Juvenex Spa in "Koreatown" on 32nd St. near Penn Station was the first high-end Korean spa in Manhattan. Located on the fifth floor of an unassuming building between Fifth and Broadway, Juvenex specializes in super-thorough Korean body scrubs. And while it has new competition from Spa Castle Premier on 57th Street, it still has a lot of amenities, including a Jade Igloo sauna, made with 30,000 pounds of Korean jade, a “cleansing stone” that helps the process of detoxification.
A 90-minute Juvenex Jade Journey ($115 with a fantastic Korean body scrub, $65 a la carte) starts with time in the jade igloo and transitions through various experiences, including a mugwort steam sauna, cold showers (for contrast therapy), and soaks in three Japanese-style tubs of various temperatures with sake, ginseng, kombu algae and other herbs. A la carte, you finish with time in a low temperature, baked-clay sauna.
But all this soaking softens and prepares the skin for the incredible exfoliation that is a Korean body scrub, performed with milk and two mitts. Korean body scrubs are more effective than American-style salt scrubs so you don't want to miss this.
The Juvenex Experience
Juvenex is 24-hour spa is open to women only from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. when nudity is the norm. If you don't feel comfortable with that, you can wear the disposable swimsuit they offer or bring your own. After 5 p.m. until 7 a.m., Juvenex is co-ed.
But don't expect any "funny business" at this Korean spa. Swimsuits are required, and it's mostly couples who come to spend several hours, detoxifying in the sauna and steam, getting a scrub, and maybe a massage or facial upstairs. It's a great place to spend several hours. There's even a little bar where they serve complimentary fruit and tea when you want to refresh.
The Jade Igloo
The customer service is excellent here and starts at check-in when you give up your outdoors shoes for a pair of slippers and get a key to a locker where you'll find a robe and towel. There is a private changing area, but it's not very spacious. I was there in the evening, so donned my disposable swimsuit and headed into the jade igloo, as instructed by my therapist, Heidi.
This is a pretty hot sauna, with cedar benches that you put your towel on. Just don't lean against the back wall. Jade contains calcium and magnesium, which is supposed to benefit the body, but it's pretty hot to the touch! Heidi put a bottle of milk and water in there with me to warm up for my body scrub later.
Softening Up the Skin
After about 15 minutes in the jade igloo, I cooled off under a shower. Then Heidi led me to a room with a private hydrotherapy tub, already poured with hot bath and scattered with rose petals. She told me to stay in there 15 minutes, which I barely made, as my body temperature was rising.
Alternating between hot and cold stimulates circulation and is a traditional spa treatment, done a lot in Europe and other cultures if not so much America, where most people find it too "intense". But you feel great afterward if you can handle it.
The private tub is optional -- you can achieve the same effect by showering and going into the three Japanese soaking pools. After that, it was into the mugwort steam room. Mugwort is as herbal medicine and herbal tea in Korea and is believed to promote detoxification. Mugwort is also used in a treatment you can get at Juvenex called "gyno-spa cure" (also known as vaginal steaming -- the hot new treatment for women who want to be clean inside and out!)
The Skin Comes Off...in Ropes
Finally, I was ready for my body scrub, which Koreans take very seriously. Heidi took me behind a wall, where I could still hear chit-chat in the rest of the spa (Korean spas are more social than American spas) but it didn't really bother me. I lay on a massage table in a disposable swimsuit, and Heidi doused me in water, squirted the warm milk on me, and ran a pair of exfoliating mitts over my lower legs. I couldn't believe how much dead skin came off. Heidi showed me how the dead skin cells rolled up into thin, grey ropes.
It was both fascinating and a little horrifying.
Sometimes I could feel the old skin on the table like crumbs. I kept wanting to look at what Heidi was getting off. She told me to relax, and I finally did, especially when she poured bowl after bowl of warm water over me to wash away the dead skin.
Heidi was nothing if not thorough. I lay on my front, and she stretched out my arms to exfoliate my armpits. No one has ever done that before. I lay on both sides, with one knee bent so she could exfoliate my inner thighs. Another first. She flipped me a few times because I had so very much to exfoliate (It won't be such a job if I come back in a month to maintain, like getting a haircut.)
She rinsed me with milk, washed my hair, and placed thin slices of cool organic cucumber on my face for a refreshing mask. I honestly have never had a better body scrub. It left my skin feeling softer and -- truly -- younger looking.
A Four-Handed Massage
It was intense, but my body truly felt different when these two strong female therapists were done with me. I was sore the next day, simply because so much lactic acid had been released from the work they did on me. It was truly a therapeutic massage that rearranged my body, and I felt great the day after that.
The night I went Juvenex was pretty mellow, but it can get livelier. In fact, Korean spas are in general louder and more sociable than American spas, according to co-owner Myung (Isaac) Yi. "American spas are mostly focused on treatments, whereas Korean spas are focused on meeting and spending time with friends." There are even side-by-side body scrub tables separated by a screen -- lots of couples get them. (And fortunately, they won't put you in there with a stranger.) So take a few hours, go with a friend, and enjoy.
Juvenex At A Glance:
25 W 32nd St # 5
New York, NY 10001-3806