While some of us have resisted the whole “bathhouse” thing (visions of scantily-toweled, hirsute men and a whole lot of sweaty naked time with strangers dance through our heads), the recently-opened Tribeca steam-and-soak spot Aire Ancient Baths gives us cause to reconsider. Why? It's something else, entirely. And we mean “something else” in the flattering way somebody would say it to you in a social setting—like, “Boy, you are something else, alright.” For one thing, at Aire, a swimsuit is required (they provide the water shoes, a nod to hygiene we respect). For another: it’s the most luxurious experience we’ve treated ourselves to recently. The first American outpost of a successful Spanish chain, all 16,000 feet of the spa is housed in a 3-story 1883 Tribeca building, which was gutted to reveal the original brick and refashioned into a glass-bound, impossibly relaxing subterranean oasis, accessed by a candle-lit stone staircase. Decorated with Spanish terracotta urns, Moroccan lanterns, and walls of flickering votives, the baths are surrounded by glass-walled massage rooms fitted with gauzy curtains, all intended to make you feel like you’ve wandered in to the best part of the Roman empire. And you know what? It works. Pass the grapes. (And feed them to us, while you're at it.)
In a nod to ancient Greek and Roman bathing rituals, Aire admits just twenty-five people every two hours (ahem, book in advance) to plunge into a series of marble pools at different temperatures. There’s the “tepidarium,” at 97° F; the “caladarium,” which is 102°; the two “frigidarium” pools at 57 and 50°, respectively; the propeller-jet bath at 97°, and the “flotarium,” or salt water pool, which is kept at 100° and, like the Dead Sea it's meant to mimic, is prized for its ability to keep you afloat. There's also a hammam (steam room), which looks like a thick cloud caught in a glass box, if that cloud was 115°, enhanced with eucalyptus oil, and you wanted to stay in it forever. The no-talking policy and limitation on body traffic makes the experience less awkward than getting sweaty with a bunch of strangers has the potential to be—though if you go by yourself, know that there will most likely be couples there, and they will all be giving each other 'honeymooner eyes'... You can’t really blame them, though. The whole thing is so damn pleasurable you’ll probably be giving the tea table honeymooner eyes by the end of your session. Our tip: bring a friend and you two can make eyes at each other while you float.
Massage services are available in increments of 15 to 60 minutes—someone will come collect you for your appointment—and there’s a heated marble banquette stocked with complimentary mint tea and a menu of fresh juices to sip while you unwind (we favor the coconut and peach blend). For those who really want to take the Ancient Rome thing to the next level, there are two private treatment rooms reserved for one- or two-person treatments that include a soak in either olive oil, cava wine, or red wine, and subsequent four-handed massages. It's either up your alley, or it's not. No judgements.
Our recipe for a perfect Aire date? Take the full two-hour block and work your way through the pools, from body-temperature to whirlpool to the 102°, dipping in the frigid plunge before heading to the hammam. Then, steam it out before taking a leisurely float in the salt-water pool, letting it do it’s naturally exfoliating thing. Get a massage (15 minutes is $20, but it’s very hard to just do 15 minutes), and if you’re feeling lush, spring for the four-handed (!!!) option. Lie on the heated marble, get a juice, and try not to feel like you’re a Roman emperor. We dare you... And we’ll see you there post-Fashion Month.
Aire Ancient Baths, 88 Franklin Street, New York, NY, (212)-274-3777. 2 hours of access to the baths is $75; $140 with a 60 minute massage. The ritual packages (olive oil, cava, wine) run from $450-500 per person.