Just east of the nerve center of gay life in Los Angeles, in an assuming warehouse-like building on Santa Monica Boulevard, sits Voda Spa, a contemporary facility reminiscent of a very upscale, state-of-the art community center. Sleek and modern, yet simultaneously warm and inviting, Voda Spa is the result of a collaboration between three Russian immigrant families who pooled their resources to create a spa that blends treatments and saunas unique to Russian culture with others from around the globe. At Voda, traditional Finnish saunas co-exist alongside Turkish steam rooms and Russian banyas (saunas). Similarly, since the spa is co-ed, both sexes commingle around the centerpiece pool, fireplace, and common areas. In the banyas, the spa offers a series of unique treatments, the most extraordinary of which are the platza and salt scrub. The platza ($25) is conducted in a dry banya at about 250 degrees. I am massaged, using a series of rhythmic taps and strokes, with Venik branches. This motion generates heat over my body and releases the essential oils from the leaves. The platza is said to draw out impurities, improve circulation, prevent premature aging of the skin, improve metabolism, and refresh the spirit. Conversely, the salt scrub (20 min. $50) is conducted in a hot, wet banya at a temperature of around 230 degrees. The body is first scrubbed with soapy water and a linen brush, and then caked with salt crystals from the Dead Sea that are meant to exfoliate and help draw out impurities. After the invigorating treatment, guests are plunged into a 42-degree cold plunge pool. For the post-spa enjoyment of its clients, Voda invites guests to stick around and enjoy light California cuisine at the Voda Café and maybe a Champagne or vodka cocktail in the modern V Lounge, which is lined with flat screen televisions. www.vodaspa.com
—Duane Wells