May I present to you the three stages of a red wine soak at Aire Ancient Baths:
1. Shock and awe
As I approach the wine room at Aire (pronounced EYE-ray, not air, you peon) in River West, I’m greeted by Amaranna, who shows me into what looks like a wine cellar, with bottles lining the walls and a clover-shaped marble tub in the middle. I feel like Little Orphan Annie arriving at Daddy Warbucks’s mansion. The whole thing is mildly ridiculous: the nonalcoholic extract made from red grapes of Spain’s Ribera del Duero region (all the antiaging benefits of wine’s polyphenols without the bathing suit stains or skin dehydration) pouring out of the spout of the tub, a converted 17th-century Venetian well, which, at 11 a.m., has a glass of actual red wine and a platter of grapes and Spanish cheese next to it. When Amaranna leaves to let me “enjoy the soak,” I laugh out loud.
2. Existential crisis
Ten minutes have passed. (I think. Phones must be left in lockers, and there are no clocks to be found. Aire’s tag line, after all, is “Time does not exist.”) I’m up to my chin in a vat of warm wine. I’m nibbling on Manchego and sipping a tempranillo from Spain’s Matarromera winery. My biggest worry in this moment is that I dropped a grape into the tub and the liquid is so opaque I can’t find it. How is this my life? I start to wonder. There are mothers getting ripped from their children at a border only 1,400 miles away, and I’m channeling Cleopatra. The entire experience at Aire tends to raise these questions if you think too hard. The spa opened in Chicago a year ago (ours is its second U.S. location; the first was in New York, and the four others are all in Spain), and even its cheapest service, the 90-minute tour through seven baths for $81, is insanely luxurious. The red wine package is $400 ($450 Friday to Sunday), and typically includes a 60-minute grapeseed oil massage and head massage, but it’s the sheer excess of wading through a pool of red wine that has me contemplating life’s great inequities.
I am not going to solve the family separation crisis from this wine bath, so I might as well acknowledge my luck and enjoy myself for now. I dunk my head. I do some seated stretches. My fingers are shriveling as if I’m an actual grape. After 30 minutes, I drain my wineglass and step out of the tub. My skin is soft, my legs are jelly. When I get home, I immediately fall asleep. Today, I lived like an Egyptian ruler. Tomorrow, I’ll have to settle for a $14 bottle of Pinot Noir and a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit marathon. The cost is better, and the resulting two-hour nap is the same.