686 Lexington Avenue, fourth floor (212-486-9670)
Best Crystal-Peel Facial
Best Hour of Beauty
As wonderful as we may look and feel after an afternoon of beauty, not all of us have the afternoons to dedicate to the process. Busy working girls and boys have discovered that the well-trained Eastern European staff at this midtown spa has perfected multitasking. Consider all that you can get done in just over an hour: One woman will tackle your feet, pumicing and polishing them, while another tends to your hands and a third gives you a facial (your choice from a full menu of options; the whole shebang costs $110). Believe it or not, some people even take a nap during the process. If you're really ambitious, you can have your eyelashes dyed while the mask is on, or splurge and add a potent crystal-peel exfoliation ($165), Lia Schorr's version of microdermabrasion, for an extra-smooth finish.
15 Mercer Street (212-431-3333)
Best Massage Package Deal
Best Water Journey Hydrotherapy
As with the Acqua Beauty Bar uptown, water is the essence of this new offshoot of the Merrick spa, which is frequented by SoHo denizens and others familiar with the mother ship. The entrance is spare, except for the dramatic two-story wall of falling water (it's actually an oil sculpture; no hydrotherapy in there). The comfier downstairs is a veritable fun house of beauty rehab. Some of the best massages in town are administered in rooms that change color every few seconds (it's a mood-enhancing light system), from calming blue and lavender to energizing pink and red. The facial bar spews cleansing steam from three stations. Even the bidet is wacky: It's heated and features front and back washing, a drier, and massage options. The signature treatment is the Water Journey ($85). You embark via salt scrub and Swiss shower, continuing on to a tub where an attendant directs warm jets of water and air onto your areas of tension. Finally, you sit in a steam cabinet equipped with a water cascade for your back. Then they moisturize you to within an inch of your life. Pretty heavenly on a cold winter day.
Mezzanine Spa at SoHo Integrative Health
62 Crosby Street (212-431-1600)
Best Tan Lepa Body Wrap
Best Wu Chinese Herbal Facial
At this medical spa conceived by dermatologist Laurie Polis, there's no such thing as a simple pedicure; instead, the spa administers medical pedicures with heavy-duty Hungarian surgical tools. (Fear not: They know how to use them.) The walls here are sea-grass green; the equipment is all in neutral hues, and there's a dramatic three-story wall of water at the entrance (take that, Maximus!). Mezzanine offers two menus: Western procedures, such as cellulite-reducing galvanic current ($1,200 for six sessions) and dermatologic-strength glycolic facial peels ($185); and Eastern treatments, such as the ancient method of removing earwax buildup called candling ($60) and the Wu Chinese Herbal facial ($100), a massage-intensive treatment. Mezzanine's most famous procedure is the 90-minute Tan Lepa ($200), an Ayurvedic body wrap that begins with a foot soak in the meditation room while you sip hot tea. An attendant then dries and massages your feet while the two of you determine your dosha, or body type. Finally, you are scrubbed down and slathered in an herbal mixture with a base of goat's milk, heavy cream, or yogurt (depending on your dosha, of course) and wrapped in banana leaves. If this doesn't sound indulgent enough, consider that it takes two therapists to pull it off.
Oasis on Park
1 Park Avenue (212-254-0840)
Best Exfoliating Manicure
Best Flotation-Tank Experience
The cozy Union Square spot filled with crunch-ball granolaheads in Birkenstocks spawned a bigger, glitzier location that opened over the holidays. You'll find nine massage rooms along a clay-colored corridor, and -- brace yourself -- this former hippie hollow offers the Park Avenue Manicure (still hippie-priced, however, at $25). Your hands are wrapped in warm towels following a sloughing scrub of citric-acid crystals. In a nod to its roots, Oasis's oval, candlelit lounge is filled with platters of fruits and nuts and pots of tea. This room sets the stage for the ultimate in tranquillity: a flotation tank ($100 per hour). You don't sink, on account of the salt in the water -- seven times the level found in the Dead Sea. When these tanks first came into vogue, they were pods that felt a tad coffinlike. Now Oasis has tubs with glass fronts and eight-foot ceilings, and you can bring your own music. No more fighting claustrophobia while you decompress.
Paul Labrecque Salon & Spa
160 Columbus Avenue, in the Reebok Sports Club (212-595-0099)
Best Thai Massage
Best Oxygen Facial
It's no surprise that Reebok -- the gym where Jessica Sklar met Jerry Seinfeld and where guys are as familiar with the latest beauty treatments as they are with the Nautilus machines -- has a state-of-the-art spa. The salon, which also just opened a swank new branch in the pricey Chatham co-op, offers eleven varieties of facial at this huge bi-level facility (ranging from $100 to $160), including the Anti-Depressant Facial, which uses uplifting narcissus and rose essential oils; and has fourteen types of massage ($95), as well as Rolfing, acupuncture, and the Flat Tummy Treatment ($65), which targets bloating. Sting comes for Thai massage ($110), our favorite as well. The therapist twists your body into yogalike positions as you lie on a mat, deep-breathe, and fall into supreme relaxation.
139 East 57th Street (212-460-1879)
Best Sports Massage
Best Myofascial Release
If your idea of stress relief is a great massage, follow the lead of the dancers and professional athletes who regularly go to this no-nonsense therapeutic-massage center to get the kinks out. You won't find aromatic candles or strewn flower petals, but you will get knowledgeable therapists who can tell a rhomboid from a terres minor and are fluent in Swedish, Shiatsu, trigger point, neuromuscular, and super-deep myofascial release (which breaks down scar tissue and stubborn adhesions). For a team whose daily fare includes the torn cartilage of a hockey player and a dancer's chronically troubled ankle, your anxiety-associated aches and computer slouch should be a piece of cake. If you're really attached to the PC, they'll even make office calls.
568 Broadway, Suite 403 (212-334-3142)
Best Self-Heating Mud Wrap
Best Urban Detox Facial
We knew the men's beauty market was flourishing when dermatologist Brad Katchem opened SkinCareLab last year, a beautifully stark space of blond wood floors and stainless-steel walls. Women are welcome (Sarah Jessica Parker comes in for facials), but this is the first luxury spa geared to men and their dermatologic beauty needs. Scrubs come in a variety of flavors, including Napa Valley grapeseed ($125) followed by mint glycolic cream for extra exfoliation; and papaya-pineapple ($125) with enzymes to eat away at the tired, tough layers of a man's skin. Men love the Urban Detox facial ($125), a hydrating, deep-cleansing facial for stressed-out skin, which uses an oxygen cream prior to extractions and finishes with a seaweed mask to reduce redness. Sports massage ($125), back buffing ($150), and chest (75) and butt waxing are available ($60).
Sam C Spa and Margolin Wellness Center
166 Fifth Avenue, second floor (212-675-9355)
Best Neuromuscular Massage
Best Salt Bath
This spa is not for the provincial. Its founders, chiropractor Steven Margolin and massage therapist Sam Cagnina, lived together with receptionist Samantha Cagnina in an unconventional "marriage." Then the triple had two children (none of your business how), ended their domestic triangle, and opened coexisting spa and chiropractic business. Neuromuscular massage ($100) -- manipulation aimed at retraining muscles and improving posture -- is thorough; practitioners address nearly every muscle group in the body. Follow or precede a rubdown with a hedonistic half-hour visit to the hydrotherapy tub ($60). As you brew in the steaming lavender-scented bath filled with pain-relieving salts, an attendant will place cool compresses on your forehead and feed you organic oranges.
119 Mercer Street (212-334-5550)
Best Contour Facial
Best Back Treatment
Going to this spa is like going to an all-girls school, and that's why women love it. No men are allowed, on the theory that with them banned, women won't feel self-conscious about their bodies, hair, and unguent-coated mid-facial faces. Speaking of which, one of the best treatments here is the Contour Facial ($165), a gravity-defier. The first step is a light massage of the lymph glands to flush toxins from the face and neck and reduce eye puffiness. Then comes a vigorous deep-tissue massage, stimulating nerve fibers in the face's 55 muscles, which respond surprisingly quickly. If you're feeling flush, get an enzyme peel beforehand, for extra glow ($210 with the facial). So that you look as good when you leave a room as when you enter, the Beautiful Back ($65) scrubs, steams, extracts, masks, and moisturizes your most neglected region. SoHo Sanctuary offers Pilates and yoga classes in a pretty studio. More alluring still is the round, sky-blue meditation room, where you can go and be by yourself, forgetting for an hour the kids, husband, and job and emerging refreshed and ready to reengage with all of them.
45 Rockefeller Plaza, in Sports Club L.A. (212-218-8650)
Best Chair Massage
Best Gentleman's Sport Pedicure
Pumped-up Sports Club L.A. members, NBC employees, and other Rock Center professionals have been spending their spare hours winding down at the fitness club's spa, which was taken over last summer by the well-known midtown salon. Sensitive to a guy's needs, Warren Tricomi keeps the pedicure room semi-private. It seats two in princely purple velvet chairs; silver bowls hold smooth black stones to ease tension in the feet ($50 for men's sport pedicure, no polish; $65-$80 for women's). A full range of massages is available in the lower-level treatment rooms, but for a quick fix, try the chair massage ($29 for ten minutes). No need to remove clothes; just sit down, and the therapist goes to work on your neck and shoulders.
30 East 60th Street (212-588-1771)
Best Remodeling Facial
Best Caviar Facial
Despite the dreamy Moroccan-inspired surroundings (terra-cotta walls, satin pillows, a flower-filled fountain), Yasmine D'jerradine, Nathalie DiNoia, and the other Frenchwomen who work here are as analytical as scientists, wielding ampules and other implements in the quest for perfect skin. The Remodeling Facial ($180), which uses electrical current to stimulate the muscles, takes ten years off your face -- at least for a week or so. While we may not be eating much caviar these days, at this spa we're wearing it. The caviar facial with retinol ($160) protects the skin from the destruction of free radicals. The immediate result is smoother skin with minimized fine lines and a remarkable glow. Some may literally may be drawn to the Aluminum Magnetic Facial ($60): A mixture of mineral oil and aluminum is applied to the face. Then a therapist runs a magnet over your visage, sucking up the metal -- and the debris in your pores.