May 252011

If you’ve ever taken a Lamaze class, you’ve experienced the concept of the “happy place,” an imaginary perfect-location in your head to which you retreat to manage potential unpleasantness. Mine was always a open-facility spa that had amazing little pools all over the place on the top of a mountain, but thinking of it made me feel conflicted because it didn’t, to my knowledge, exist.

Then I read about Spa Castle. It took me eons to find a willing companion to go with me out to Queens (Queens!) to visit the spa wonderland, but I finally influenced my cousin Tricia. One caveat, though- while Spa Castle has some spa-like elements, this isn’t a Mandarin Oriental or even an Oasis. It’s an open admission Korean-style bathhouse, known also as a jjimjilbang.

If you’re into this sort of thing, you will probably be jealous to learn that such places are a staple of Korean life. This is how it works- $35 ($45 on weekends) gains you admission for the day. At the door, you receive an electronic wristlet similar to a watch. And you check your modesty, figuratively.

The first area you enter is the locker rooms, and if you’re not accustomed to nudity, brace yourself. Your new bracelet opens a locker, and you go to the locker room check in for a uniform. (Bring a bathing suit.) Attire can be a bit awkward, because it’s mostly nude on the ground floor, uniforms on the second, and bathing suits through the rest- which means a lot of peeling off wet somethings-or-other.

To the right, after you strip, is a big room with four baths in the center. Lining the walls are more pools, including an icy 54 degree plunge pool, and several massage stalls. There are also showers, seated and standing, and an area for the infamous full-body scrubs. This room is entirely nude, no bathing suits allowed, and looks somewhat like an ancient Greek painting. (No pictures permitted, for obvious reasons.)

As an esthetician, states of undress are not unsettling to me, but it still took a good half hour to get used to the idea. We held off on the locker room and went to the main floor, which houses a sushi bar, salad bar, a Starbucks, and several treatment areas. Treatments here are pricey, and we skipped them, but there is a full range of mani/pedi and massage services.

Also on the main floor is part of Spa Castle’s charm- a Hobbit-like village of saunas. I’m a water person, and as such didn’t spend too much time here. The saunas include an infrared lounge area, a gold-lined spa, an ice room, and a LED color sauna. There is a heated floor on which you can pass out quietly for as long as you’d like.

Heading up the stairs, there is another quiet, nap-inducing room with several soft recliners, each with a personal TV. These are almost always full, but the dark room is very tempting. At the top of the stairs is an incongruous, baseball-game like snack stand with corn dogs and baked eggs, but to the right is a full bar. Like treatments, drinks are also a bit steep, though not out of line with clubs- $8 for beers, and $14 for frozen drinks like Mai Tais.

This floor has pools similar to those in the locker room, but the area is co-ed, so if you go with a date, you may spend a lot of time here. Also, there is a swim up bar, which is pretty awesome. But just outside the door is the Bade Pool, Spa Castle’s crowning glory. It may be a rooftop in Flushing rather than the top of an Alpine mountain, but it’s pretty amazing.

The Bade Pool has two halves, and is open year-round. (During my first visit, in January, it was snowing and magical.) There are keys that explain what each set of massage stalls does, but part of the fun is trying them all out. To the right, a series of high-powered “waterfalls” allow for a hands-off massage, and to the far left, a wood-lined jacuzzi is usually crowded but not un-relaxing.

If you’re looking to relax, unwind and be pampered in quiet, Spa Castle may not be for you. But if you want a fun, social and spa-like experience, Spa Castle is perfect for events or a mini-getaway.

Have you been to Spa Castle? Would you go back?

  4 Responses to “Spa Castle: Maybe Not Technically a Spa, But Completely Awesome”

  1. That looks like so much fun!!!!!

  2. I’ve been there a few times – I LOVE that place! There are similar places in LA, but none with the massage pools!

  3. This sounds like bliss. We have a similar bathhouse here called Body Bliss which describes it well. I am not okay with nudity though and would insist on wearing my bathing suit. It’s ok if you’re comfortable with that but I’m not.

    • The nudity is a small part and optional- it’s like 80% clothed, and you don’t miss out on anything when you go bathing suit only. I was a bit uneasy too- then it was liberating! :)

      I have too look that up, now I want to go to all of them!

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