IMG_5704For the past four years, anytime we wanted to take a break from the great outdoors (whether it was too cold or too hot or too wet or whatever), we’ve retreated to Athena Spa, a two-story refuge in midtown near Madison, where they let us take over one of the floors and roam free. We’d hang out reading in the Hwangto dome sauna or inhaling the burning, herbaceous steam in the wet room or sipping drinks and nibbling tasties in the lounge or getting the kinks worked out of our backs and shoulders and butts and calves by their talented masseuses. All naked, of course. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen six or eight or a dozen New Yorkers, many of whom have never met before, walk in off the street, take off every stitch they’re wearing, and luxuriate in the combined bliss of pampering for the body and sparkling conversation for the soul.

Well…nothing lasts forever, alas, and after more than a decade of chasing winter chills and unlocking clenched trapeziuses, Athena is closing its doors at the end of July. It’s the classic Manhattan story: they lost their lease. The owners are directing customers to another spa further uptown, but…it’s not the same. Not even close.

So we returned this week for a farewell bash. Toasted the old place with champagne and SkinnyGirl…brought some Amy Tan, some Stephen King, some Hard Case Crime, some PREACHER…brought together members originally from the UK and Poland, from L.A. and Atlanta and Ozone Park, an NYU frosh and an MIT grad, a downtown artist and an upper west side novelist, and enjoyed four hours or so of unmitigated pleasure.

Goodbye, Athena. You were special, and will sorely be missed. (And we mean “sorely” literally.)