Lads' Day Out
Published: March 2009
By Richard Alleman
In London, more and more men are discovering the joys — and benefits — of hitting the spa
England has long enjoyed a reputation for sartorial superiority — consider the Savile Row suit, the Burberry trench, the Church's brogue. Grooming, however, has traditionally ended at the edge of a Turnbull & Asser cuff. But modern London lads are realizing that clothes alone do not make the man: they're finding the wonders of the urban spa. To capitalize on this new attitude, a handful of male-only grooming centers and spa programs have recently started up, a number of which can be found in the city's hotels. Here, a look at five top spots in London where the refined Englishman can be made to look even finer.
Spa at Mandarin Oriental
True to its Asian connections (the Mandarin Oriental hotel group is based in Hong Kong), London's most exotic new spa lets you travel to some fantasy Far East country without leaving central London. Everything here has a sleek Zen look—from the tatami-matted reception area to the relaxation room with its Japanese garden and color-therapy lighting. Even the treatment rooms look out on their own little gravel gardens.
Guests are encouraged to sign up for a minimum of two hours. The session begins with a cup of herbal tea and a sensual footbath. After discussing the client's wants and needs, the therapist suggests the appropriate "rituals." This usually involves a skin-softening salt scrub, followed by an Ayurvedic aromatherapeutic massage, with oils chosen to lift or calm the psyche. For ultimate muscle-melting after your "rituals," indulge in the two soaking areas: the Vitality Pool, where you lie on a granite bed (or stand on the "volcano") while being massaged by rotating hydrotherapy jets; and the Crystal Steam Room, where a healing amethyst stone is said to induce peace. As if you'd need any more.
66 Knightsbridge; 44-207/838-9888; 2 1/2 hour therapy session including all treatments $270, one-hour massage (available to hotel guests only) from $70.
This new urban retreat, housed in the former Greek consulate, bills itself, quite accurately, as "London's first one-stop grooming and spa experience exclusively for men." Besides a huge menu of massages, facials, scrubs, and rubs, the Refinery offers some advanced spa treatments whose gadgets range from a dry flotation tank, which feels like weightlessness training for the space shuttle, to a Vichy shower bed (a device that can only be described as a human sandwich grill). No high-tech machinery is needed, however, for the wildly popular Synchronous Massage, performed simultaneously by two therapists in perfectly choreographed movements. And the Hair of the Dog, which includes a detox body wrap, clarifying facial, and invigorating aromatherapy massage, can help undo even the ugliest hangover.
Guys on the go take advantage of the Refinery's 15-minute Pit Stop massages, facials, manicures and pedicures, or even reflexology. Of course, you can also simply get your hair trimmed, conditioned, and colored in the skylit Cutting Room, designed by Simon Simpson (who helped do London's Met Bar and Nobu). Most celebrity clients undergo all of the above in a salon room hidden in the basement, entrusting their secret grooming needs to hairdresser-client confidentiality.
60 Brook St.; 44-207/409-2001; shave from $42, haircut from $60, massages from $50 (for 30 minutes).
At first, this wood-paneled salon feels like your basic upscale barbershop. But as soon as you're ensconced in one of the white leather coiffing chairs—equipped with flat-screen color monitors that let you watch the BBC or check your e-mail or portfolio—you quickly realize it's a cut above any snip-and-clip shop you've ever patronized. The trim is top-notch, done by stylists recruited from some of the best salons in town; the pre-cut shampoo, with an invigorating scalp massage, is alone worth a visit. But the pièce de résistance is the hot Cream Shave: a blissful 30 minutes of massaging, lathering, and moisturizing, topped off with a final face wrap of steaming towels.
If the mini-massage during your clipping session isn't enough, book time with Shinya, the resident Japanese masseur. His expert shiatsu or Indian head massages can last 10 minutes or as long as your schedule permits. The salon also has a shower room for those who want to freshen up between that grueling day at work and a big night on the town.
12 St. George St.; 44-207/499-9779; shave from $36, haircut from $57, massages from $1.50 per minute.
The spa according to Philippe Starck is appropriately minimal: a soothing world of billowy white curtains, pale beech floors, artfully designed lighting, and, of course, therapists who look as though they were airlifted from the runways of Milan. Secluded on two floors of Ian Schrager's new Sanderson hotel in Soho, Agua attracts a growing clientele with a full range of treatments, many of which—aromatherapy facials, cleansing back massage, chest and back waxings—have been created especially for men.
The best way to experience Agua is by booking one of its daylong men's packages, which generally include exfoliation, full-body aromatherapy massage, facial, and manicure-pedicure. Hotel guests have access to Sanderson's gleaming new gym and the privilege of ordering healthy dishes, such as shrimp salad with steamed asparagus, from Spoon, the hotel's Alain Ducasse restaurant. Lunch can be taken either in the relaxation room on one of Starck's white faux—Louis XV chairs by a gurgling fountain, or on a chaise in your personal white-curtained pod, equipped with a tiny TV and headset with a choice of music.
50 Berners St.; 44-207/300-1414; massage from $55, packages from $240; Spoon lunch from $17.
In a city renowned for its private clubs, Champneys is perhaps London's clubbiest spa. Exclusive, expensive ($4,000 a year for first-time members), elegant (marble staircases, frescoed ceilings, gilded columns)—Champneys caters to cool and connected Londoners who don't come just to exercise. Since the spa introduced the French Decléor system of facials, massages, and skin-care products designed specifically for guys, they've been lining up for its 70 health and beauty treatments.
For non-members, Champneys offers a Spa Discovery Day that gives men (and women) the run of the club for eight hours as well as a massage, lunch, and as many classes—from Alexander Technique to Ashtanga yoga—as they can fit in. Any package allows visitors a dip in the huge Roman pool, with its blue mosaic tile, Greco-Roman statues, and real palm trees. Cap the day with a soothing meditation session (read: nap) in the womblike relaxation room, which faces an enormous bubbling aquarium. In April, Champneys introduced CityPoint, its new facility in a dramatic glass skyscraper in the City financial district. Advance membership was reportedly 84 percent male, so CityPoint plans to add more programs just for men.
21A Piccadilly; 44-207/255-8000; day rate from $186, massages from $65; Spa Discovery Day $171; Decléor facials from $64.