For years, Chicago has been a one-spa town. This is not to say there’s only one spa—there are plenty. But for the luxury spa-goer there was only one name that was on the top of everyone’s list: ESPA at the Peninsula. And with good reason. But with the arrival of the Chuan spa at the Langham hotel, that is sure to change.
Chuan means “flowing water,” and the location suits the name, as the hotel is in an iconic Mies van der Rohe building that’s perched on the banks of the Chicago River, with views of Lake Michigan beyond. The spa (including a fitness center and lap pool ringed with Richard Schultz’s classic 1966 chairs) takes up the entire fourth floor—a whopping 22,000 square feet—but manages to feel intimate, thanks to fantastic use of lighting and well-thought-out interior design.
Treatments are built upon principles of traditional Chinese medicine, yin and yang, the meridian system, and the five elements, with a strong emphasis on rebalancing the elements to ultimately achieve better wellness. There are seven treatment rooms, a really beautiful Himalayan salt sauna, Oriental steam room, herbal sauna and aromatherapy showers, and four-sense loungers (meant to stimulate light, sound, smell, and touch).
Chuan means “flowing water,” and the location suits the name, as the hotel is in an iconic Mies van der Rohe building that’s perched on the banks of the Chicago River…
The only disconnect here, design-wise, is the locker room, which is bright white and super modern—and a bit of a shock to the system when entering from the main, dimly lit spa area with its decidedly Zen vibe. It had everything you’d expect—great showers, a nice array of amenities—plus heated stone loungers, which you don’t normally find in a locker room. The only needs-improvement note here were the lockers themselves, which were full-sized but open plan inside. I felt they could have used more thoughtful touches like hooks or drawers for jewelry and the like. But that’s a minor detail.
To enter the main spa area one walks through a gorgeous, carved wood door. Four works by Anish Kapoor are hung on one wall; a waterfall feature, designed by Richmond International (designers of the hotel), on two others. As I settled into the deep, comfortable shelter sofas, with views of the river, I noticed an oddly good selection of nice, crisp, new magazines.
My treatment, the two-hour-long Chuan Chicago Signature Escape, took place in a spa suite with its own bathroom and steam rain shower with a starry-sky effect on the ceiling. Prior to the treatment, I had been asked to complete a questionnaire that would reflect my current state—with questions about my favorite season of the year, favorite color, food cravings, and even “which part of the day do you find it hardest to motivate yourself?” It was determined, based on my answers, that I was leaning heavily “metal,” and the treatment was tailored to address those types of issues.
It began with a mud wrap. While wrapped my therapist massaged my scalp using a mixture of Kerastase hair oil with lavender essential oils, she also massaged my neck and shoulders. I washed off the mud in the aforementioned Jasmine steam shower with the starry “sky.” It was a rainhead shower, which I often do not like, but was mounted in an angled position, making it more effective than the usual ceiling mount versions. This was followed by a full-body massage, incorporating various techniques including Swedish, Tui-Na, and the use of bamboo on meridian pressure points. Voila. I won’t say the time flew by, but I was never bored or wishing it was over.
After experiencing a signature treatment, there is the complimentary option of spending 20 minutes in the Dream room, which is set with color-therapy loungers. You choose the color you want, which will determine the music that’s played in the provided headphones. The chaise literally glows in the color you’ve chosen, and vibrates along with the music. Maybe it was my unusually relaxed state, but I found that experience pretty cool.
This treatment prices out at $350 to $375, depending on whether it’s booked at a peak time or not, and is one of the more expensive offerings on Chuan’s menu. That said, this jaded writer thinks it’s worth every penny.