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The Korean Experience: Aroma Wilshire Center

May 09, 2010|By Kelsey Ramos, Los Angeles Times

This spa in the heart of Koreatown is as much about experiencing the community of Korean spa culture as it is about getting a massage or facial. While making an appointment even two days in advance was simple, the online menu had few treatment details (though prices were up to date) and the telephone receptionist couldn't answer my questions about the treatments.

On a Monday morning, parking was easy to find and free with spa validation. The building's Korean retail stores and window-paneled facade give it the look of a corporate office, with only the driving range's big nets on Western Avenue alluding to the fitness center inside. Elevators to the spa let out onto the driving range with no obvious signs to the reception area, forcing me to ask a patron to point me to two sets of double doors.

I walked across a tiny sky bridge and into the lobby, where a receptionist escorted me into the women's lounge and told me to remove my shoes on entering. Towels and robes were available, but no slippers, so I stayed barefoot. And be prepared: Both the changing and relaxing areas are not for the nudity-averse. Most of the Korean women — who make up the majority of the female clientele — freely walk around unclothed, the showers do not have curtains, and no bathing suits are allowed in the spas or the scrub room (though towels can be worn in and draped nearby).

The lounge/changing area is comfortable but not decadent, with plenty of secure full-size and mini lockers and rows of blow-dry/makeup stations with unlabeled products and free toothbrushes (most of the women bring their own products in shower caddies). There are only two stalls in the ladies restroom and six showers in the relaxing room, which could be stressful when it gets busy.

Aroma offers a hot Jacuzzi, cold pool, dry sauna, herbal sauna, steam room and whirlpools. Its gym facilities are for members only, but the spa and the indoor driving range are open to the public. There is a snack bar connected to the locker room and a Korean food court in the building.

The Aroma Signature Treatment, which includes a full-body scrub, oil massage, nourishing hair treatment and collagen and cucumber facial mask ($110 for 90 minutes), begins with the body scrub in a room adjacent to the showers. (In comparison, a basic European facial is $60 for 50 minutes.)

This is a treatment based on efficiency, not necessarily privacy or relaxation: There is no music, and I could hear women from the shower room talking through the curtain divider. Spa-goers on six tables in a row are scrubbed and massaged without much attention to modest towel placement — however, the tables are heated, the treatment is thorough (very thorough) and the therapist was focused and attentive. Though the massage left me a little uncomfortable, my skin stayed smooth as silk for days afterward from the scrub, and I am already thinking about when to schedule another one.

An additional treatment (a back renewal facial to remove impurities and dead skin cells) in the therapy rooms next to the locker room was less organized, and I waited a long time in the reception area before finally changing into my clothes to ask in the lobby about my treatment, which I eventually got.

Aroma's still off-the-radar spa is authentic and unabashed. And though its treatments and ambiance are not for the faint of heart, it is clean, thorough and professional. Sitting in a spa next to women chatting excitedly in Korean and seeing the ways in which the body at any age, shape and size is cherished was a refreshing and enlightening experience.

Aroma Wilshire Center, 3680 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 387-2111. Open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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