The problem with spas, for many busy, bustling New Yorkers, is the appeal for many others: extended relaxation. The thought of stopping dead at any point in the day, week, or weekend to just chill is a stressful, potentially anxiety-inducing one. Of course, we don’t mean chill in the sense of performing a morning meditation or running a hot bath. No, that kind of chill we all crave and need. We mean spa chill. That put-your-phone-in-a-locker-slip-into-an-embroidered-robe-and-disconnect-for-hours-on-end-in-order-to-relax-level chill. Short of laying prostrate for a quick massage at a questionable downtown locale with no visible exterior signage, there doesn’t exist a happy medium between low-end spa services and upper-echelon experiences. Until now.
"Committing to a spa for two hours without my phone stressed me out,” says Cyndi Ramirez, founder of Chillhouse, New York’s first one-stop cafe-spa spot on the Lower East Side. Ramirez, who is also founder of Taste The Style and partner in Den Hospitality, says the idea for Chillhouse, which touts itself as "a downtown escape for city dwellers seeking a modern path to relaxation,” came about when she noticed a glaring hole in the market.
"My husband and I needed massages and, while chatting about our options at different places, we realized it’s either super expensive or super low-end,” she says, mentioning that joint destinations like this exist for men, citing the Blind Barber, which is as much drinking hole as barbershop.
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So she set off the close that gap. The result is a glowy hole-in-the-wall with attractively simple decor that compels you to inhale a full breath of fresh air upon entering. Chillhouse, in it’s highly-curated, excessively Instagrammable demeanor, physically urges you to chill out even before you’ve checked in for your appointment. Or appointments.
Booking more than one service feels like a worthwhile treat, not a substantial financial burden. And that’s an intentional component to Chillhouse, says Ramirez.
"I’m not the type to blow $200 on a massage,” she explains. "That stresses me out thinking that I need to spend that much money to get a little relaxation fix.”
The spa menus reflect that attitude. Chillhouse offers nail and body services, all of which meet or fall below standard prices. The massages, like "The Chill Pill”, "Invigorate,” and "The Hangover Cure,” cap out at $99 (for 80 minutes) and the most expensive manicure (a full gel set with precise nail art) tops off at $75. And, in theme with the importance of finding time to squeeze in quality R&R amidst a torrent of work and personal obligations, the services are efficient, as well. Back-to-back appointments for the longest massage time and a gel manicure with design extended to just over two hours. And, for those really looking for a lunch break-length service, a 25-minute massage focuses on specific areas of need. But don’t think you’ll feel rushed.
The open-concept, breezy atmosphere at Chillhouse acts as an architectural chill pill. The music, an appealing blend of alternative, tuneful electronic, and light R&B, comes from a playlist created by Ramirez with regular suggestions from her DJ friends ("shout-out to them, for sure”) and is a welcome replacement for the nature sounds and soothing harp ensembles commonly employed by traditional spas. The only other noise at Chillhouse is loose, light-hearted conversation from the various women enjoying beet-chata lattes or the house wines (they also serve more conventional coffee drinks, cider and beer, and various teas) while collaborating during their nail appointments or perusing the various store merch, which includes trendy finds from Sakara, Little Barn Apothecary, Sunday Soul, and Boy Smells, among others.
Judging by the number of onlookers who stopped dead to gaze into windows or offered an inquisitive glance while passing by, Chillhouse promises to attract some regulars, as well as foot traffic (walk-ins welcome!). And Ramirez and team is ready for the future with plans to roll out a membership program soon and, further in the future, a line of products that promise to be very chill.
Chillhouse; 149 Essex Street, New York, N.Y.; 646.678.3501. Open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.