Far East Appeal

The Greenwich Hotel, a downtown Manhattan retreat known for both its celebrity owner, Robert DeNiro, and its high-profile clientele, is also making headlines for its commitment to Old World craftsmanship and elegant design. Handmade bricks, reclaimed wood rescued from a Civil War-era factory, antique glass mirrors salvaged from the city's landmark Flatiron Building, and custom terracotta and marble floors modeled after a 14th-century palazzo in Italy are among the many carefully planned touches found throughout the 88-room property.

 Shibui Spa's inviting indoor pool is set below the beams of a 250-year-old farmhouse that was imported from Japan.
Shibui Spa's inviting indoor pool is set below the beams of a 250-year-old farmhouse that was imported from Japan.

Equal consideration was paid to the creation of Shibui Spa, the hotel's 4,500-square-foot subterranean haven that pays homage to the simple majesty of ancient Japan. The spa houses a lantern-lit swimming pool and lounge set below the roof of a 250-year-old bamboo and wood farmhouse. The farmhouse was reassembled by several Japanese craftsmen, some of whom have been designated as Living National Treasures of Japan, without hammering a single nail, instead using wooden pegs and an ancient knot-tying technique. Guests are encouraged to while away their pre- and post-treatment hours there, enjoying healthy spa fare and sipping on sake, bottled water, freshly made ginger and honey tea, or warm or cool yuzu (Japanese citrus) tea. "Our guests are seeking a refreshing escape, a quiet, serene hour or so when they can leave the world outside and just relax and rejuvenate their body and soul," says Thuyen D. Nguyen, creative director and lead managing therapist. "Most of our clients will take the time to have a swim in the pool, perhaps a steam bath, and then go in for their therapy."

Hydrotherapy aficionados can soak in the spa's authentic onsen tub
Hydrotherapy aficionados can soak in the spa's authentic onsen tub

The Japanese authenticity is evident throughout the spa. Upon arrival, guests don yukata, or summer kimono-style robes. Among the four treatment rooms are a shiatsu room, complete with ashiatsu bars on the ceiling, and a traditional bathing room with a Japanese onsen tub for bathing rituals and a tatami mat on the floor that is ideal for Thai massage. The two other treatment rooms include a wet room for wraps and scrubs and a massage room where manicures, pedicures, and facials can be performed. Additionally, a relaxation area features furniture and accessories imported from Japan, further adding to the spa's Far East appeal. "The look and overall feeling we were hoping to achieve was one of simplicity and tranquility," says Nguyen.

 In their large hotel room bathroom tubs, which feature colorful Moroccan tiles.
In their large hotel room bathroom tubs, which feature colorful Moroccan tiles.

The menu features numerous Asian-inspired treatments, including the popular Sake Ki ($280, 80 minutes), which combines several Japanese customs, including an inhalation of Japanese peppermint, a full-body, deep-tissue rubdown with a ginger and black pepper ointment, and a compression massage using steamed sake-soaked towels. Spa-goers also tend to lean toward the body rituals, which were created by Nguyen and use La Don products, his signature skincare line made from fresh Asian ingredients. For example, antioxidant-rich Japanese green tea, sugar cane, and granulated walnut are part of the Sukurabu Green Tea ($310, 80 minutes) body ritual, while lotus essences and jasmine flower enhance the Lotus Root Remedy ($310, 80 minutes), and Japanese sea kelp provides a mineral-rich infusion in the Watasumi Algae ($310, 80 minutes) service. "I created very specific protocols and products that complement each other to create a relaxing, harmonious, and effective treatment experience," says Nguyen "All La Don body rituals begin with forty minutes of massage, which allows the therapist to use deeper pressure, and nourishing products that penetrate the skin. An exfoliation then overlaps and enhances the first product. The treatment ends with a warm shower that easily removes all products and leaves guests with perfectly treated skin. The response has been amazing, and I love pleasantly surprising even the most jaded spa-goer."

The hotel's inviting drawing room is an excellent pre-spa pit stop.
The hotel's inviting drawing room is an excellent pre-spa pit stop.

Due to the exclusive and service-oriented nature of the hotel, the spa team works diligently to accommodate any spa request. In-room services are available around the clock, and celebrity stylist Almog Burbea will also come over from his Soho salon to provide hairstyling services in guests' rooms to get them ready for a night on the town following their spa treatments. "We are willing to work with our guests and adapt to any of their needs," says Nguyen. "For example, one young TV star recently wanted to treat her boyfriend for their anniversary and arranged for them to have a romantic after-hours couples' massage on the tatami mat in the Japanese bathing room."

The hotel's outdoor patio is an ideal place for guests to relax.
The hotel's outdoor patio is an ideal place for guests to relax.

Guests also tend to be rather savvy when it comes to spa-going, which keeps the experienced full-time staff of seven and part-time staff of 11 on their toes, particularly when the spa reaches its daily maximum capacity of about 50 guests per day. "All full-time staff members have a strong background in the hotel and spa world," says Nguyen. "I handpicked all of the practitioners, because each had the raw talent and personality to fit this venue. I worked intensely one-on-one with each staff member to refine their skills to create a great team to represent Shibui."

Ashiatsu services are popular with guests looking for deep-tissue healing.
Ashiatsu services are popular with guests looking for deep-tissue healing.

The name Shibui means "a subtle and unobtrusive approach," and moving forward, the spa team plans on continuing to make the mantra a daily reality. "Shibui stands out from other spas because the entire facility provides a true escape—most hotel guests or visitors say they don't feel they are in New York, which is a major accomplishment," says Nguyen. "We plan to grow with the hotel and maintain our outstanding quality."

Shibui Spa (New York City)
Shibui Spa (New York City)

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