New York already has its fair share of outstanding bathhouses—from the old school Russian & Turkish Baths in the East Village to the near-mythical Spa Castle in Queens. Or so I’ve heard. To tell you the truth, I’ve steered clear of these institutions in the past because the idea of communal spa-going has always conjured up images of bumping knees with naked strangers in overcrowded Jacuzzis. But I think I’ve finally found a bathhouse that satisfies my desire for semi-privacy: the AIRE Ancient Baths, a candelit haven that opened in a converted Tribeca textile factory last month.
AIRE is a Spanish franchise that started around ten years ago in Seville, and their new NYC location marks their first overseas venture. Inspired by the thermal baths frequented by the upper echelons of ancient Roman society, the bathhouse is a cavernous 16,000 square foot space that’s largely underground (just like its bygone predecessors). And unlike other bathhouses, AIRE limits its capacity to 30 people at a time to ensure that everyone has plenty of breathing space, which is great news if you’re somewhat claustrophobic like me.
I recently stopped in for a 90-minute session after a long day at work, and I quickly learned that following the proper ritual is key to making the most of the AIRE experience. After changing into a bathing suit in the upstairs locker room, I was guided into the basement facilities, where I started off with a brief massage that relieved the pent-up tension in my shoulders (call out to Giamo for his kneading skills!). Afterwards, I made my way through the recommended circuit, jumping from the heated whirlpool to the salt water pool, which has the same density as the Dead Sea but also something its Israeli counterpart will never have: underwater speakers so you can listen to music as you’re floating with your ears half-submerged.
Next, I proceeded to the traditional Romanesque pools: a swim in the pleasantly warm Tepidarium led to a long soak in the hot-but-not-scalding Caldarium, which segwayed into a (very) brief plunge into the ice cold Frigidarium. The whole visit felt blessedly far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city outside—from the pristine gleam of the imported Spanish marble floors to the hushed voices of the scattered bathers (enforced by a spa-wide quiet rule).
The only sign that you’re still in NYC? The organic juice menu offered to you by the bath attendants. Apparently New Yorkers can’t go anywhere without sipping on a green juice.
Turn your own bath into a spa-esque retreat by picking up Feeling Smitten’s fizzy bath bombs.