You’ve had beer. Maybe even enjoyed it.
But you haven’t indulged in beer until you’ve indulged in beer: a 98-degree bath filled with hops, yeast, herbs and, yes, beer.
The beer soak, as it is called at Piva Beer Spa (1-773-570-9280, pivabeerspa.com), is a transcendental moment in a day of beer-fueled relaxation. It dazzles every sense: the warmth of the water, the wafting herbal-floral aroma, the cool 16 ounces of Pilsner Urquell sitting at your side, providing a refreshing counterpoint to the soak.
Piva Beer Spa — “piva” means beer in many Slavic languages — offers an array of treatments, from facials to massage to a salt chamber meant to vitalize the respiratory system.
But the highlight is undoubtedly the beer soak. It happens in one of eight larch wood tubs in the basement of the spa that opened late last year in Noble Square. The soak is included in four different packages, available for singles and couples, ranging in price from $155 to $550.
Father-and-son founders Edin and Dino Sarancic launched Piva Beer Spa based simply on what they perceived as a hole in the market for a concept not uncommon in Europe.
A handful of American spas claim to do beer treatments, usually invoking beer as an ingredient in a scrub or a facial. Piva is one of the few to go all in, just as you’d find in, say, Prague.
Beer purportedly lends hydration and acts as an antioxidant for skin and hair. But mostly, it’s a novel getaway in the middle of Chicago.
I booked a platinum package at Piva Beer Spa one chilly Monday afternoon. It was supposed to last three hours and 15 minutes but stretched closer to four hours (at no extra charge).
Dino Sarancic, burly and with a shaved head, greeted me from behind the counter as sounds of acoustic guitar filled the spa. It’s not a large space, but enough has been squeezed in for a getaway: a gleaming new steam room, a handsome sauna, a couple of rooms for massage, four soaking rooms (two tubs in each) and small changing rooms.
Sarancic pointed to a sliding wood door. Behind it, he said, I would begin my day in the halotherapy room. He slid the door open to reveal a long, narrow room, all white, but tinged violet from lights in the ceiling. A handful of reclining chairs were lined up on top of a couple inches of salt spread across the floor. A machine on the wall pumped light, salty mist into the air.
After a quick change from street clothes into Piva’s spa gear — a blue cotton waffle robe and plastic shower shoes — it was off to that salt chamber for 45 minutes. My busy 21st-century brain defaulted to the obvious question: Should I bring my phone? What will I do for 45 minutes if not checking Twitter?!
I resisted the impulse. (Sarancic said many people don’t resist, and he doesn’t judge. “It’s whatever you want to do,” he said.)
The salt room was warm and comforting and only modestly salty. As I reclined in the violet haze, I could feel a light saltiness on my lips. The most memorable sensation was squishing my feet in the salt spilled across the floor — like sand, but cleaner and finer. I closed my eyes and nearly dozed off amid the gentle hum of the salt machine. I didn’t miss my phone for a moment.
Next was the steam room for 15 minutes. Then the sauna for another 15. Then the highlight: the beer soak.
Piva Beer Spa doesn’t say exactly how much beer is mixed into the tub — a six-pack? A 12-pack? A case? — but Sarancic pegs it as “about 15 to 20 percent” of the warm mixture. So, no, it’s not a pure beer bath.
“It’s a fine balance between having the hydrating and antioxidant component, but not enough to make people feel sticky and nasty when they leave here,” Sarancic said.
The beer? That he will reveal. Although father and son investigated partnering with a brewery from Chicago’s booming craft beer industry, they wound up aiming to replicate the Czech experience by employing that country’s most famous export: Pilsner Urquell.
The spa technician led me to the lower level, where the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line rumbled by every 10 minutes or so on the other side of the wall — a reminder that the city continued to stir.
The soaking tub waited on the other side of the wood door, filled with gray-green water where hops floated on the surface. Beside the tub was a plate of nibbles: apple slices, two kinds of cheese (asiago and Brie), dark rye bread and green olives. It was a delightful surprise, but the most delightful surprise of all was that glass of Pilsner Urquell, in a wood mug imported from Europe.
I slid in and deeply inhaled the herbal-floral mix. Then I sipped the beer and nibbled the cheese. And repeat. The 45 minutes ended far too soon.
Next it was back upstairs for the relaxation room and application of a beer mask. The bed, oddly enough, was a wooden slat covered in hay — similar to what you’d find in Eastern Europe, Sarancic said. It was blissfully comfortable — rustic, yet cozy. The spa technician covered my eyes and began dabbing a paste on my face made in the Czech Republic that, sure enough, features beer in the mix. Finally came the full body massage.