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When in Rome, or Chicago: thermal baths open in former paint factory

Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Home and Consumer News

CHICAGO -- Chicagoans looking to soak in ancient Roman thermal pools, housed inside a somewhat less ancient restored former paint factory: Your bath is almost ready.

Aire Ancient Baths, a Spanish company, is opening a 20,000-square-foot facility in the River West neighborhood later this month, featuring cold, warm and hot baths, a salt water flotarium, and other spa amenities that were all the rage two millennia ago.

"The whole concept is to bring back the tradition of Greek and Roman bathhouses," said Silvia Barnett, a spokeswoman for Aire Ancient Baths.

The expansive subterranean baths will occupy the restored basement at 800 W. Superior St., a wing of the century-old River West Plaza building that originally housed the DeVoe & Raynolds paint factory.

The historic location is not an accident for Aire, which launched in Seville, Spain, in 2001 and expanded to New York in 2012.

"In each city we open, we find a historical building, we bring it back to its original splendor," Barnett said.

The restoration and build-out took two years and cost $10 million, Barnett said.

The baths occupy space that most recently housed a nightclub. A lot of the original elements -- from wooden beams and steel columns to brick walls -- have been restored and exposed to create the right setting for an ancient bathing experience that will likely be new to most Chicagoans.

A staple of ancient Roman culture, the thermal baths feature a circuit from ice to cold to warm to hot pools. Other Aire experiences include a private candlelit soak in red wine and a flotarium -- a salt-water pool with the density of the Dead Sea.

In case patrons are contemplating bringing a straw, the wine bath is nonalcoholic, but an accompanying scalp message should accomplish any desires to reach a mood-altered state. The bath also won't stain your skin red, Barnett said.

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