Olympic Spa in Korea Town in Los Angeles.
I first heard about this place when one of my friends visited it a year or two back but never ventured there myself. After my Burke Williams outing last week, I realized I needed to hit the spa more often for my sanity, but my budget wouldn’t allow it. I did some online research on spas in my area and the Olympic Spa kept surfacing with rave reviews. In fact, after reading the reviews, I was convinced Odelia needed to hit that spa in one of her books – like the one I’m writing this very minute. So, yesterday I called and made an appointment for a “milky scrub.”
On the outside, the Olympic Spa looks like a dump – really it does. And the neighborhood is iffy. But once you turn into its parking lot, which offers FREE valet service, and step through its doors, it’s a whole different ball game.
I was greeted by a two smiling, young Korean women wearing tight black tee shirts with “Spa Diva” in rhinestones across their chests. One of them checked me in, took my money, handed me locker keys, and gave me a short tour. First, shoes are shed and placed in the first locker, then you move on to your clothes locker where you’ll find a cotton robe, a bath towel and a hand towel. You’ll also notice that the dressing area and lockers are spotless and most of the women are nude. Yes, naked as in butt nekkid as the day they were born. A few wear the robes, some hold towels in front of themselves, but modesty is shed at the door. Once you enter the bathing area, nudity is not an option, but mandatory. No bathing suits allowed. I arrived just minutes after it opened and there were already a dozen or so women there, all shapes and sizes and colors. Most seemed middle aged. About half were Asian. No one seemed bothered by being naked and soon neither was I. By the time I left nearly 3 hours later, the place was getting crowded and there were a lot more young women.
The bathing area is very compact. Showers are off in one corner and not private. The walls are beige tile, the floor is textured concrete. It’s hot and steamy and smells of earthy herbs. In the main area there is a hot whirlpool, a cold dip pool, and a mugwart tea bath. I LOVED the mugwart bath! It’s a very hot tub in which mugwart and angelica herb infused tea is added to the water. At the end are two doors, one leading to the dry sauna, the other to the steam room. Down the middle of the room is a long, very low concrete trough. Here, naked spa goers sit on low plastic stools next to the trough and give themselves a DIY scrub, rinsing with water scooped from the trough with large plastic bowls. Trust me, I am not making this up. Since I had a scrub scheduled, I skipped the trough.
Unlike other spas I’ve been to, the treatment rooms are not private. There were three semi-private treatment areas separated from the main bathing area by four-foot tile covered walls, and one large treatment area that held four treatment tables. These were where the scrubs and massages were administered by Korean women wearing flip-flops and basic black bras and panties.
After showering, I set up a routine of mugwart bath, cool down, steam, shower, mugwart, cool down, steam, shower, etc. until it was time for my milky scrub and my attendant (Lee) called my locker number. My scrub was to be in the room for four, and, believe me, you soon forget you’re not in a private room. At Lee’s instruction, I hoisted myself up on a table covered with a brown/black/red/cream plaid vinyl and laid face down.
From reading the reviews, I knew Lee was going to attack my skin with rough exfoliating mittens and a milk wash, and I knew she was going to scrub EVERYWHERE (anymore disclosure would be TMI), but I was not prepared for how rough the initial scrubbing would be. OUCH! It felt like wet sandpaper being run over my skin. But soon I got used to it and relaxed and it felt great. Lee started with my left foot and worked up from there on that side, around my neck and shoulders and back down the right side. I looked over to see gobs of brown mud on my arm, then realized it was sloughed off dead skin. Lee rinsed me off by sloshing a large plastic bowl of warm water over me, then scrubbed again going in the opposite direction. After another rinse, I was told to flip over and she repeated the process on my front, then on my left side, then my right side. Once done, she put me back face down and scrubbed again, but this time more with less vigor and using a satiny body scrub. When all sides received this treatment, she washed my hair.
My hair had been washed and cut just hours before, but not washed like this. After applying the shampoo, Lee scrubbed my scalp, digging her talented fingers into my head in the most wonderful way. That was followed by conditioner applied in the same manner. Soon she sat me up, squirted some cream into my palm from a tube and told me to go shower and wash my face with the cream. Done with that, she gave me a clean, dry towel.
This morning I was a little bummed that I couldn’t afford to do a full package with massage and scrub, but I gotta say, after the tough-love scrubbing Lee gave me, I felt like I’d received a massage too.
In the dressing area there is a large raised “stage.” The floor is made of jade tiles and are heated. If you want to relax further, you can grab a hard, square pillow and a blanket and lay down on the floor. Most women here wore their robes, including me. I used the pillow, but threw my towel over me instead of the heavy blanket, and snoozed for about 15-20 min. After that I drank more tea and got dressed to leave. My aching muscles no longer ache and every inch of my body is smooth and glowing.
Today cost me $60 total. Last week’s spa trip cost me $50, and that was in addition to using a gift certificate and receiving less attention. It's only $15 to use Olympic Spa's facilities without buying an additional service.
Unlike fancy spas, Olympic Spa does not offer bells and whistles like cucumber infused water or lavender soaked cool facecloths. There's no piped in New Age music, plants or candles. They offer water from a fountain, herbal tea and coffee. Their robes are thin cotton instead of thick terry. But they are incredibly clean, the attendants nice (even though they hardly speak English) and parking is FREE (in LA that’s a BIG DEAL).
And as a bonus, you’ll receive a valuable lesson in accepting your body, and that's priceless.
Olympic Spa, I will be back!