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Beauty & Fitness: Best Day Spas

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Day spas are as ubiquitous as nail salons these days, taking on ethereal abbreviated names more usually seen on perfume bottles to increase the cool quotient and elevate themselves from the rest of the lavender-scented pack.

The SoHo set seems to have found an alternative to the area's java huts for general hanging out. The scene inside the manicure-pedicure area at Haven (150 Mercer Street; 343-3515), is like a hipped-up version of The Women, with locals trading gossip from the cushiony banquettes. The pedicure alone is something to jaw about -- feet are plunked into a marine bath before being smoothed with a honeysuckle-algae scrub, reflexologized, and placed in booties to cook in warm oil. The rejuvenation facial is a solid hour that includes a relaxing neck-and-shoulder massage and is finished off with a mask mixed up like cake batter.

Urban Oasis (108 East 16th Street; 254-7722) may not be ready for a spread in Architectural Digest, but the homey retreat has staff members so sincere and professional, you might think of booking sessions here instead of with your shrink. Body scrubs are conducted in a room as comfortably warm as the tropics. Oasis also offers ten different kinds of massage, from prenatal to craniosacral; the latter focuses on the neck and alignment of the spinal cord and is terrific for relieving chronic headaches.

Nobu and Vong were only warm-ups for David Rockwell's Asian-influenced spa Away (W Hotel, 541 Lexington Avenue, near 49th Street; 407-2970), spacious and light, with accents of teak and piles of smooth basalt rocks. The "relaxation room" (what the less-enlightened would call a waiting room) is strewn with bamboo and wheatgrass planters; brew yourself a strawberry tea and grab a handful of the most aesthetically appealing trail mix we've ever seen. Treatments range from the overtly therapeutic to -- shall we say -- the farfetched? There's Pranic healing (where the therapist's hands barely touch the body) and color therapy (a Polaroid is taken capturing the colors of your aura, from which, the staff maintains, they are able to evaluate your chakras). You are then steeped like an Easter egg in a tub filled with the appropriate tinted water and essential oils. "We thought some of these might be a bit too California for New Yorkers, but they're booking up," insists spa director Tristina Ponzini. For achy joints, there's the warm body mask of mineral-rich black mud, applied as the scalp and feet are massaged. Skip the Javanese Lulur, an exfoliating treatment traditionally given to royal brides for each of 60 days prior to the wedding: The body is lacquered with a paste of rice, turmeric, sandalwood, and jasmine, and the finale is a chilly (and annoyingly sticky) head-to-toe application of yogurt.


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