Courtesy Aire Ancient Baths
In Roman times, communal bathing wasn’t just about health and good hygiene. It was also an indicator of social status and a chance to conduct business at elaborate aqueduct-fed facilities. Sadly, through the 1970s, American public bathhouses took a turn for the seedy before pretty much going extinct. The practice of “taking the waters” is making a comeback in Chicago, though, this time without the hedonism.
Elevating hot-tubbing to exalted levels, Aire Ancient Baths (800 W. Superior St., 312-945-7414) hunker down in a restored brick River West industrial building. In candlelit caverns, coed customers languidly hop through fragrant herbal steam rooms and a series of six thermal pools in varying temperatures. After spending 90 minutes steeping, sipping green tea, and lounging on heated marble slabs, a quick dip in the 57-degree frigidarium provides a pleasantly chilling shock to the system in preparation to reenter the real world, if you can stand it.
Aqua slippers are provided and swimsuits are required—this is still the modest Midwest, after all. (Chicago’s Aire spa is the only one outside of New York and Spain. The New York location was the setting for a shootout in John Wick). Reservations are strongly recommended, and you’ll have to leave your cell phone in a locker for the duration of the visits. Tack on a wine bath followed by a grapeseed-oil couple’s massage, or an ancient Argan/jade stone ritual to keep the glow going.
On the more conventional side of pampering, the expansive Kohler Waters Spa (2358 N. Lincoln Ave., 312-245-9129) opened in Lincoln Park last year as an outpost of the famous destination retreat in Wisconsin. Winter-weary souls can rejuvenate dry skin with a luxurious exfoliation treatment underneath six rain showerheads, followed by leisurely chaise time in the thermal suite, which includes a sauna, steam room, and cool plunge pool. The Romans would be jealous.