Over the course of my job, I’ve been lucky enough to have visited and reviewed dozens of spas and treatments. I’ve winced under hot pebbles, been exfoliated with stony fistfuls of mud and brutally whipped with branches by joyless, bare-chested Turkish men. If it can be done with essential oils to new age music, or by strapping sadists armed with bits of tree, I’ve likely tried it.
Thailand has become a regular destination for me, and I’ve experienced more and more Thai massage, from the heights of opulent hotel penthouses down to temple-adjacent blind monks, working elbow to elbow in rooms of forty or more tables. From shiny, high-end kneading joints to dusty, backstreet pummel factories, I’ve been around the Thai massage block.
If you’ve never had a Thai massage, it’s like getting roughed up by a yoga teacher. It’s not so much the gentle coaxing of tired muscles as it is electroshock therapy for your tendons. There’s no gentle kneading, it’s more a bracing interrogation of your body’s more vulnerable pressure points. I mean, if it’s done right.
I try to get in as many as possible when I go to Thailand. In the rarefied air of the five star salons, it’s like a ballet. In the prim day spas off the Sukhumvit Road, it’s like a choreographed wrestling match. These iterations are fine, but give me the rundown shacks around Pratunam market, where the masseuse is a 70-year old woman, five feet tall with thumbs like gnarled knots of oak. You just know she could easily withstand a vigorous rugby tackle. These sessions? These sessions are like a Buddhist street fight.
You pay your $6 for an hour and sit down while she washes your feet and sizes you up. Why is she frowning? I’m convinced that she can assess your frailties just from this simple ritual. She leads you to a curtained treatment room, and leaves you to change into the loose pajamas provided and lie face down on a thin mat on the wooden floor.
Even though she doesn’t speak much English, I can sense her judgment from the start. Oh great, I have to prod this pasty mound of European dough. Many times, she’s audibly displeased with my physical limitations. Lots of indignant sighs. At one point she stops and harangues me, saying, as far as I understand it, that if I want to come to her in the future, I have to get a deep tissue massage first so that there’s at least a modicum of suppleness to my limbs. She can’t work with this. It’s amateur hour. She does her best.
Her steely digits find previously undiscovered nooks, making jolting inroads in a bodily equivalent of first contact. You know in Alien when the Xenomorph opens its mouth and an extra set of teeth jut out? It’s like that, but with her thumbs. Two thirds of the way through, she stops and says to me, without any emotion: “I think there is something very wrong with your body.” The heft of the damningly brief prognosis hangs in the air. I manage a tepid “OK?” and we head into the home straight, nothing more said.
There’s always the big finish. The spine aligner. The snappy ending. They put you in a sort of wrestler’s half-nelson and then sway you once, twice, three times a lady, but on the third time your torso is twisted and wrenched away from your stationary hips, and there should be a 21-vertebrae salute, with cracks that can be heard around the royal temple.
As you catch your breath, there’s a ceremonial rap of little back pats to signal to you that the fight is over. She won. She always wins. I am dismissed. I crawl out of the shop, a broken man. I’m not in her league. I clearly need to raise my game. Now I really need a massage. The kind where it doesn’t feel like a punishment. Hey, I wonder what’s very wrong with my body? (PO)
Some impressive, lesser-spotted, in-room amenities at the beautiful Four Seasons Bangkok Chao Phraya River: A pool bag for your sunbathing whatnots, two types of umbrella (rainy and parasol styles), a button in the loo that activates the Do Not Disturb light on your room door, and a pair of scissors for opening the milk carton without an unforeseen spillage.
With over 60 hotels worldwide (and growing), you’ve probably seen a Moxy, a ‘millennial’ brand launched by Marriott a few years ago. The regular Moxy hotels are a little stripped down, with minimalist rooms, check in at the lobby bar, grab-and-go food menus and the like. At these regular Moxy hotels, if you’re a 22 year old in town for a concert who wants to spend around $100 or less on a room, snap some cute photos for the ‘gram but you don’t care about fine dining, then it’s an ideal choice. This old warhorse felt a little out of place, but I can see the appeal as a starter hotel.
There is another kind of Moxy Hotel, though: Lightstone's Moxy properties. Currently there are five in New York (Lower East Side, Williamsburg, Times Square, Chelsea, and the East Village), plus Los Angeles and South Beach outposts. Though technically part of the Moxy brand, these particular Moxy hotels are’t like the other girls.
Mitchell Hochberg is the president of Lightstone, and he’s threading the needle of being brand-adjacent while remaining absolutely distinctive. I recently spent time with him on a group media tour of the new properties in the LES and Williamsburg, and let me tell you, buddy, he’s as New York as it gets. He’s excited for you to try his favorite bagel and lox, he talks baseball as a dyed-in-the-wool fan and if you x-rayed him, I’m pretty sure you’d find the I HEART NY logo running through his body like rings of a tree.
He’s worked with hotel industry legends like Ian Schrager, and though the mischief that those two may have enjoyed at Studio 54 back in the day remains very much a frivolous daydream of mine, I’m sure he might have some stories after a suitable amount of stiff drinks.
I’ve had a hundred dinners with a hundred company presidents and their (mostly understandably) bored-looking partners, but Mitchell and his wife are down-to-earth, enthusiastic hosts. They’re urbane without airs, socially inclusive and ardent ambassadors for New York City, especially considering they must have to entertain schmos like me a lot.
You could imagine being as comfortable with them in an East Village diner as at a black tie gala. Most times I see Mitch, he’s in a ball cap and track suit. They talk about regular family stuff, they’re chatty and open. I realize that no-one cares about some dinner I had, but I'll mention it because it sets the tone for Lightstone's Moxy ethos.
We chow down at Sake No Hana at the Moxy LES, a good example of the distinction. It’s a strikingly-designed Japanese izakaya, upscale looks but running the social gamut of guests. Hip kids drinking Asahi at the bar, family groups celebrating birthdays, corporate credit cards being flashed…it’s a real New York mix. Yes, Tiesto swings by to say hi to Mitch, but there's no sense of exclusivity and there’s no velvet rope. The Moxy in New Orleans has a bar with pressed paninis. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but let’s just mark the difference.
Hochberg and Lightstone have collaborated with innovative design companies to elevate their hotels. Small details at the LES property, some almost subliminal, pay homage to the neighborhood’s history as a haven for circus and burlesque performers. There’s a large dancing bear sculpture in the lobby but also tiny trapeze artists in the chandeliers and cheekily carnal images in the meeting room curtains that you only see on second glance. It’s risqué. Kind of edgy, even.
I’ll review a couple of the properties in detail very soon, but they all boast aesthetically memorable public spaces. Rooftop bars with saucy mini golf courses, basement nightclubs with dazzlingly high-end sound systems, and expansive hotel restaurants that you’re not just settling for because they’re convenient.
The rooms, too, are thoughtfully designed, with the guest experience - as opposed to the mindless exploitation of space for profit - very much in mind. Impressive (and presumably costly) floor-to-ceiling windows for those NYC panoramas, luxuriously high ceilings (at the expense of a revenue-generating extra floor in some cases), top-of-the range beds and bathrooms. Like Mitch says, when you're in a New York hotel, you’re likely not hanging out in the room much. A great shower, a comfy night’s sleep and those city views making you feel like you’re really, like the song says, a part of it.
Leaving the room is one thing, leaving the hotel might be another. Lightstone's Moxy hotels produce live onsite events that might be a drag cabaret or a name DJ, or - as was the case when I stayed - a trending food pop up that has lines round the block. I got my mitts on a scallion pancake burrito that dozens of selfie-sticked influencers were queuing for with febrile excitement. Only in New York, baby, etc.
The ‘experiential’ concept gets tossed around a lot these days, but it’s not an afterthought at these places. It’s built into the designs. I feel like if any element of the hotels didn’t show off or reflect well on the city, it's something that Mitchell would take very personally. He really HEARTS NY. Yes, he’s a businessman, but I honestly think that, beyond the hotels, he sincerely wants you to HEART NY too. And Mitch, if you ever want to tie one on and chat about the late 1970s off the record, you’ve got my email address. (PO)
Moxy Lower East Side is located at 145 Bowery Street, between Grand Street and Broome Street.
Moxy Williamsburg is located at 353 Bedford Ave, between 4th Street and 5th Streets.
Read our full review of the Moxy LES
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