Monday, March 31, 2008

Breathe the salty air . . . in Chicago

Fans flock to salt-covered caves, even dining rooms to get a whiff of restorative powers
By Monica Eng | Tribune reporter

As I sink into my beach chair, I hear waves rolling onto the shore. Salt tingles my sinuses and my lips taste of the sea. There are stalactites dangling overhead and warm, crunchy white rocks beneath my feet. Polish speakers are all around, holding big scoops of salt rocks in their hands.
Freaky dream? Alien abduction? Nope, I'm just hanging at Galos Caves in Portage Park, one of three local salt rooms. For devotees, 30 to 60 minutes in a salt-covered room can help relieve stress, cure a hangover or even improve respiratory health.
Once little known outside of Eastern Europe, salt environments have arrived in Chicago to serve a small but growing community, especially those from Poland.
"We were on vacation in Europe a couple of years ago and we saw a cave in a small town and we got the idea to create one here," said Jolly Inn Banquets owner Ewa Chwala, whose banquet complex hosts the Galos [salt] Caves as well as Chicago's first dining room encased in Black Sea salt. "We also heard about a salt dining room near Krakow and so when we opened our A la Carte Restaurant [a few months ago] we converted one of our salt caves into a small dining room."
In addition to Galos Caves, there's a salt room at Solay Wellness Inc. in Skokie outfitted with several salt lamps (bulbs placed inside a large chunk of mined salt), a salt ventilation machine and floor bricks of ancient Himalayan and Polish crystal salt. Visitors sit on folding chairs and take in the salt-saturated air while owner Isabella Samovsky tells them about the benefits of salt therapy and the products they can use at home.
Megi's Spa in Park Ridge features a large breathing room, where the salt on the wall, floors and ceiling has been imported from Poland. With its worn wooden beams and faux stalagmite spouting up from the floor, the room is designed to resemble a salt mine. Crystal salt rocks glow in the walls and two fountains flow with a brine solution. Visitors can get a massage on one of two tables, recline on mesh loungers or play with the buckets and salt pebbles that cover the floor.
Like the other two rooms, this one attracts many families with children who suffer from respiratory conditions. Visitors wear regular comfortable clothes, but usually slip off their shoes before they take in the salt air. Most come from Eastern European families, but Megi's owner Megi Stoklosa is determined to popularize it beyond her Polish clientele.
"This is very popular in Europe but not yet here," said Stoklosa. "I am trying to do my best with Americans, but it is very hard when it is not conventional medicine. Not everyone believes it."
Poland native Agnes Judaz of Chicago has been bringing her 4-year-old son, Patrick, to Galos since he started showing signs of respiratory illness two years ago. "He improved a lot and now whenever he gets a stuffy nose, I bring him here right away sometimes for three days in a row and he gets much better," Judaz said before entering the cave on a Sunday afternoon with her husband and two children.
Their visit seemed less like therapy than a day at the beach, with the kids filling up buckets and toy dump trucks with the sea salt pebbles in the warm, dry room.
On another side of the room, friends Michelle Tac, 23, and Agnes Wiewiora, 33, of Chicago quietly chatted in recliners. "We just came here to relax because it is such a peaceful environment," Tac said of the room, where soft music and the sounds of rushing waves flow in through the speakers. "Then we go eat some Polish food [next door in the restaurant]. It's the best thing."
"It's definitely a good way to recover after partying out at the clubs," Wiewiora said. "It's good for your breathing but it's also great for your skin. Just look."


  1. yeah, but do they have happy lights?

  2. salt lights might be the next best thing