Roadtesting Shibumi Spa

Soli Davis

“My daughter and I had facials yesterday at Shibumi Spa and we met the director, Soli Davis,” emailed a reader last month. “She’s a very interesting lady and I thought she might be a candidate for one of your spotlights. Here’s her bio. And the facial was really good, too.” I know the reader, so I was sure she wasn’t doing a little freelance PR work; I filed it away, waiting to see if a news peg or hook would come to mind. Then someone from Shibumi emailed to offer me a complimentary treatment.

News pegs are overrated, don’t you think?

I rarely take anything for free—not least of all because no one offers. (If I do, I always say so.) In this case, I figured I’d make an exception. If not, I’d have to pay for spa treatments in order to write about spas, and that could get expensive. I emailed Soli explaining that I’d need to be honest in any write-up, which she agreed to.

Shibumi Spa is inside the Eastern Athletic gym at 80 Leonard, which I already knew because I was a member there way back when. Soli joined Shibumi in the spring of 2009, giving it a reboot. It’s two levels downstairs, on the same floor as the men’s locker rooms. When Soli and I spoke on the phone, she mentioned that spa clients get a day-pass for the gym, a perk that didn’t appeal to me but others might like. I chose a facial with reflexology because I had never had a facial; if I had gone for the massage, I would definitely have liked that you can shower in the locker room (or relax in the sauna or steam room).

My photos of the space were awful, so here's one of the spa's—it's funny that it shows women, because one of the spa's virtues, it seems to me, is that it feels more appealing to men than some others in the neighborhood (thanks to the gym location).

Past the check-in desk and beyond the water feature, which you cross via bridge—there’s a pretty waiting area where I chose not to sit and fill out my forms. (I can be difficult for no obvious reason, but the staff didn’t seem to mind.) And then Soli led me to the treatment room, where she handed me a “spa skirt.” I only ever get massages, so the skirt was new to me—and I wasn’t entirely sure why the facial/reflexology combo required me to undress at all—but I preferred the skirt to any robe. It was far more secure. Soli also pointed out that the table is heated, which meant I might not want to wear my clothes, and I agreed—and then I asked her to turn off the heat. (It was 85 degrees out!) She was cool with that.

Soli is indeed interesting, having worked as a dancer, as a makeup artist, and in theater production, to name what I think are just a few of her careers. (I didn’t exactly take notes while on the table.) “I’m a healer, not a technician,” she said, a thought explained further by this sentence in her bio: “By incorporating the alternative and ancient modalities learned through her family and 20 years of additional study, Soli has developed the exclusive holistic treatments featured on the Shibumi Spa menu.” That New Age stuff doesn’t tickle my sweet spot—I’m a Western medicine kind of guy—but she didn’t talk about it much.

The other reason I rarely write firsthand about spas is that, well, what is there to say? Did I enjoy my treatment? You bet! Did my skin look and feel better afterward? I thought so. Was it better than other facials? Even if I had something to compare it to, you might like a different type of facial. (I did like how Soli customized the treatment for my skin.) As for the reflexology, I’m always happy to have my feet massaged, but I’m not sure I believe that’s the best way to treat my neck and shoulders. What I really want is someone to rub my feet because he or she wants to, which I acknowledge I’m unlikely to get at a spa.

The overall experience was lovely—once or twice I could hear the free weights clank on the floor above, but it didn’t bother me at all (especially compared to the time at another gym spa when a massage was ruined by the screaming from the adjacent kids’ area). In what might be the most important criterion for any spa treatment, it was never awkward—even though getting a facial is rather intimate. This was even more impressive considering that I was basically interviewing Soli the whole time, which meant we couldn’t retreat into the anonymous zone. Soli has a warm, down-to-earth aspect that’s easy to be around. When she told me that she’ll soon be promoting a line of skincare on HSN, all I could think was that she’ll come across beautifully on TV.

The 90-minute facial and reflexology treatment is normally $165, but it’s on sale for $115 through July 16—as is the 75-minute microdermabrasion facial ($115, normally $175). “It results in a diminished appearance of acne scars, hyper-pigmentation, and scarring for men from ingrown hairs and shaving difficulties,” says Soli. UPDATE: Soli just let me know that the spa is also offering—through June—a 90-minute massage for the price of a 60-minute one ($115).

To reserve a treatment at Shibumi Spa, call 212-343-8788.

Full disclosure: As I was leaving, Soli handed me a gift bag with some Bionova products—I didn’t even know you could buy “neck cream.” The bag was left over from a recent media event, which I hope explains the copy of the dating guide He’s Just Not Your Type (and That’s a Good Thing). I placed it on my coffee table to see what Adam says when he finally notices it….


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