As a Korean bathhouse fanatic who has scoured dozens of them—large and small, in Korea and throughout the U.S.—I’ve been eagerly awaiting the Premier 57 opening. Well, the wait is over! Here’s what I saw on my four-hour stay, from the traditional (Himalayan salt rooms, rice cake soup) to the…slightly surprising ($165 body scrubs?).
Not Your Average Spa
With a million spas to choose from in New York City, I’m glad that Premier 57 decided to stay true to the original Korean bathhouse experience. If it’s your first time, this is what will happen: you’ll enter the locker rooms to deposit your footwear in personal shoe cubbies (yes, you’re going to remain barefoot throughout). You’ll shower (very publicly) and, if you’re shy, use the small rectangular towels to cover your lady or man bits. Ultimately, you will descend into the hot tubs sans-swimsuits. There are no fancy complimentary robes, slippers, or flickering candlelight here. No, instead you will be handed a set of oversized pajamas. While the uniforms are on par with the sexiness of granny panties, they are a major tenet of the Korean sauna and lounging experience.
Be Prepared To Stay A While
Korean bathhouse culture has its roots in a communal lounging experience, where you are encouraged to relax, nap, and munch on snacks for hours—all in the proximity of your friends and family. Here, there is no such thing as overstaying your welcome, which is wonderful in a city where massage turnovers are timed. Spa Castle has a 16-and-up admissions policy, which isn’t the norm in Korea, but the age cutoff does make for an older, more refined (and boozier) crowd.
Like Disneyland for Grown-Ups
Premier 57 is a maze of treatment rooms, all of which promote resting, healing and rejuvenation in different ways. Wander through saunas, like the Himalayan salt room, which uses salt’s properties to regulate blood pressure, clear the skin, and even relieve allergies. Or step into an ice igloo, which is a cold room that stimulates the body’s natural antioxidants, while firming the skin. Maybe hydrotherapy bade pools are more your thing—they use strategically placed jets as a sort of aqua-acupuncture to enhance circulation and relieve joint and muscle pain.
If it’s serious, do-nothing relaxation you’re after, you have the option to doze off in the meditation room, or snack in front of a large movie screen. Want to take a shower? Why not take three? Let the waterfall shower heads and strong pressure transport you miles away from the moldy bathtub and tepid water back at your LES apartment.
Let’s Talk Money
While a $65 entry fee may sound steep, I did some cost comparisons. You’d easily spend $50 for a decent one-hour massage in Chinatown, and the most basic thermal bath experience with a 90-minute cap starts at $78 at Aire. The fact that you can nap, wander in and out of various saunas, and take a dip in the rooftop pool (opening this spring) as many times as you want justifies the price tag.
That being said, I could not put down $165 for a 50-minute Korean body scrub. It’s very uncharacteristic of me to not get a traditional Korean scrub while sauna-ing but with that price point, I had to pass. No one else seemed to be taking the bait either, that area was a dead zone when there should be a long wait list of eager body scrub junkies.
Oh, And The Food
There’s no need to step out for food with so many classic (and safe) Korean dishes to choose from at Premier 57’s cafe. I had the dumplings and rice cake soup and my friend chose the spicy beef stew. While it was good to know that they have a pretty decent Starbucks menu, no trip to the sauna is complete without a bowl of traditional Korean shaved ice topped with fruit and mochi as dessert. My only advice is to make the sweet concoction more O.G. (i.e. less of that chocolate syrup and more condensed milk).
Unbeknownst to me, four hours had slipped away. I showered (again) and emerged out of Premier 57 feeling completely refreshed, relaxed both physically and mentally, and ready to start another week of work at Soko Glam.