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Catch the city’s cheapest massage near Grand Central Station

Tui na is a 2,500-year-old technique

Across from some of the city’s most expensive sushi (Sushi Yasuda), you can find the city’s cheapest massage at Lilly & Raul. An hour of tui na costs only $39, or what you’d pay in gratuity alone at a hotel spa. We’ve never seen or heard of a better deal. Not even in Chinatown. And guess what? The massage was better and the setting more spa-like than the dens of bargain bodywork we’ve visited in the warrens off Canal Street.

Besides its location, Lilly & Raul’s sets itself apart from other temples to tui na with its subtitle: “ladies relaxation and stress specialists.” Men may not book appointments. (Lest it be misconstrued as a massage parlor.) However, they do offer couple’s massage—though the price jumps to $50 per person—which is a guy’s only ticket in. (NB: Pay in cash; they charge more if you pay by credit card.)

Maybe that’s because there is a massage parlor vibe: Lilly & Raul shares the 15th floor of an anonymous Midtown East office building with the United Nations’ Mission to Mauritius and the Somali Monetary Exchange. And the seedy reception area is dark and cluttered with no seating. The one nod to hospitality is a small water cooler. Our hopes for this couple’s massage were not high.

The words tui na means "push" and "grasp," which describes the technique

Fortunately, they’ve taken more care with the massage rooms, which are clean, well lit, and inviting. The surprisingly comfortable massage tables were covered with freshly laundered towels. Bland, but unobjectionable, spa music was piped in. It certainly isn’t Caudalie at the Plaza, but it’s not the worst I’ve had.

All the therapists are from China, where they received their tui na training. Its aim is to open any blockages of chi, or energy, in the body. My therapist must have thought I had a serious chi traffic jam in my neck and shoulders because 45 minutes of my hour was spent de-knotting this part of my body. I found myself wanting a little lower back and hamstring relief. But considering I don’t get customizations from Swedish Institute grads at spas where I’ve paid three times as much, I didn’t feel robbed. In fact, my neck feels much better today. My husband, on the other hand, would rather go back Rick’s. We agreed that Lilly’s is a bit like a fast-food version of massage. You know it’s the not the best for you. But sometimes it hits the spot.

Lilly & Raul, 211 East 43rd St., Suite 1501, 646-675-0604,
Hours: Open daily from 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Do you have a favorite spot for bargain bodywork? Tell us, here!