Take a Day Trip From Boston to Get High in Portsmouth (On O2, Naturally)

Oxygen bars may be illegal in Boston, but it’s just another reason to head to New Hampshire's nearby historical and eclectic maritime hamlet

Traveling to Boston for a respite from the woes and worries in life can present more than ample opportunities to live well and to soak up the historical wonderment found within the Hub.

But, it should be noted that the Commonwealth is still haunted by the laws of its Puritanical past (don’t forget, the Salem witch trials were located a mere 20 miles to the north of Boston). And perhaps due to that brand of policy creation—be it happy hours (they’re illegal), singing the national anthem in public spaces (also illegal), and even cursing at Boston’s grand holy cathedral, Fenway Park (hysterically illegal)—seeking out an afternoon of wellness at the hands of pure oxygen is something not applicable during any trip to the land of Mayor Marty Walsh.

So, it’s comforting to know that you can, in fact, do so only a little over an hour north. The eclectic and free-spirited historical maritime community of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is worthy of carving a day (or two) out of your pilgrimage to the Northeast.

Deeply rooted in preservation of its maritime and artistically creative roots (as well as its place in the cannon fodder of quadrennial presidential political stumping), the downtown waterfront area and its cultural nucleus around Market Square (which, the annual open-streets outdoor soiree Market Square Day Festival being its own reason to pencil in a trip) is rich with unique reasons for visiting while passing through the vacationland superhighway between Boston proper and the north Maine woods of Acadia National Park.

On a quiet street located next door to the RiverRun Bookstore, housing enough vintage typewriters for sale that will make any manual key-head horny, is Ellie’s Raw Juice and Oxygen Lounge. At first, hearing a spot exists to duck into on one’s lunch break or for scheduling a full head-to-toe treatment involving inhaling purified oxygen while relaxing on massage chairs that lock your feet and hands in place, slowly stretching out your body and joints, seems like the sort of hucksterism reserved for snake-oil remedies and Donald Trump’s immigration policies.  

The Memorial Bridge over the Piscataqua River, in Portsmouth, N.H.

But not so from my experience. I took a sojourn up there recently to investigate the matter myself, primarily out of sheer curiosity, but also due to the fact that in the age of constant connectivity and social-media-as-me self-promotion, Ellie’s seemed like a hidden secret. Scant Yelp commentary on it exists, and when I probed a few Portsmouth-based pals they had never even heard of it, in spite of the fact the location puts it a stone’s throw from a number of the town’s excellent eateries and live music haunts surrounding it (The Press Room, Street, Row 34, Moxie).

Ellie’s, the brainchild of two sisters and 30-year residents, is a vegetarian and holistic pleasure dome with one main goal in mind.

“We had been helping people with these kinds of offerings out of our homes for years,” said Ellie. “So we decided to open a business. Our mom was sick and died in my arms, and soon after I had a dream where I saw this name on a business awning. That’s when it clicked.”

Five years into its existence, the shop remains a favorite for the infirm and anyone lacking a little ginger in their step. Those who stop to enjoy a quick blast of health and/or other amenities offered beneath the rising 15-foot pressed-tin ceiling, do so to a regular soundtrack of relaxing '70s R&B. (Teddy Pendergrass and his dulcet tones are renowned for their ability to set the mind and body at ease).

So say you’ve made the trek and spent a little time at the USS Albacore Submarine Museum on the outskirts of town, followed by a funky brunch at the Friendly Toast, or just some seafood and cocktails on the expanse of waterfront patio spaces lining Bow Street (Surf, Martingale Wharf, The River House), head in to Ellie’s. After a 15-to-30-minute chair massage and oxygen session—during which a professional-grade air purifier and pure oxygen-dispensing machine is rolled over to you with a hose head wrap that places the air flow directly into your nostrils –you’ll move on to the foot detox room.

Ellie's also has liquefied oxygen portable sprays to take with you, if you're in a rush.

Herbal tea is offered (Ellie's gets Chinese organic tea and herbs via a personal shopper in China and a distributor in Cape Cod), and a piping-hot bucket of water is placed at your feet. An ionizer contraption—Ellie and her sister mentioned that the “scam” association with foot-detox processes is linked to shoddy Chinese-made machines which do nothing, and why they use all stainless steel Texas-made medical grade units—is added, sending charged ions directly into your nervous system through the soles of your feet. As your feet soak in water laced with a teaspoon of Dead Sea Salt to relax your tendons and supposedly make your system more receptive to the treatment, it slowly begins to change color. Reflecting what toxins are surging through your system, the water changes from clear to a rusty-brown, continues to small black particles congealing from the molecules leaving your body and a host of other shades.

View of decomissioned submarine USS Albacore at the Albacore Museum in Portsmouth, NH

I said nothing of my lifestyle habits or diet before beginning the treatment, but as the colors changed and my feet sat in what looked like a vat of toxic sludge, Ellie and her sister began rattling off causes: Tobacco. Heavy metals in tap water. A concentration of fatty foods and iron. Liver stress from excessive drinking (or “social” drinking, as I say). By the end, based on the water in the bucket, Ellie has all but outlined what I had put in my body for the previous week. Her insight was gleaned from the color-match chart on hand, which allows a client to get a visual sense of the toxic rot pouring into the foot bath during the process. There were other shades and ailments noted on the chart not present at the end of my own session, giving (placebo?) legitimacy to the health benefits the controversial foot-detox procedure touts. 

If that wasn’t enough, I began to feel a distinct sensation of lightheadedness, which turned into outright nausea and dizziness, attributed to the fact I’m so filled with bad stuff that my body was reeling and recalibrating.

As I was going for the whole kit and caboodle of treatments, next up was a quick session on the Power Plate—a whole-body vibration machine for muscle activation and knot relief, originally created by a Russian scientist for the cosmonaut program as a way to keep bodies withering in Zero-G environments up to snuff. A few minutes on that (noting that a 20-minute session involving weight bands are big with the seniors in town) and I was ushered into the Far Infrared Sauna on the premises; a self-cleaning heat chamber using infrared beams to penetrate human skin and detoxify the system, promote anti-aging and skin purification, as well as general muscle and joint pain relief. If sitting in the sauna isn’t for you, there is also a horizontal bed version (go ahead, take a nap).

Anyone stopping in for a session of the military veteran or terminally ill variety will find a special treatment their way (you’ll have to ask them), but ultimately for Ellie, operating the lounge is a labor of love.

So for those seeking better quality of life at the hands of an eco-friendly, holistic, and full body wellness center right in the heart of a quintessential old-school New Hampshire seaside wonderland, go north, my friend. Go north.