I tried some of New York's weirdest wellness treatments—here's what they were like

New Yorkers can now soak in a tub of red wine or immerse themselves in salt.

Anna Rahmanan
Written by
Anna Rahmanan
Senior National News Editor
Red wine soak at AIRE Ancient Baths
Photograph: Courtesy of AIRE Ancient BathsRed wine soak at AIRE Ancient Baths

"Let Me Tell You" is a series of columns from our expert editors about NYC living, including the best things to do, where to eat and drink, and what to see at the theater. They publish each Tuesday so you’re hearing from us each week. Last month, Senior News Editor Anna Rahmanan sang the praises of sitting at the bar at restaurants

It was inevitable: New York eateries have been turning to gimmicky offerings for years now (Have you seen “The Chobster” yet?) while local hotel chains have been focusing on oddly themed experiences, so it was just a matter of time until creativity (AKA weirdness) would also creep into our wellness spaces.

As a health freak and a devotee of, well, feeling well, I decided it was time for me to try some of the city’s most odd-sounding wellness treatments on my own skin, literally.

I kicked things off at Remedy Place in the Flatiron. Aptly described by Inc. as the love child of Soho House and Equinox, the destination markets itself as a social wellness club that focuses on human interactions as much as actual treatments. I didn’t, however, interact much with others during the rainy afternoon I spent at the peaceful space. That’s probably because I quite literally could not catch my breath after a few seconds spent inside the ice bath meant to help with my circulation and pain relief.

The experience kicked off with 11 minutes of guided breathwork laying next to the 39 degree tub that I was to submerge in right after for six minutes.

Ice baths at Remedy Place
Photograph: Benjamin HoltropIce baths at Remedy Place

Not usually a fan of the sort of meditation practices that a lot of New Yorkers swear by (I find movement more soothing than dealing with my own thoughts), I promised I'd give it a fair shot. There must be a reason why everyone swears by the activity, after all. I'm happy to report that I did feel an overall sense of calm, albeit tinted by pangs of anxiety at the thought of all the time I was wasting away from my desk, while “meditating.” 

It was, however, a short lived joy: as soon as my buttocks touched the freezing water, I went numb. I wanted to scream “get me out of here” but all I could muster was an “oh ah oh ah” while shivering and trying not to fall into the bath. 

The session was meant to be a group experience and I was joined by what I am still convinced was a robot in human form who was able to plunge directly into the water and chit chat about his upcoming weekend plans and potential summer vacations with the instructor without flinching or complaining about the coldness of the bath. 

I felt like I was being punched in the gut and couldn’t even fathom living through a minute of the plunge, let alone six of them. I lasted a total of 33 seconds (that’s what the instructor said, although I am sure he felt bad for me and added 20 seconds to my actual time). 

Word to the wise: cold plunges aren’t just cold, they’re ice-like, a step beyond freezing—and, apparently, all the rave: plenty of wellness centers in New York now offer the chance to bathe in freezing water, including the well-known AIRE Ancient Baths in Tribeca. 

Salt room recovery experience at Exhale Spa
Photograph: Anna RahmananSalt room recovery experience at Exhale Spa

Arguably one of the most recognized names in the local spa world, AIRE opened back in 2012 and seems to now be trying to diversify its roster of offerings. A modern take on the ancient bathhouses popular across the Roman and Ottoman empires, the destination is really a collection of pools of different temperatures (cold plunge included) meant to soothe your skin and spirit in different ways. 

Perhaps as a way to once again stand out in the now-crowded wellness space, AIRE has debuted a strange-sounding signature wine experience that allows patrons to enjoy a private red wine soak featuring red grapes from the Ribera del Duero region in Spain. 

First things first: stripped of its alcohol content, the wine that you soak in, which comes out of a giant faucet straight into a bath made of stone, does not stain and cannot get you drunk. 

What may alter your consciousness, though, is the bottle of red that is served to you as part of the experience. Three types of cheeses and grapes accompany the drink.

The experience, which costs $650 per person, lasts a total of 180 minutes and includes a cranial massage, a tour of the thermal baths and a 50-minute full body massage in addition to the wine soak, which apparently helps you feel clean and exfoliated given the wine’s antioxidant properties. 

Did I feel relaxed post wine bath? Sure. Was it worth the price tag? Probably not, but who am I to judge where New Yorkers  spend their extra cash? AIRE was pretty busy for a random weekday morning, supporting my thesis that New Yorkers are all in when it comes to wellness these days.

Following my memorable wine soak, I made my way to the relatively new Virgin Hotel in midtown Manhattan, also home to Exhale Spa which, out of all the venues I visited, mostly resembled the sorts of traditional spas that have been defining the industry for decades now. It is at Exhale that I found myself in perhaps the weirdest state of being–one that I can’t wait to enter again. 

Salt room at Exhale Spa
Photograph: Cesar SotoSalt room at Exhale Spa

I signed up for the salt lounge journey and was led to a peaceful, relatively small room filled with zero-gravity chairs, each one equipped with sound and vibrational therapy. 

Focusing on the "healing properties of salt," the experience lasted about 30 minutes and included the use of giant compression boots that reached way above my thigh. I was then asked to put on an LED face mask and just sit there. 

Once again alone with my thoughts, I was sure that anxiety was about to creep over me… until I woke up from a deep slumber that caught me completely by surprise and was made that much sweetener by the compression boots I had on.

The “shoes” would squeeze my always-achy legs and then let go. It was basically a boot-delivered massage that could have lasted hours. A similar experience was provided to my head: the goggles vibrated and almost massaged my temples throughout the half hour that I spent in the salt room. My first thought upon waking: where can I buy these boots and glasses and can I wear them while sitting at my desk all day? 

Alas, despite the presence of countless other “unusual” wellness treatments around NYC—including nap pods! Face gyms! Head spas! Crystal bed therapy sessions!—my adventures came to a close.

Did I feel lighter? More relaxed? Cleaner? Well-er? Sure, sort of. 

When come to think of it, though, a single aspect of all treatments resonated with me most: all of them were performed without invasive technology around. That is to say: I was away from my phone and laptop and people screaming in my ears throughout each session, allowing me to take in whatever was happening while in a, yes, calmer headspace. 

Was it the wine soak and the alien-like boots that contributed to my overall wellbeing or the absence of distractions while partaking in the treatments? Probably, the latter—which is just as well as the former. 

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