Waldorf Astoria Chicago Boasts Class, Intrigue, and Rejuvenation
Writers stir up their creativity through the written word, and more often than not there comes a time when you need to take a reprieve from all that mental activity. I suppose we all need it, especially now that we live in such a high-tech world. We’re pulled in so many directions, more now than ever before. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a diversion recently, but during one of my walks in Downtown Chicago, I happened to come upon the Waldorf Astoria, wonderfully tucked away on Oak Street, just down the block from the thriving mecca that is Michigan Avenue.
Two words immediately came to mind: Spa Day. And then a gaggle of questions: How? When? Now? Next week? Next week won out. I was booked for a series of treatments, which I am eager to share with you.
Before moving on, it must be noted there is a very good reason the Waldorf garnered the award of No. 1 Hotel Spa in the United States in both the 2013 and 2014 Condé Nast Reader Polls. The establishment is the epitome of class, yes—the service, the motif, all of it. But there’s a fascinating energetic vibration emitting from the creative pores of this place and it’s not easy to articulate it—a mix of honor and dignity and, perhaps, a reminder that “the good things in life” are within much closer reach than we think. And, perhaps more so … we deserve to relish in them.
So, off to the Waldorf Astoria Spa & Health Club I went. The portal has also garnered high marks for its excellent service with a full range of remarkable if not re-energizing spa treatments. I was told one can find some of finest, knowledgeable practitioners here, and from the two individuals I experienced, I certainly found that to be the case—charming, personable, smart, savvy, and engaging, I learned things about my face, my pores, my body, my muscles. Refreshing.
Entering the spa from the elevator, everything from the lighting to the expansive reception area was well thought out, and the area itself was incredibly pristine. The retail space was spacious and well kempt. I opted for two treatments on the day I visited, both unique in their own right, and I was eager to experience them. The men’s and women’s dressing room/changing areas are quite the bounty—secured lockers, a wonderful eucalyptus steam, a sauna, a Jacuzzi, spacious individual shower areas, and enough specialty water to rehydrate you—forgive me, in my relaxed state on the way out, I may have forgotten if it was cucumber, or cucumber and lime water. I’ll have to go back and check it out again.
My first treatment was something downright unique, and from my understanding, only a handful of individuals in the area have been trained to perform such spa treatment feats. Or is it feet?
It’s dubbed an Ashiatsu Massage. This is a barefoot deep-tissue massage. Yes—like something you would see in a movie.
The Lowdown: The technique uses wonderfully deep compression strokes from the practitioner’s foot/feet. They glide over the body and various muscles, using a push-and-pull motion. But how? Well, that’s unique. The practitioner holds onto a bar above her head to obtain just the right balance. Supposedly, after several treatments like this, an improvement in posture and movement occurs, but factor in that this type of massage also assists with alleviating pain, improving bodily functions, and creating an overall state of well being and it really can’t be beat.
It really can’t. Having lived in California for many years, and having experienced many massage practitioners—many of which were versed and skilled in the fabulous Esalen massage—I have to say this was, by far, one of the best massage experiences I have ever had. I would not say I “zoned out”—gone to a floaty place of funky return. Rather, as the practitioner skillfully maneuvered her feet through various muscle points along my back, my hips, my shoulders, my neck, my legs—dear Lord, there’s something about having somebody do this on your legs—I felt as if my muscles were worked in such a different way than in other massages.
Mostly, it felt as if they were being properly stretched, attended to, worked on. And, of course, it makes sense. The practitioner has more leverage from her vantage point, and she knew just the right amount of pressure to apply; she knew when to go deeper, when to not. It appeared she had been trained properly to instinctually gage just how deep to go and how to carefully maneuver across the body. Better still, at times, I was told about the muscles, the lymph system, the body. This was an added bonus.
Backside and frontside—both offered unique sensations. I was surprised by how tight my hamstrings and quadriceps actually were. We think we stretch these muscles enough, but alas, I fear we do not. The entire experience left my body feeling rejuvenated, revived, relaxed, but it also did something to my psyche and mood. Those, too, seemed to be worked over, and I left the room feeling lighter, greater, more enhanced. Remarkable.
Next up: a Silk Peel facial. Here, too, in the modestly lit treatment room, I experienced a memorable service from a knowledgeable professional. I soon discovered that this facial was akin to microdermabrasion. A SilkPeel Dermalinfusion System was used and it combined a kind of non-invasive exfoliation. The purpose was to offer specific solutions directly to the skin without the use of crystal or other chemical exfoliants. And each treatment is different as each client’s skin is different. So the practitioner must gauge and use instinct and knowledge. I was surprised at how soothing everything felt as a variety of moisturizers and cleansing was applied. Some of them remained on my face longer than others, but I appreciated knowing there were no harsh chemicals involved at all. As my face made its way back to feeling more revived, the practitioner explained in detail about how the vast amount of moisturizers out there actually strip the skin of essential oils. So, this kind of education, too, was somewhat of perk. An hour or so later, I floated out of the room. Relaxing? Yes. And the best part was I could feel my face was truly hydrated and smooth.
I sat in the main lounge area afterward to let everything sink in a bit. I read, watched some television, and then noshed on some of the stellar nibbles the spa offers on various trays—nuts, dried fruits, and the like. And, of course, I remained hydrated with the magic water they offered. Can it get better than this?
The health club offers a number of notables, too, including private Pilates and gyrotonic lessons, in addition to a variety of workout equipment, and a mosaic-tiled pool. Some other spa treatments caught my eye: the 60-minute Couple’s Massage and the Champagne & Spa lunch for two. Inquire about those and other packages.
All that is soothing, transformational, and good. But I suggest taking note of some the following establishments in and around the spa that are worth exploring. Some of them you may want to experience before your spa experience. Others, such as the various places to nosh, would be ideal afterward.
Onward we go…. Indulge.
I suggest treating yourself in the many shops and boutiques around the Waldorf before heading into the spa. Makes sense, right? Actually, depending on how long you are in town, it’s best to create a shopping day in and of itself. And then spend the following day rebooting in the spa. It all depends on your energy level.
Places of interest: Barneys New York, Chicago, on the same block as the Waldorf and a must-visit; Hermés, which has been around since 1837 and offers lifestyle accessories and luxury good in particular that continue to stand out; Michigan Avenue, just a short block or so away and the famous Water Tower Place center certainly still draws crowds. Neiman Marcus, Saks, and Bloomingdales also all reside on Michigan Avenue and the best thing about them? They’re all flagships stores.
As for dining, let’s get this out of the way first: A signature, two-story Starbucks is right down the block. (FYI.) Beyond that, take note of these remarkable dining establishments worthy of your time. Of course, there’s Gibson’s on Rush Street. It’s renowned, and the steakhouse continues to win raves and national attention. For something unique, consider Table Fifty-Two, chef Art Smith’s culinary den that boasts Southern hospitality.
No Chicago visit goes without deep-dish pizza and there’s plenty to be had nearby at popular places such as Giordano’s, Gino’s East, and Pizzeria Uno. But here’s the thing: Chicago is famous for its deep-dish. I actually think its thin-crust pizza is some of the best around. Try it.
And let’s not forget what’s inside the Waldorf itself—Balsan (lively and absolutely memorable, with a super brunch) and Bernard’s Bar, the 34-seat “neighborhood boîte” smacks of a private plush club and should entice.