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With boundless cultural offerings, a white-hot food scene, and dazzling architecture, Chicago keeps breaking records as one of the most-visited American cities. Its hotels, however, haven’t kept up. A mix of giant legacy properties and so-so national chains, lodging in the Windy City has been something to tolerate more than celebrate.
But that’s all changing, big-time. A boom’s underway, and it’s juicing up the lodging landscape. Leading the trend: Superb adaptive-reuse projects that reimagine some of the city’s most iconic buildings. New properties are also popping up in hotel-desert neighborhoods like Wicker Park, and as smart operators like Grupo Habita, Ace and Nobu enter the picture, players like Kimpton, Marriott and Hilton are upping their game. Here’s a look at some of our favorites among Chicago’s new crop of hotels.
1. Ace Hotel Chicago
While the West Loop’s home to Chicago’s buzziest restaurants — think Girl & the Goat, Monteverde and Bad Hunter — the nearest hotel was a Crowne Plaza several blocks south. Not anymore: Soho House landed in 2014, Nobu Hotel’s slated to open next year and cheeky Ace has repurposed a former cheese factory into a 159-room property that’s part gallery, part performance venue and part cool-kids clubhouse. There’s a more mid-century Modern vibe to this hotel than some other Ace digs; rooms are bright, open and industrial-chic, but practically designed and smartly configured — a smart work desk takes up an entire windowed wall. Not only that, City Mouse — the Ace’s attitude-free, all-day eatery — is the neighborhood’s best new place to talk shop over a meal. 311 N Morgan St., rates from $185 per night.
2. Marriott Marquis Chicago
Marriott doesn’t think small and its newest Marriott Marquis is a gleaming 1,250-room behemoth linked to the gargantuan McCormick Place complex. It might not be in our favorite neighborhood, but this hotel’s worth dropping your bags if you’re convention-bound. Designed with business travelers in mind, rooms lean to the stylishly functional and nearly every line offers an Insta-worthy view. The soaring, bustling lobby houses a decent open-air restaurant and busy grab-and-go kitchen. Like most Marriott Marquis properties, this one manages to project calm competency despite its enormous size and infinite moving parts. 2121 South Prairie Avenue, rates from $284 or 40,000 Marriott Rewards points per night.
3. Chicago Athletic Association
Even in a city that sparkles with architectural jewels, the Chicago Athletic Association stands out. Built in 1893 as a fancy men’s club, the Venetian Gothic masterpiece has been thoughtfully repurposed as a very happening luxury hotel. But it doesn’t look like any other lodging, with huge public spaces, ornate stained glass and more dark wood than the Enchanted Forest — somehow, none of it feels stuffy either. Guest rooms mix clean, modern furnishings with old-school art and rich leather; light streams through oversized windows; and sunny rooftop restaurant Cindy’s offers memory-making views of Millennium Park across the street. If you’ve got business downtown, this Mag Mile location’s hard to beat. 12 S. Michigan Ave., rates from $269 per night.
4. Viceroy Chicago
With the American Writers Museum down the street, you’d think the Viceroy could go local for its 30-foot lobby “Poem Wall.” Instead, Marcel Proust’s verse regales this 180-room luxury property from LA-based Viceroy. It works hard to feel quirky, with groovy furnishings and local-indie partnerships — women’s boutique FELT provides “fashion programming — and underneath it all, there’s a professional, pampering property that delivers real value for its price points. Bath amenities from LA’s ROIL and Spain’s Natura Bisse are a nice touch; so are floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the hotel. Check out the intricate terra-cotta facade that anchors the its new glass tower; once part of the long-gone Cedar Hotel, it was removed, restored and reapplied after construction. 1118 N. State St., rates from $240 per night.
5. Conrad Chicago
This newly redesigned Conrad looks like a Conrad, which isn’t a bad thing; rooms bring rich, neutral color palettes and unintimidatingly modern furniture. The selling points here are location – an enviable perch in a former office building on a Mag Mile shopping street – along with a capacious fitness room, tuned-in staff, and strong strong in-house dining. Noyane, Richard Sandoval’s 21st-floor Japanese joint, has been drawing locals as well as guests for its sushi, sake, and sweeping views. The Conrad’s close to mass transit links, and the hotel offers complimentary car service within two miles. 101 E. Erie St., rates from $200 per night.
6. LondonHouse Chicago
In the early 19th century, it was Fort Dearborn. In 1923, the Neoclassical and Art Deco London Guarantee Building popped up. Now, the 23-story landmark is home to LondonHouse, a 452-room luxury property with an enviable riverfront location and mind-blowing views. Take it from the top; the hotel’s tri-level rooftop bar has become the talk of the town, with perennially packed indoor/outdoor spaces. Beneath that, you’ll find well-proportioned rooms kitted out in modern-clubby dark woods and leathers. The property’s ultra-comfortable LHLux beds are a highlight, along with generously configured bathrooms. A well-maintained 24-hour fitness room offers space to move while a full-service spa provides pricy pampering — it’s a sweet $205 for the “Warm Honey Drizzle” massage. 85 E. Upper Wacker Dr., rates from $170 per night.
7. The Robey Chicago
Fast-gentrifying Wicker Park remains one of Chicago’s coolest enclaves. Lodging options have been few, but the newest property from Mexico’s design-forward Grupo Habita provides a prime perch at the neighborhood’s node — the Damen, North and Milwaukee Avenue cross. Buzzy Belgian design duo Nicolas Schuybroek Architects and Marc Merckx Interiors transformed a 1929 Art Deco office building into sleek quarters whose 69 rooms boast high ceilings, minimalist-luxe furnishings and Bluetooth-enabled sound systems. The rooftop lounge is already a major scene. While Wicker Park street noise can sometimes seep through guest room windows, those skyline views make up for it. Mass transit options abound, with downtown Chicago about 30 minutes away. 2018 W. North Ave., rates from $225 per night.
8. Virgin Hotels Chicago
As usual, Virgin led the pack when it transformed the landmark Dearborn Bank Building two years ago. Even with Chicago’s stellar new crop, this downtown hotel still stands out. It starts with the brand’s superb bed-cum-seat, reminiscent of a plush first-class sleeping cabin. Smart room touches like dual closets, swiveling furniture and sit-down vanities are still unique among Chicago accommodations. Room refreshments, packed into a Virgin-red Smeg mini-fridge, still cost less than any other hotel’s mini-bars. The lobby cleverly mashes up Ye Olde Chicago stateliness with nifty Virgin design touches like asymmetrical red carpets — think Vivienne Westwood’s brand of Britishness. Bottom line: This is still Chicago’s most fun place to stay. 203 N. Wabash Ave., rates from $210 per night.
9. Hotel Versey
Fans might have mourned the clean, cheap Days Inn that dominated this ultra-prime Lincoln Park corner until 2015, but fear not; the v-shaped hotel is back, this time with cooler décor, a nifty name and still-gentle rates. A re-flag of the old property, Hotel Versey’s billing itself as “quirky and bold, urban and edgy.” That’s a stretch, but you do get a DIY, Chicago-centric aesthetic that’s more stimulating than the neutral Days Inn palette. Beds are ultra-comfortable, Wi-Fi’s free and fast and staff — the best part of staying at the old place — are cheerful and accommodating as ever. You won’t find a restaurant or fitness room here, but the neighborhood overflows with dining options and an LA Fitness next door welcomes guests. You’ll find many mass-transit options nearby and downtown’s just 20-30 minutes by bus or El. 644 W. Diversey Pkwy, rates from $120 per night.
10. The Kimpton Gray Hotel
Boy, did Kimpton strike it rich with this building — “Father of the Skyscraper” William LeBaron Jenney’s pioneering 1903 New York Life Insurance Co. headquarters. A painstaking, much-lauded restoration has yielded a hotel that looks like nothing else — that twin-staircased gray marble entryway is a jaw-dropper. But Kimpton’s fifth Chicago property shines upstairs, too. Rooms feel fashionable but not forced, with blues and browns anchoring ivory-colored soft seating. Blue-and-white tiles brighten smallish bathrooms, while terrific food and beverage options include rooftop Argentinean lounge Boleo and Vol. 39, the second-floor library bar. Then there’s Kimpton’s famously pet-friendly policies, which are in full force here — furry or feathered friends stay free and goodies like pet beds are theirs for the asking. 122 W. Monroe St., rooms from $170 per night.
Where are your favorite places to stay in Chicago? Let us know in the comments, below.
Featured image by Conrad Chicago / Facebook.
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