Sometimes, when you want something done right, you just have to do it yourself. That was certainly true for Julie Kominer. After years of working at Cornell Medical Center all the way East on the Upper East Side, she realized that there were few, if any, quality places to get a good blow-out, or the other types of pampering services she wanted. She figured that plenty of other people who worked at Cornell, and who lived, worked and visited in the neighborhood, probably felt the same way. So she took matters into her own hands and created the type of space she’d most want to visit. Along with her husband, Gene, they created The Val El Salon and Spa, named sweetly, after their children, Valerie and Elliot. It just opened this past April. But it is clear that Val El is a neighborhood gem that offers the same type of luxury and quality you’d get from a high-end salon, plus some really good value.
One Monday morning in June, I took the trip up to the Val El Salon and Spa (at 1291 First Avenue between 69th and 70th streets, near Hunter College and the 68th Street stop on the number 6 subway train) to check out some of the many services they offer.
The first thing I immediately noticed, is that the salon literally, visually draws you in. The big picture window is light and bright. You want to hurry inside! Once there, you’ll see that most of the front portion is taken up with hair and mani-pedi stations. The back of the salon holds the spa center, with small and comfortable but unpretentious lounge area, plus the treatment rooms for waxing, massage and facials. Men will also feel at home here, because the atmosphere is low-key sophisticated, not girly girl. The morning I visited, a man who had been there for a full body wax, was just leaving.
The clean, white, “Euro style” decor, is punctuated with pops of color coming from a number of attractive displays of hair, face and nail products used at the salon, and offered for sale. The hair products are primarily from high end brands such as Kerastase, Oribe, Bumble and bumble and for those who want something more eco-friendly/natural, Aveda. Color is offered from Goldwell and Aveda. Moroccan Oil is also prominently features on their display cases. The spa also features an exclusive in NYC: Mila D’Opiz skin care, a top quality skincare line from Sweden.
When I think of spas, the first thing I think of is massage. Val El offers quite a few different types, from basic Swedish massage, to more sport and medically-oriented ones, at 30,45, 60, and 90 minutes. If you want to know something about how a spa is run, have a massage and you’ll know whether or not there is attention to detail or not. Givi was my masseuse, and was professional and communicative. The room was immaculate and the massage table nicely padded and comfortable. I would have liked it if someone offered something with which to tie up my hair, but I brought my own. That aside, the massage itself was relaxing, and Givi worked on my neck and shoulders for much of the time. As a writer, that’s where I find my stress mostly lies. I definitely felt better, afterwards. Another nice touch was that Givi used hot and soothing towels to warm my back during the massage, and afterwards, to clean off any massage oil residue. I really liked this relaxing bonus.
ManiPedi’s have to be the most popular activity on the planet when it comes to urban girls and men. The Lavender (spa) ManiPedi I had, included a lavender skin masque that left my hands and feet soft. The pedi-stations have the type of chairs with massage features you often find in good nail salons, but these were easy to control and operated perfectly. Many nail salons offers these types of high-tech chairs, but don’t maintain them so the settings don’t always work. I liked the additional features! You can see from the photo that there is a sanitizer and a hot towel machine in use at all times. One of the things you expect (and get) at a higher-quality salon vs. a cheap nail place, is the assurance that things are sanitary. It is very clear that the salon very much cares about cleanliness, and so should you! As to color choices of polish, there were plenty although the feature product was Essie Nail Polish (there was one bottle of DURI). Val El offers many of the more current color collections.
Val El also offers not just one, but two types of gel manicure: OPI and CND. The hand lotions they use are varied, but I saw a number from CND Scentsations. They’re some of my personal favorites!
Perhaps the second most popular, pampering activity in salons, are good blow-outs. You can try to do one yourself, but it is still nearly impossible to get the back of your head, perfect. A good blow-out is truly the only way I know hair will “stay put” and not end up as a frizz-ball, during a humid spell. Va El offers a number of hair services, from cut and color, to basic bangs and blow-outs. The thing that impressed me most about the blow-out I had at Val El was that after a nice shampoo and blow dry, the stylist opened a drawer full of brushes of various types, and wrapped various pieces of my hair around a some round brushes, pinning them in place as he might with rollers. This “Turkish blow out” was a unique and pleasant experience, especially since the stylist didn’t have to fry my hair with flat irons to make it smooth and shiny.
While I didn’t try any of the facials, Val El has a pulsed light machine with a Phyto Deluxe Light Therapy Facial that’s exclusive to this salon in NYC. The one-hour treatment using Mila d’Opiz products, and this new dermatologic technology from Italy, helps increase the skin’s collagen, elastin, and keratin production. The result is the reduced appearance of fine and deep lines and wrinkles, and a more lifted appearance to your skin. This treatment is also beneficial for reducing the effects of rosacea and acne. And there are plenty of other waxing and facial services. Accupuncture, makeup application, and services such as Botox (performed by a Board Certified doctor from Cornell Medical Center), are planned for the near future.
Val El really does have everything you’d want from a high quality salon and day spa, including a relaxing, low-pressure atmosphere, luxurious treatments, euro-chic design, and an international staff that speaks just about any language you might converse in. Like any new business, this one is just getting started, and I hope to help spread the word about them! The owners may have targeted the locals as the primary customers, but even if you don’t live or work in the area, it is worth a visit. You will get all the quality of a high-end salon and spa that discerning people expect, but it’s not the type of place where if your’e not a rock star, you won’t get star attention, or the top tier people.
Val El Salon & Spa isn’t as inexpensive as the ordinary in-and-out salon or nail place on the corner, but you get a different experience entirely. And, the good news is that there are some good values and pampering specials that you can even book online. One really good value is Wash & Blow Out which is just $24.95 at all times. A Classic mani/pedi is $29.95 Mon-Wed, and $39.95 Fri-Sun. The Deluxe (gel) mani is just $30.00, the gel pedi, $35.00. Other specials and packages include:
1) Single color+haircut and Kerastase treatment $160
2) 1/2 head highlights and haircut $150
2) Classic mani/pedi and threading $40
3) Classic mani/pedi and Brazilian bikini wax $85
4) Spa mani/pedi and 1-hour Swedish massage $160
5) European facial and classic mani/pedi $140
5) Haircut/full highlights and classic manicure $200
6) Haircut and 15 min reflexology or classic manicure $70
7) Full leg + Brazilian bikini $79
8) European facial + 1-hour Swedish massage + spa manicure $240
9) Phyto Deluxe Light-therapy facial 6 sessions $149/session
Val El accepts SpaFinder Gift Certificates and SpaWeek Gift Cards. Call 646-360-3776 to book appointments, or visit the Val El Web Site and “like” the Val El Facebook page, and you can also follow them on Twitter
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