Hidden Vancouver: There Is a Secret Spa on Industrial Ave and It’s Amazing

This quirky salt sauna and hydrotherapy experience is like the East Van answer to Scandinave.

Industrial Avenue is not a street that many would describe as “relaxing.” Sure, there’s Beta5 Chocolates and a few great murals in the ‘hood, but it’s the recycling depot and car tow-yard that really set the tone on the chainlink-fence-lined boulevard. So it was certainly surprising to walk into the parking lot of Circle Wellness Studios and find a secluded handcrafted spa circuit.

Call it East Van’s answer to Scandinave Spa: a little wellness oasis that makes the grind outside fade into the background. There’s limited availability to book, but if you can snag a spot, it’s well worth it.

Within charred-wood walls awaits an open-air, ultra-deep cedar soaker tub and a cold-water claw-foot tub; take a dip in both, then head inside the hand-built modern sauna (an open-concept reinvention of traditional sauna design, called the WellPod) that’s lined with bricks of Himalayan salt, beautifully lit from behind. There, as music softly pipes in, you can crank the heat to stretch and sweat, practice yoga or meditate as you see fit, or turn down the lights via smart controls for full sensory deprivation in the intimate space.

Back outside the Pod, step onto a heated stone pad to ground yourself…and either head back out into the world, or start the circuit all over again.

From start to finish, Circle founder Paul Hennessey designed his spa experience to connect people with themselves and with nature. “Wooden soaking isn’t something people have done if they haven’t travelled,” he explains. And that’s a shame: untreated on the inside, there’s an aromatherapy affect when hot water hits the raw cedar. “It’s like bathing in a forest. There’s a primal connection between skin and wood.”

The tub is a modern version of the Japanese Ofuro tub, bridging old and new building techniques. (It’s a piece you could get Hennessey to build for your own indoor or outdoor hideaway, should you be so inclined.) The salt in the sauna, too, connects you with nature’s healing powers: though it’s an unusual spa treatment for Vancouverites, Korean saunas have long used salt as part of therapeutic treatments, and in Northern Europe, salt is a common treatment for skin disorders and breathing. There have even been studies on towns near salt mines where residents live exceptionally long… so take in a big lungful of that salt-tinged air when you’re living your best life in the Pod.

Hennessey’s careers throughout the years created a perfect storm for the conception of this magical place: he’s done stints as a paramedic, a spa tech and a carpenter. With his Circle Wellness venture, he’s embracing his destiny as the ultimate Holistic Handyman, designing and building custom spa experiences for all sorts of clients.

This little Industrial Ave. hideaway is a passion project and personal experiment, with only waitlist spots open, as they take new bookings on the first of each month only, but his real goal is to create these sort of installations for people to use at home or for their businesses. A WellPod on your patio? A cedar tub in your backyard? Hennessey’s ready to help you build a secret hideaway of your very own…just in case you can’t score one of his bookings.

Circle Wellness Studio

390 Industrial Avenue
Private spa experience: $199 + GST for weekdays and $229 + GST for evenings or weekends (up to two people per session)
By appointment only

This story was originally published on October 18, 2018.