Remember oxygen bars? No? Well prepare to let me save you money on your, uh… time machine bills, because I’m about to explain this health fad that had run its course by the early 2000’s.
Somehow there’s still an oxygen bar in San Francisco at — where else? — Pier 39. So of course I had to go try it.
Now obviously there’s something a little sketchy about anything at a tourist trap like Pier 39, and last I checked it was still perfectly legal to breathe oxygen for free. So what’s the point?
Despite what Brad Pitt’s character claims in the movie Fight Club, no, oxygen does not get you high. In healthy humans we should have a blood oxygen level of at least 95% at all times. So if oxygen could get you high then we’d all be high all the time. If your blood oxygen level is low you need to see a doctor, not go to an oxygen bar for some kind of quick fix.
As far as I can tell the real point of oxygen bars isn’t so much the oxygen, but the vials of scented oil that the oxygen bubbles through — basically a type of aromatherapy.
For me the best part of the experience had nothing to do with the oxygen at all. The employee working there handed me a massage gun and told me to try it out. I’d always thought those were gimmicky, like most of the stuff they sold at Sharper Image back in the day. But it honestly felt great on several stiff spots on my lower back.
And that’s when the real purpose of the “oxygen bar” kicked in as the employee tried to sell me a massage gun for a price which could have easily paid for several actual massages at a nice spa. She offered me a few other products and discounts all of which I declined as quickly and politely as possible.
In the end it cost around $25 including a decent tip. Would I do it again? Probably not, but if someone wanted to go I wouldn’t be opposed to joining them either.
At the same time it’s easy to see why this fad was so short lived, and why it’s been relegated to this strange economy of tourist traps.