Goodbye Osento

by | Jul 29, 2008 | My Life | 5 comments

I don’t often feel the compulsion to blog, or twitter, or even update my status on Facebook. In a world where everyone is constantly sharing why would a “writer” want to “write” in such easy-to-distribute formats? There’s so much “content” in the world why would I want to add to the pile? But tonight I do feel the urge to post a random blog post, to say goodbye to a wonderful place in San Francisco that has served as a refuge for me over the last ten years.

Osento was a uniquely San Francisco women’s spa in the Mission District that has existed for over 25 years. Affordable: it only cost $12 to get in. Diverse: full of naked women in every size, shape, color, and nipple style. Unpretentious: the lounging cots offered both stacks of literary magazines and US Weekly. And divinely, sometimes dizzyingly relaxing: there was nothing like emerging from Osento, cleansed from an almost scaldingly-hot water soak and a pore-draining 20 minutes in the wet sauna, to Valencia Street, light-headed and renewed.

My friend Jenny and I went for the last time tonight–Osento closes August 31. We couldn’t remember the first time we went as individuals or together. We’ve probably gone together at least 50 times over the course of our 11-year friendship. We’ve gone through triumphs, despair, breakups, for sleepover parties with other friends. Most of our time there was a blur to me–we went so many times–but as I sat in the hot tub tonight with 15 other women (it was a popular night, the third to last at Osento ever), Ia slideshow of most memorable visits played in my head.

Snippets of memories flickered in my head: bringing my mother, and delighting in her joy in bobbing in the hot water pool, after her initial reluctance to get naked in her fiftysomething body among other women. Coming with a then-best-friend and creative collaborator, who is no longer a friend at all. (Friendships, like romantic relationships, do sometimes end.) I almost started to cry, though, when I thought of all the times that Osento has saved me. Being a hypomanic workaholic, I go through cycles where I work in bursts for weeks, then collapse in exhaustion. During the exhaustion, I allow myself to get massages, and I would always go to Osento to take care of myself, to recover. Most of all, I thought of the massage therapist I met there who helped me through one of the worst periods of my life–when, after publishing Quirkyalone, I had done so much press and radio that I couldn’t sleep–even for days on end. She helped me sleep during a crucial period when nothing else helped. I am forever grateful to her and that place.

The owner published a long explanation about why she is selling the building rather than selling it to someone who would maintain Osento as a spa. It makes more financial sense for her, and she’ll be able to recoup enough money to retire in Clearlake, Lake County, California.¬¨‚Ć I appreciate that sometimes we all have to say goodbye to businesses and projects that we and others love. I’ve had to say my own goodbyes to projects, in ways that have saddened me enormously. I just feel so lucky to have lived within blocks of such an urban gem. Jenny and I are going to start frequenting a Korean spa recommended by our friend Colleen soon. Another decade begins.


  1. thomasina demaio

    Wonderfully written and i feel your loss as I am also an Osento woman for years. There will never be another like that. The Korean Spa is nice but still it doesn’t have that downhome funkiness Osento provided.
    I have been reduced to buying the exact barrel sauna for my backyard where I will try to duplicate the”OSENTO” feeling knowing again an era has past. Stop by anytime!

  2. admin

    Hey Thomasina, Thanks for the offer! Yes, I just tried the Korean Spa. The full-body scrub was certainly interesting, and so is the atmosphere, but it’s not the same as Osento. Let me know where you live and maybe we can have an Osento reunion.

  3. Susan

    Oh man! I used to go to Osento a couple of times a year for a massage and to get in some hang time with the gals. I was bummed to go to for the address, only to find out the business had closed.

  4. Karen

    Wow, what a disappointment. I was just thinking about Osento and googled it only to discover the sad news here. I’m from S.F. (but have lived in Iowa for almost 20 years) and I used to go to Osento a lot. It was affordable for a poor college student and unintimidating/unpretentious, unlike spas these days.

    Would love to know what this Korean place is that everyone is commenting about, though–I’ll need an Osento replacement on my next visit home.

  5. Lemora

    I am so sad that two of my favorite places in the Mission are closed: Osento and La Rondalla. Osento was my favorite homey, funky bath house. I had many relaxing times there alone and with friends.



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Hi! I’m Sasha

Executive and Life Coach on a mission to help women connect with their bodies to pursue their truest desires in the bedroom and the world.

Author of Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics (HarperCollins) + To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us (Simon & Schuster).

At work on a memoir called Wet, about adventures in healing through sensuality.

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