off, I head to the caldarium — I am someone who enjoys scalding hot showers, so the 104 degrees is child’s play for me. Neighboring this tub is the frigidarium (57 degrees) where one goes to freeze. The idea is to spend fifteen minutes in the hot water then jump into the freezing cold to help with blood flow, which is similar to what they do in Nordic countries. They recommend doing this upwards of three times for the best results. I challenge myself to do this with the spirit of Tony Robbins guiding me (he is rumored to do this daily). After completing this challenge, I am fully alert, ready to conquer whatever bath is next.
I laze around in the tepidarium, the body temperature bath, before I head to the aromatherapy steam rooms. The eucalyptus one is a toasty 104 degrees, designed to open up your pores and release body toxins. If you get too hot, there is a cold plunge inside. Then, I head to the less intense 100-degree lavender steam room, until someone grabs me for my massage.
A pass to spend 90 minutes exploring the various baths at AIRE is $84 on weekdays and $99 on weekends. Massages can be added to your package for an extra charge. I decided to try The Vegan Experience ($275), which included a full-body exfoliation, followed by a full-body massage. You enter a secluded room where you lay on warm marble as they exfoliate using a signature loofah. Once that portion is done you are moved upstairs to a private room, and after selecting a pressure of six, my therapist got to work at removing all of the newfound knots I have in my upper back. While lying there in bliss, my swimsuit gets sent to dry so that it is toasty by the time I am done. I somehow fall asleep and when I am woken up, I feel as though I am dreaming.
I rinse off with their L’Occitane hair products and get ready for the remainder of my day. I text every one of my friend groups recommending this place and get to planning my trip back. They ask for pictures and I sadly report that I did not get to take any because I did not have my phone (to protect the privacy of other guests).
AIRE can also be found in New York, Barcelona, Sevilla, Almeria, and Vallromanes.
Cowshed Spa | Soho House
113-125 N. Green St., Chicago, IL 60607
A home for creative like-minded young people with a selective club membership policy — no one from the finance community is allowed membership, for example. Members can bring guests, but there is a no-photo policy adding to the elusiveness of it all. The website explains, “Unlike other members’ clubs, which often focus on wealth and status, we aim to assemble communities of members that have something in common: namely, a creative soul.” The Chicago house is equipped with a gym featuring a professional boxing ring, a screening room, a music room, a drawing room and a 60-foot rooftop swimming pool.
Non-members of Soho House like myself can book a room at the hotel, eat at one of their many restaurants, or hit the Cowshed Spa. The spa offers massages, facials, waxing, mani-pedis and body therapies. Housed in a Soho House’s six-story warehouse, Cowshed’s design is modeled after their original location in Babington House, Somerset that was in an actual cow shed in 1998. I have a Bespoke Facial + Peel ($205) booked with esthetician Kelsey Morrison, which is much needed after a brutal and humid summer. As she pre-cleanses my face with a raspberry seed oil, I grill her with questions about Soho House. She is pretty tight-lipped but does let me know that Tame Impala and 6lack both performed weeks prior. I wonder why I was not born into fame as she uses a gentle cleanser and micro polish to gently exfoliate my skin. Then she steams a clay masque for 10 minutes before moving onto extractions. Once the blackheads and filaments have been removed, we move onto the peel portion of the facial. The peel combines salicylic, mandelic, lactic and glycolic acids to get the remaining bits of bacteria that were not extracted.
Now that the surface is totally clean, she uses a hydrating gel which contains hyaluronic acid to moisturize my skin back to its former glory. “Facial massage is key after extractions because it will create a surge of microcirculation which will speed healing,” says Morrison. She then applies a corrective gel masque to hydrate and soothe inflammation and leaves that on with a hotel towel to steam. This hot steam helps the ingredients penetrate further. She seals the masque into my skin with a moisturizer and Supergoop!’s Everyday SPF 50. “I often recommend Sunday [Riley’s] Good Genes. It’s hard finding lines that formulate with enzymes and lactic acid — especially active amounts to having a noticeable difference,” Morrison adds.
49 E. Oak St., Chicago, IL 60611
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My mom always reminds me that skincare does not stop at just the face. But some parts of the body are harder to reach than others. My back, for example, is a constant worry of mine. I remember growing up hearing about the horrors of bacne and fearing being some child ridiculed at the pool. I work out quite a bit and sweat from tight gym clothes often leads to breakouts or irritation.
Thankfully, there is a beauty fix for those of you who are as vain as I, and I decide to conquer this trivial insecurity of mine by scheduling a Back-Treatment Facial at Mireille’s Studio. Mireille Hamon spent 20 years working at the Oprah Winfrey show as a makeup artist until she decided to open her own salon. I did not know what to expect as I laid down for this 45-minute treatment ($90).
I let my esthetician Meredith Stanley know that I have a very intensive skincare routine but often forget to moisturize and exfoliate my back. Stanley says that this treatment exfoliates your back to remove dead skin and buff away any dull debris with a body scrub that consists of pulverized olive, fig and date seeds (a lot of brides will come in before their wedding day as their backs are often exposed). After steaming my back, she applied a series of clay masks to remove any excess oil and impurities.
“The back is stronger than the face,” Stanley says as she moves onto the extractions, which are painless. After a short massage and a hot towel application, my back is smoother than ever before.
“Baby got back,” I chuckle to myself.