Review: AIRE Ancient Baths Chicago

I’ve been feeling a bit stressed lately, so my husband got me a gift certificate to AIRE Ancient Baths in Chicago. It was a great way to de-stress after a tough quarter of grad school and amid the usual challenges of working full time and just … life in general.

AIRE has locations around the world, and their spaces are “inspired by the tradition of baths from ancient Roman, Greek and Ottoman civilizations.” The Chicago location is tucked away in an alley in River West, just off Superior between Halsted and Green St, and according to their website, they are in a restored factory building from 1902.

I booked my experience a few weeks out, for a Friday afternoon during my Spring Break from school, and the day after I would return from a 4-day trip to Las Vegas for a work conference. I figured it would be good timing – no studying to worry about, and my body would probably be tired from walking all over the conference. Booking my reservation online and redeeming my gift certificate were a breeze.

The day of my reservation, I arrived 15 minutes before my scheduled time, per the recommendation on their website. I brought my swimsuit, clean garments to change into afterward, and not much else outside of the usual (wallet, cellphone, keys, etc).

Upon arrival, I checked in at the front desk, filled out a waiver form, received two colored bracelets (which I assume indicate to the attendants what services you booked as well as what time you either arrived or depart, since you can book different lengths of time), and was taken into the women’s locker room. In there, another attendant showed me to a locker, explained how to lock it, and said I should change into my swimsuit and the robe and “aqua socks” that were in my locker, but leave the provided towel behind. Once changed, I was shown down to the bath area.

Once in the coed bath area, another attendant gave me a tour. The space is dimly lit (with candles and underwater lights), with exactly the kind of chill gong-bath-esque music you’d expect, and includes multiple large baths:

  • Flotarium (salt bath)
  • Caldarium (extra hot 104º)
  • Frigidarium (cold 60º)
  • Tepidarium (warm 97º)
  • Balneum (a thousand jets)
  • Laconicum (steam – eucalyptus and lavender)
  • Indoor/Outdoor Bath with a waterfall in the outdoor part (if it had a cool name, I didn’t catch it)
  • A pile of salt you can rub on your body and rinse off via one of two rainfall shower heads (ditto on the name)

I’m not sure of the temp for the baths that weren’t specified – I’m guessing between 97-104º.

There were also various pitchers of water and tea that we could help ourselves to (cups were provided, no need to bring a water bottle), hooks throughout the space for us to hang our robes, a single-person restroom (and more in the locker rooms), and various (tasteful) signs reminding us to observe silence. In addition to the chill music, they ring a bell at 45 after every hour, to indicate the time. I think the standard bookings are 1 hour for just the baths, or you can book a service (massage) which comes with an hour of bath time. You can also add extra bath time. I had a massage plus an extra 30 minutes of bath time.

I went through and spent a few minutes in each of the tubs to see which ones were my favorite. After about 30 minutes, one of the attendants told me it was time for my massage, and I was shown back to one of the massage rooms. I chatted with my massage therapist for a few minutes and explained all the spots I wanted her to focus on (umm… all of them, LOL) and what level of pressure I’m comfortable with (lots). She ducked out and I undressed behind a curtain, and then got under the cover on the table. The massage was 60 minutes long, and included hot oil. It was relaxing but I also have lots of knots and tight muscles and told her to use deep pressure, so some parts were understandably painful.

After the massage was done, my therapist ducked back out, I changed back into my swimsuit (it was still damp but I noticed it was warm, which was nice) and aqua socks. I still had an hour of bath time left, so I went back to my favorite tubs. I spent about 20 minutes in the outdoor tub (the air temp was around 40-45), and then maybe 15 minutes floating in the salt tub, and then sat in the hottest tub for as long as I could stand before quickly dipping into the cold tub (I noticed those tubs aren’t really designed to sit in, but rather quickly pass through), and then finished in the tepid tub. I don’t think I used my full remaining hour, maybe more like 45 minutes.

Once I was done, I couldn’t find my robe (they all look the same and the hook I thought I left mine on was empty), but I was able to get another one in the locker room. I took a quick shower (they have L’Occitane bath products), toweled off, changed back into my clothes, and was on my way. In addition to shampoo, conditioner, and body wash in the showers, they also have body lotion, spray deodorant, hair spray, disposable combs/brushes, hair elastics, hair dryers, straighteners, and a spinny thing and bag for your wet swimsuit.

Overall, it was a very relaxing experience and I will definitely go back, probably with my husband, because he loves hot tubs.

I’ve also been to King Spa, and while this experience had some similarities, it was also very different.

  • AIRE is more expensive ($84 for an hour of bath time during the week, $99 on the weekend, whereas King Spa is $40 any day of the week for up to 24 hours, and you can often find a Groupon)
  • The attendants at AIRE definitely have your relaxation in mind, at King Spa it feels a bit more efficient and orderly.
  • AIRE’s baths are co-ed and you wear your own swimsuit, at King Spa, the bathtubs are in the gendered locker rooms and fully nude
  • AIRE only has baths, steam rooms, and massage services, some with body scrubs, King Spa has that, plus saunas, non-heated meditation rooms, movie room, cafeteria, and additional services like facials.
  • AIRE is adults only (18+), King Spa allows children age 10+

Both are great options to relax. If you want to share the experience with an opposite-gender partner or friend, then AIRE is the better option, especially if you’re looking for a date night or special experience. If you’re on a budget or want to bring your older kids, then King Spa is the way to go.

Have you been to AIRE? What did you think?

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