New Chicago Spa Goes the Michigan Mile and then Some

by  Melisse Gelula | Jan 15, 2010
Waldorf Astoria Chicago
Waldorf Astoria Chicago / Photo courtesy of the property

The new Elysian Hotel is a Chicago-born luxury brand founded by three Windy City residents in the style of a modern, yet opulent Italianate residence (the Roman busts that flank the lobby are made of resin instead of marble). The hotel, years behind schedule, opened in December 2009. At just 188 rooms (and a residential tower), it’s surprising how much real estate is given to the Elysian Spa—14,000 square feet and 12 treatments rooms—which puts it on par with those at Trump and the Peninsula. But while money and time built those dens of Zen, this newcomer has already nailed it.

The spa isn’t a dimly lit sanctuary. It’s a bright, beauty-product marketplace with chic little sofas set behind gauzy drapes, and a makeup atelier that’s home to a top local artist two days a week. Dramatic mosaic Roman-esque profiles distinguish the men’s area from the women’s. They’re terrifically well-appointed spaces in marble, with a Jacuzzi, sauna, and attendants at every turn (if only they circulated with warming tea as well as dry towels). But punctuating the luxe surrounds are modern design elements like a cluster of glass globes that hang from the relaxation room ceiling and gray silk drapes with a metallic sheen that make the spa feel more like Caesar’s private home than Caesar’s Palace.

Facial treatments favor the French salon stalwart Carita, the Parisian style house that birthed Brigitte Bardot’s ponytail. Its buzz now surrounds the Dermal Lift facial treatment machine, which can temporarily raise a drooping eyebrow and tone a lax jawline (in my case) in a single session thanks to painless micro-currents.

Since Carita lends a European savoir faire that’s missing in Chicagoland spas, it can be easy to overlook the menu’s Homeopathic Facial. But it really wowed me. Savvy aesthetician Robin Shapiro took a careful look at my skin and culled a custom selection of Naturopathica products (made by East Hampton green-formulator Barbara Close) to correct it. And while the hydrating mask did its work on my wind-blown skin, Shapiro worked healing reiki (a form of energy work) on my stress (be sure to ask her for it). Massage aficionados will want to know that the Elysian has landed Elio Troncosco, whose client base of athletes and other massage therapists makes him one of the town’s top practitioners.

The fitness center includes a gorgeous lap pool with tilework that resembles a blossoming rose, a Gyrotonics studio and in-house master-level instructor, and a workout room with enough of the latest cardio equipment for all guests, even at peak hours.

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