We're still in a recession. Work is scarce, cash is low, spirits are lower and layoffs still loom. It seems like the least opportune time to pamper yourself, and yet it may be one of the most important.
As a stress relief for you and your bank account, the spas of Koreatown offer first-class services at economical prices.
Edward Kim, manager of Century Sports Club and Day Spa, put it this way: "People say we're a luxury. We're not a luxury. We're more of a luxurious necessity. Clients still come because they need to relax, they need to unwind, and take a break from the world."
Extra services such as spa treatments might be the first items cut from a tight budget, and yet Kim still sees a steady stream of spa-goers, coming back time and again.
At Century, the day spa portion of the large facility is upstairs for women, and it looks much like a gym. This isn't your Burke Williams experience. No candles or New Age music. It is more organic, more raw. You'll get a gym locker key at check-in and minutes later you'll be getting completely naked in front of your friends and everyone else. So go in prepared, knowing you won't be hiding anything.
The ancient art of traditional Korean bathing is practiced at this spa, which was established in 1994 and has been in the Kim family since 1997.
At the counter, you'll find a long service menu from which you can choose any combination of scrubs and massages and facials. Scrubs and oil massages are as inexpensive as $40 each.
Three inviting pools await. The ice blue pool in the far corner looks like it feels: polar. You can't really stay in this ice bath too long without feeling frozen.
The middle pool offers neutral-temperature water -- a place for you to sit for a long while, chatting with friends and taking in sunlight filtered through glass block windows.
The most inviting of the three is the pool with caramel-colored water. Called the "tea pool," it is a 104-degree indulgence. Though the water is very hot, once you let yourself relax, you can take in the aromas of what smells like camomile and lavender. "It's like a tea bag and we stuff it with tea leaves and drop it in. So you're actually sitting in brewing tea. It brews all day long, and by the end of the night, it's pretty dark," Kim said.
Once you have unwound in any or all of the three pools, and perhaps taken some time in the clay sauna and eucalyptus steam room, you shower and get ready to be worked on.
A woman in black lace lingerie (not as provocative as it sounds -- this attire is customary in Korean spas) has you lie down on a long table. She lays a hot towel over your face and begins the scrubbing process. Instead of a fancy milk-and-honey-infused lotion, she pours an entire gallon of milk over your body.
The masseuse uses a scratchy hand mitt to completely (and we mean completely) rub you down, scrubbing all the dead skin from your every limb. Your torso, waist, breasts, feet, hands and every other part will also get a scouring.
Once the treatment is over, all you have to do is run your hands down your thighs to feel the new, polished skin for yourself to know that milk plus scrubbing equals bliss.
Century Sports Club and Day Spa, 4120 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 954-1020. www.centurydayspa.com
On Twitter: @centurydayspa