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In LA, spa days can stretch into night

Amy Scattergood, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Travel News

From Crystal, head northwest a few blocks, where you'll find, behind a battered door, what looks like a convenience store counter. This is Daengki Spa, one of Koreatown's oldest spas, women-only, named for a cloth hair ribbon. The baths are smaller and hotter -- the steep and cure here more intense -- the changing room a wall of lockers near a group of silent women resting on mats, watching a news show. In the corner: a vat of hot barley tea. In the dry sauna, a blue cardboard carton of eggs cooked on the heated rocks; you can buy them on your way out, still warm, knotted up in plastic take-away bags.

Hopscotch due north to another of the older spas and the only one in town fed by actual mineral springs. Beverly Hot Springs has one of the larger hot soaking pools in town, so big that you can almost swim across it, surrounded by ferns and statues of frogs and Buddha. Sit in the figure-eight pool, the walls like caves, your book shut in the dim light; the cure works up from your feet. The spa has neither restaurant nor sauna-cooked eggs, so detour to a nearby strip mall for a bowl of jjolmyeon, a nest of cold noodles and vegetables stained red with gochujang, at Western Doma Noodles, a little family-owned shop that's been feeding folks from the bathhouse for the almost two decades it's been open.

Jog southwest, past the landmark Wiltern Theatre off of Wilshire Blvd., a swimming pool-colored blue-green, more squat banks and office buildings and a Peruvian chicken joint built like a woodcutter's shack, into the concrete expanse of another parking lot, where you'll find Myung In, a popular dumpling house. (This is where Hankook Spa was once, for months shuttered like Neddy Merrill's abandoned house; in October, the space reopened as the bar Hite Kwang Jang.) At Myung In, pull up a metal chair under the bright lights and order a plate of wang mandu, enormous steamed buns, stuffed with pork and kimchi, the color and texture of bars of Dove soap. Fortified by fermented cabbage and relentless cups of barley tea, head across Olympic Boulevard into the southwestern corner of Koreatown, where two bathhouses sit a few blocks from each other like bookends. Duck into Olympic Spa -- an oxygen room, a mugwort bath -- for another reprieve, the warmth from the heated jade floor a slow fuse of comfort.

Across a side street from the spa sits the little corner restaurant Soban, where the banchan fill the small tables, repeating bowls of turnips and kimchi and bitter greens, and you order a plate of ganjang gaejang, a raw blue crab, bathed in sauce and chile and roe. The crack of the shells sounds geologic, the tang from the slight fermentation a reminder of how time works in a kitchen, an evolution of flavor. And then, finally, onto Century Day and Night Spa: an industrialist complex with a produce stand in the parking lot, a golf driving range buttressed against one side of the building, the jimjilbang like a community center, an entire swimming pool in the basement.

The lights outside the sauna are bright enough to finish reading: the precision of Cheever's prose absolving his characters, restoring to them a peace they can't find themselves. And after traversing the city by water, through heated baths, vats of tea and repeating bowls of porridge, you open the last spa door to the enormous blue Los Angeles sky and find the world at rest.


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Wi Spa, 2700 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 487-2700, Open 24 hours.

Grand Spa, 2999 W. 6th St., Los Angeles, (213) 380-8889, In-spa restaurant, jimjilbang, karaoke room, open 24 hours.

Natura Spa, 3240 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 381-2288, In-spa restaurant.


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