Barbara Close and I are sipping tonics and elixirs in her new Chelsea Healing Arts Center and its storefront Vitality Bar. Mine is a just-made Probiotic Tonic with tamarind, greens, kombucha, citrus, and chai spices, which the menu says “supports gut health and immunity.” I try not to gulp it down too quickly because even though it’s tasty, it is a well-being beverage.
Close, a master herbalist with a pretty unparalleled healing resume in this country, is telling me about the genesis of the whole endeavor—the result of having created and run an East Hampton spa for 20 years and an effective natural beauty line used at top spas, mixed with an eccentric aunt who took her to French apothecaries as a girl. She’s telling me about the power of kava (served here in a coconut latte—I’m having that next!), and all about her passion for phytochemicals, which she describes as the underdogs of health, and how the Chinese herbs we’re sipping have transformative health uses.
The breadth of Close’s work shows in the cool wellness space she’s created here, which has three things going on—the Vitality Bar and an apothecary-style Remedy Bar, both up front, and a Healing Arts Center for spa services in the back.
“I firmly believe that nutritious tonics and herbal tinctures can help us lead healthy, balanced lives,” she says. I’ve guzzled mine down to the last sip when two women in SoulCycle sweats come in. They start reading aloud words from the menu—“reishi, turmeric, burdock root.” “This is the best juice bar,” one says, ordering a Long Night Elixir with de-stressing aloe, parsley, and turmeric.
Even though it’s not really a juice bar at all, explains Close, who wants people “drinking something wild” more often, and “accessing the benefits of rare healing botanicals, herbs, and probiotics,” she says. “Every ingredient [at the Vitality Bar] is selected with the body’s natural processes [in mind] to improve well-being,” she says, adding that she’s fixated on nourishment, particularly from Chinese Medicine, and not detoxing. Tonics are for chronic issues (think allergies and migranes) and the Elixirs are for quick-to-solve ones (think hangovers). While they’re not exactly what your TCM doc would prescribe you or in doses anyone could call “medicine,” they come from the same tradition.
And there’s a beauty win: “We’ve learned that clients and spas typically view skin health and healing from the outside, but we know that most imbalances begin on the inside. Introducing our Vitality Bar [as an integral part of the experience] allows us to link ingestibles with conditions, from acne to muscle and joint health,” she says. Although consistency is key.
And she explains how the white bottles lining the wall behind us, all Tinctures, have targeted actions, and you’re meant to take few, say, mood-lifting or stress-relieving drops onto your tongue at your desk. One beverage is not going to cut through 365 days of stress.
For that, and a 360-degree approach, in the back is a spa with a surprising number of treatment rooms. Botanicals adorn the ceilings and glass dispensers are fixed to the wall that dispense a variety of infused, purposeful massage oils (I pick one with lavender to chill me out). You wait for your therapist in the Sensory Room, a space farthest away from the street where a misty stream of aromatherapy billows out (pine, when I was there) and a wooded landscape scene from somewhere in Switzerland wraps the darkened room.
They should sell access to this super-chill, transporting room as a service on the menu. “Our therapists sit here and meditate before they see clients, too,” explains Close, who’s also a big believer in mindfulness.
My deep tissue massage with Linton, a gentle giant who’s also training in acupuncture and knows Thai massage from studying in Bangkok temples, is sweeping my body for adhesions and finding plenty. When it ends, I feel like he’s held me up by the ankles and shook out as many knots as an hour allows. And I go back to the Sensory Room for one more dose of serious calm before leaving this special place for the taint of the street and subway. —Melisse Gelula
Naturopathica Chelsea, 127 W. 26th Street, New York, NY, 10001, 646-979-3960, www.naturopathica.com
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