From the outside, the tiny Fishion Herb Center on Mott Street looks like any other Manhattan Chinatown massage place. That is, like a place you'd probably be better off walking right past.
It's not even really a storefront—tucked behind another building and reached via a small alleyway. The front desk and waiting area are fluorescent-lit and cramped, and the room often gets jam-packed. The place is definitely not a spa. There's no soft music, no aromatherapy candles, no soft lighting.
But if you look closer, you'll see the clientele is fit and savvy, the type you'd expect to see strutting around a boutique barre or boot camp studio. That's because Fishion's the secret go-to for fitness pros, whose class schedules can take a toll on their bodies. Sarah Levy, marketing director at Tribeca's beloved cardio-sculpting destination, Bari Studio, says she's one of them and knows lots of people in the business who go there, too. "It's really such a hidden gem," she says.
Kara Griffin, method director at Bari, became a fan after Levy referred her, taking a walk-in appointment on an off day when she was feeling super sore.
"There's sometimes a language barrier, but I'm always impressed by how they can just find the spots on me that need the most care," Griffin says. "Their Eastern take on the body and use of reflexology and pressure points made it so I was constantly learning something new about the connections in my body."
Levy says the go-to therapists are Jeanette, Jason, and Jessica (who speaks perfect English), and I was able to land an appointment with Jessica just one day in advance. A massage miracle.
Fifteen minutes after my appointment time, Jessica cheerfully greeted me and escorted me to a room that wasn't much more than a cubicle, with a door that was open to the floor and ceiling, and paper-thin walls. She asked me to disrobe and climb on the table, which was dressed with sanitary paper on top of mismatched linens. I could hear a neighbor's radio, someone else's TV, plus hallway conversations and closing doors the whole time.
Don't get distracted by the lack of ambiance, however. It's totally beside the point. And you'll know this almost instantly.
Jessica quickly found my trouble spots and asked me smart questions about them. Then she set to work with her hands, elbows, thumbs, and I don’t know what else, in a sort of unclothed shiatsu—pressing on my skin without using oil.
I've been a lifelong massage masochist, but I was reminded that asking for deep pressure in Chinatown is like asking for spicy food: Be careful what you wish for. But she backed off when I commented on (okay, gasped at) the intensity, and communicated constantly with me, and never did anything I worried could injure me. Tension I'd thought was just part of me was gone for days after.
Just as good at cutting stress? The bill when I checked out came to a mere $20 for 45 minutes. Though maybe word's getting out about Fishion—its website now lists the price at $31. —Ann Abel
Fishion Herb Center, 107 Mott St., btwn Hester and Canal Sts., Chinatown, www.fishionherbcenter.com
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