I was given a gift card for a massage to Midtown Retreat Salon and Day Spa in Houston, TX and was excited to try a spa that I had neither been to nor heard of before (though they have been open since September 2007). On the website, the spa looked inviting and seemed to have an Asian flair. Midtown Retreat offers manicures, pedicures, waxing, massages, and hair services. The salon is small; they only have three hairstylist chairs, but everything looked comfortable and not cramped. Several manicure stations were in the front to the left of the cash register, and towards the back of Midtown Retreat Salon and Day Spa in Houston, TX there were several pedicure stations with cushy pedicure chairs.
I arrived early and gave the woman at the front desk my name. She told me the massage therapist was not there (not surprising since it was lunch time) and that was it. So I asked her if I needed to fill out any forms since I was a new client. I was handed a clipboard and a pen but not even asked to sit down and then the woman walked away without saying a word and disappeared for about 10 minutes. In my opinion, hospitality is something that is lacking at Midtown Retreat Salon and Spa in Houston, TX. Since I had no idea where the woman went or when she would be back, I wandered around the salon and found the bathroom which was spacious, Zen-like and well-appointed.
I then sat and flipped through a magazine as I waited for someone to acknowledge my existence. You’d think someone would ask me if I wanted water. Finally the massage therapist walked in and the woman at the front desk magically appeared and told her it was good timing because I was early. To be fair, I was told to get there 15 minutes early when I booked the appointment. After getting settled, the massage therapist came back out, greeted me, and escorted me to the massage room which was through a rice paper sliding door (aka a shoji screen).
The massage room was small but not suffocating and had dim, soft lighting. Running water was one sound I heard but there was also relaxing spa music. Unfortunately the owner of Midtown Retreat in Houston, TX did not think about the sound that emanated into the massage room, especially with the shoji screen. There was also a curtain that hung between the massage room and the room next to it which I’m assuming is the break room for staff. The decor was Asian inspired and dark which was perfect for a massage. I just wish the noise from the salon was controlled.
The massage therapist, Maria, seemed a bit perplexed by the fact I did not want my face touched with the massage lotion. It seemed like a reasonable request (and one I always make when I get massages) because who wants greasy lotion clogging their pores and potentially causing acne and a rash? I tried to explain to Maria how tight my shoulder muscles were but she didn’t seem to believe me, until, that is, she started working on my muscles. I don’t think she had ever worked on anyone so challenging but that was the entire point of the massage: to relieve my muscle tension.
The pressure was much too intense at first so when Maria asked if it was okay, I told her it was very painful. At one point the pain actually caused nausea because she pressed on pressure points which I’m sure is a great massage therapy technique when performing a sports massage or deep tissue massage but I was there for a relaxing, Swedish massage.
The massage therapist figured out that her method was not working so she took advantage of other tools. Suddenly I felt burning hot stones on my back and I told Maria that they were way too hot. I also did not appreciate the fact that she did not tell me what was coming so I was shocked by the sudden extreme heat. She let the stones cool before making her second attempt and I have to admit, the warm stones helped quite a bit.
Next she put what felt like saran wrap on my back (again, I had no warning as to what was coming), followed by a hot towel which was then covered by another layer of what I’m calling saran wrap. The heat from the towel was just what my muscles needed and I wished Maria would have started with the heat knowing that my muscles were so tense.
Though Maria clearly had experience, her touch was too harsh for my sensitive skin and I felt like she was rubbing my arms almost as hard as someone who was trying to give me rope burn. In fact, the next day I found a few small bruises on my arms. Sure, I have skin like a baby but no other massage therapist had actually left marks on me before.
Don’t get me wrong, Maria is a good massage therapist and used great techniques but her touch was just way too harsh for someone like me. She would probably be great for someone else whose muscles are less tense and has thicker skin. If she took down her pressure a notch and started with the heat, I would have been much happier.
And during the times when I did start to relax, all I heard was giggling, talking and the sound of flip-flops walking past the massage room. To have a break room next to the massage room (a room that has no sound proofing) is a big mistake. Clients get a massage for relaxation, not to listen to everything that’s going on in the salon. The employees who were there were either inconsiderate and had no clue as to how their noise impacted Maria’s clients. It seemed terribly unfair to Maria.
The owners of Midtown Retreat in Houston, TX should either find a way to sound-proof the massage room so clients can receive a professional massage in a quiet atmosphere or they should remove massage therapy from their list of services and let Maria, the massage therapist, find a spa that actually appreciates and respects clients’ need for relaxation and quiet during their service.
Midtown Retreat is located at 2204 Louisiana, Houston, TX 77002 (in the strip mall across the street from Hertz car rental). For more information visit their website at http://www.midtownretreat.com.
*Disclaimer: The above review is based on my experience at Midtown Retreat in Houston, TX on May 4, 2011. I encourage readers to visit Midtown Retreat to formulate their own opinion. I did not experience a manicure, pedicure, haircut, or waxing at Midtown Retreat and cannot comment on those services. The review is based on my massage only.