During the shutdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many of us were attempting beauty treatments and stress remedies at home, or simply “letting ourselves go,” luxury spa operators in Dallas took advantage of the time to build, renovate, and prepare for a dramatic comeback.
Dallas was already a hotbed of spa and skin specialists. Joanna Czech, whose A-list celebrity clientele has made her arguably the most famous aesthetician in the world, has had her studio here since 2015. One of Czech’s peers, Dr. Barbara Sturm, opened her “anti-inflammatory haus concept” in Highland Park Village last fall, next door to Christian Louboutin. It’s only her fifth boutique and spa, following ones in Los Angeles, Miami, London, and Düsseldorf, where Sturm resides.
“I love Dallas, it’s one of my favorite places in the world,” Sturm proclaims on her website. “The people are fun, open, stylish and so welcoming.” Many Dallasites would surely agree, even when comparing ourselves to Düsseldorfers.
Over in Uptown, the Ritz-Carlton Dallas completed a multimillion-dollar spa renovation in January. The signature treatments aim to “celebrate the grandeur and flavors of Texas.” For example, the Texas Eight-Hand Massage ($990), in which—you guessed it—four therapists work simultaneously, is billed as “the ultimate in synchronized choreography while proving everything truly is bigger in Texas.” Dean’s Margarita Salt Glow ($275) is a massage-scrub combo named after chef Dean Fearing, whose restaurant, Fearing’s, is also housed in the Ritz. Exfoliating salts and oils infused with agave are blended to revitalize the skin. The top-shelf massage can be made frozen by adding cold stones or on the rocks by adding hot stones. Get it?!
Texana also permeates the new spa at Frisco’s Westin Dallas Stonebriar, which completed an extensive $30 million reno influenced by Texas nature, cuisine, and golf. Like the yellow corn and lime in the Texas Retreat Body Polish ($260), golf and spa make a winning pair. The Well & Being spa offers relief for golfers’ aches and gives a non-golfing companion something to do. Remarkably, spa guests here can access the resort pool (outside of peak times). Most hotels strictly reserve pool privileges for overnight guests.
Shall we address the elephant in the serene and softly lit room? These experiences require significant disposable funds and can be hideously expensive. Of course, versions of these treatments abound at more-affordable spas and salons. If you sit in the luxury stratum in which health is wealth, wealth is also wealth, and wealth is accumulating faster than you can spend it, perhaps the Diamond Facial ($350) at the Ritz seems perfectly rational.
I booked the Clarifying Facial With Microchanneling ($420) at Dr. Barbara Sturm. My aesthetician led me past the nutritional supplements, then a wall-height terrarium showcasing plantings of purslane, a hero ingredient valued for its anti-aging properties. She poured me a hot tea in a chic glass tumbler.
Anti-inflammation underpins Sturm’s entire approach, which applies to product ingredients, diet, and lifestyle. We all need to calm down!
I received one of the best facials of my life. Painless extractions were followed by an extremely precise finger dance for lymphatic drainage. The microchanneling wand, which is supposed to speed up absorption of product, felt like a tiny jackhammer in the good way that a Theragun does.
Facials are performed in treatment rooms nestled behind the boutique, and one room is dedicated to an infrared light bed. I signed up for a thirty-minute session in the bed ($90), but having already spent almost two hours supine for the facial, I regretted that choice. Besides, many spas have infrared saunas and don’t charge for them. The Sturm layout leaves no room for bonus amenities. When you have as much brand equity in one thing—skin—as Sturm has, I suppose there’s no onus to provide saunas, slippers, or even lockers or showers. While I missed those perks, I also see a niche for such narrowly specialized players. With so many luxury spa operators entering Dallas at once, it’s healthy to see a variety of value propositions.
Auberge Resorts Collection is planning a spa within a twelve-acre Knox Street development, targeting completion in 2025. The Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences Dallas Turtle Creek, which was announced last year without a delivery date, will include a spa.
“It was a great market when I arrived almost ten years ago, because Texans really value and prioritize beauty,” said Joanna Czech. “It has only gotten better since the population boom, with many people relocating from big cities like New York and Los Angeles who are looking for their go-to beauty destinations.”
To put it more bluntly, rich people live here and travel here in ever-increasing numbers. It’s the same reason Dallas has all these luxury hotels and resorts in the first place; the same reason it has an Hermès flagship and the only Goyard store in Texas.
The stately Warwick Melrose, one of Dallas’ oldest hotels, has stood in Oak Lawn for close to one hundred years. Warwick Hotels invested $20 million in updates, including an extension housing a ballroom, a pool, and Le Spa by Warwick Melrose. In keeping with the traditional character of the hotel, Le Spa is a classical, European-style spa offering body treatments, massages, and skin care as well as hair, waxing, and nails, so one can get fully pampered and prepped ahead of an event.
Perusing the conventional spa menu, I considered that my husband and I, massage enthusiasts, had never experienced a couple’s massage ($330). A few weeks later, we met up in a waiting room, attired in white robes and plastic slippers. Over coffee and biscotti, we compared notes on the steam rooms and showers. Alas, no hot tubs.
To my great relief, the experience was nothing like Valentine’s Day ads with grinning couples and rose petals. In fact, once we were settled into our respective tables, with our two therapists doing their respective jobs, our minds turned completely inward. We both requested a lot of pressure, and yowza, they delivered. Why do this à deux? I can’t give a good reason, except that we learned something about each other: we have opposite stances on the matter of underwear off or on. After sixteen years together, I guess it’s nice to make a discovery.
If you’ve had great services for less, the high-end versions can seem so extra, as the kids say. A $75 manicure is not guaranteed to last longer than a $25 manicure. But at the high end, your surroundings will be lovelier, and you will be shielded from anything or anyone who might make you feel uncomfortable about your privilege. On the contrary, everyone you encounter will exude warmth and hospitality, as if it is their privilege to serve you.
Personally, I’m game to pay a premium as long as the spa is generous with its amenities, inviting me to linger in steam rooms, saunas and soaking tubs. (Dallas’s 24-hour Korean megaspas, as I’ve previously reported, are the value leaders in this.) On that basis, only one of the luxe newcomers measured up.
The spa at the Thompson hotel in the National, the mid-century downtown skyscraper currently enjoying an extraordinary revival, provides hot and cold plunge pools, barrel and infrared saunas, a eucalyptus steam room, and a rooftop terrace. In a similar spirit of abundance, the Spa at Thompson Dallas menu emphasizes bundled services. Consider adding dry brushing, gua sha, CBD oil, and/or hot stones to any of the massages and body treatments for just $20. Thompson’s new San Antonio River Walk location, one of three in Texas, also features a spa.
I booked the Total Wellness treatment ($235), basically a massage integrating several trendy wellness techniques, plus a dry brushing add-on, because Gwyneth Paltrow said we should dry brush before every shower, and I’ve been dropping the ball for years. The therapist applied a natural-bristle brush to my dry skin in long strokes away from the heart. It felt great, like scratching a full-body itch I didn’t know I had. And I got to keep the brush.
For the included gua sha session, the therapist wielded flat, contoured stones like squeegees for flesh, sweeping my subcutaneous fluids where they’re supposed to go. With hot towels on my feet and a chilled stone on my sternum (heart chakra), I surrendered into my melty body and my mushy brain.
The National, after a $460 million renovation, is a gift to the city. I’m dreaming of a staycation in which I can visit not only the spa again, but also the spectacular hotel pool deck and everything else the building has to offer. I’d wander the marble halls, taking in the large-scale photography, indulging at Monarch and Catbird, and treating the objet-stuffed lobby like my living room.
Before leaving the building, I excitedly texted my best friends in Los Angeles and New York: “This place is everything we love. You need to stay here whenever you visit.”
An abbreviated version of this article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “The Big D-Tox.” Subscribe today.