Expect modern and trendy decor at Virgin Hotel Chicago, including a mini Smeg fridge. // © 2016 Virgin Hotel Chicago
Feature image (above): Kick back at Chicago Athletic Association Hotel’s Game Room bar and lounge. // © 2016 Clayton Hauck
We don’t need Robert De Niro to tell us that Chicago’s hotel scene is exploding, but, in June, the acclaimed actor broke ground on a 100-plus room Nobu hotel in the city’s West Loop district. (De Niro is co-owner of the property, and the opening is set for 2017.)
Indeed, the past few years have borne witness to a historic boom of downtown properties, from chic contemporary boutiques (such as The Godfrey Hotel Chicago in 2014) to brand-new international flagships (such as Hyatt’s first Hyatt Centric property, Hyatt Centric the Loop Chicago) to those in masterfully renovated, repurposed historic buildings.
So, which ones should you recommend and book for clients? Here’s a round-up of five prime picks in superb downtown locations.
Chicago Athletic Association Hotel
An exclusive private men’s club until 2007, this 1893 building was completely restored and reinvented as a 241-room boutique hotel. Opened in mid-2015, past and present meet through Chicago Athletic Association Hotel’s (CAAH) decor and amenities, including vintage-inspired furnishings, Carrara marble bathrooms, boxer-style bathrobes, bedside USB outlets and locally-sourced minibar items. Rooftop bars and restaurants are a sizzling Chicago trend at the moment, and the on-property Cindy’s is utterly stunning due to its steel, glass, brick and wood indoor atrium as well asphotogenic terrace views of Millennium Park and Lake Michigan.
What Not to Miss: Truly evoking the building’s past and sporty identity, Game Room bar and lounge offers a full-size bocce court, shuffleboard, billiards tables and more.
A Spring 2016 arrival costing around $200 million, the 452-room LondonHouse Chicago is a new property for Hilton’s Curio Collection. The LondonHouse occupies the gorgeous, historic London Guarantee & Accident Building, posited on the crux of the river and Michigan Avenue Bridge and a few blocks from Millennium Park.
While the structure’s neoclassical details have been lovingly retained, Chicago architecture firm Goettsch Partners designed an all-new 22-story glass tower addition, making the LondonHouse a true fusion of 20th and 21st centuries. Meanwhile, rooms feature elegant decor with muted tones, free Wi-Fi access and 55-inch HDTVs.
What Not to Miss: LondonHouse boasts three floors’ worth of rooftop dining and drinking venues, including the indoor LH on 21, the alfresco terrace LH on 22 and the 23rd floor’s private and opulent Cupola.
Freshly opened on Aug. 24, Kimpton’s latest Chicago property is located in The Loop, or central business district, steps from the Blue Line subway, “The Bean” (Cloud Gate sculpture), Chicago French Market, Intelligentsia Coffee and more. The 19th-century New York Life office building now houses The Gray’s 281 guestrooms and suites, decked out in a modern style with muted blue, cappuccino, grey and dashes of South American color. There’s an in-house spa, complimentary San Francisco-based brand Public bicycles and lobby bar Vol. 39.
What Not to Miss: South American-themed rooftop restaurant Boleo has caused much buzz among Chicago foodies. Expect Peruvian and Argentinean street food-inspired sharing plates by chefs Nick Sutton and Alexis Hernandez, cocktails by Jess Lambert and a dramatic, retractable glass roof.
The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago
The Ritz-Carlton took over this former 434-room Four Seasons property — previously called The Ritz-Carlton Chicago (a Four Seasons Hotel) — in August 2015. Located within the Water Tower Building on Magnificent Mile, The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago is across the street from Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and a 10-minute walk from Oak Street Beach.
This year, the property completed the first of two major renovation phases with upgrades including suite bathrooms, a fitness center, refreshed corridors and a brand-new, state-of-the-art Club Lounge with views of the John Hancock Center and a near-perpetual supply of snacks and meals.
A second phase, to be completed in 2017, will transform the lobby, spa and restaurant/bar. Conveniently, the 100-plus store Water Tower Place shopping mall, which includes the Broadway Playhouse live theater, a Starbucks and the DaVinci Machines Exhibition, occupies the building’s lower levels.
What Not to Miss: The most vogue thing in wellness is “Voga” — a form of yoga inspired by ‘80s dance moves and music that originated in the U.K. — and The Ritz-Carlton’s stunning 75th-floor rooftop is the setting for the U.S.'s first "Rooftop Voga." Strike a pose on Fridays at 4 p.m. for $20 per person for hotel guests.
Virgin Hotels Chicago
Richard Branson opened his first Virgin Hotel in early 2015 within an art deco former bank building just a few blocks away from Millennium Park and the sprawling Art Institute. Virgin Hotels Chicago’s 250 rooms — although “chambers” is Virgin’s preferred terminology — are modern, with red mini Smeg refrigerators. “No hidden fees” is a superb budget-friendly aspect and includes complimentary unlimited bandwidth Wi-Fi access; bottled water; early or late check-in and check-out; and minibar items that are sold at fair “street” prices.
Music and cocktails rule at the bling-y Commons Club, and Two Zero Three Coffee & Wine Bar is both a morning and night destination. And Virgin’s Marquee program of in-house live entertainment — from standup comedy and bands to DJ sets at rooftop bar Cerise — means your stumble home entails only an elevator.
What Not to Miss: The Virgin Hotel smartphone app, which gives you control over your room’s tech, all hotel services and even a live concierge chat feature.