Growing pains: A review of the Sable at Navy Pier Chicago, Curio Collection
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I may live in New York City now, but I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and lived in the city for a number of years. You’ll still find me in a Cubs hat with a Chicago flag t-shirt on, longing for a can of Old Style beer and an Italian Beef. Chicago blood runs through my veins and I’m forever proud to have grown up in the best metropolitan area in the U.S.
Much of my early childhood was spent near Navy Pier, Chicago’s version of Coney Island. My dad would take me there when my mom was in graduate school, and I’d play in the fountains near the entrance. My mom would take me to the Chicago Children’s Museum or to an IMAX movie at the Navy Pier theater. The whole place brings back fond memories of growing up in the late ’90s.
So when Hilton announced it was opening a Curio Collection hotel on Navy Pier, just a short distance from where I spent much of my early childhood, I was excited to check it out. So on a recent trip back to Chicagoland to see my parents, we trekked in from the suburb of Elmhurst to see what one of Hilton’s newest properties has to offer.
Did it live up to my childhood dreams? Let’s take a closer look at my stay.
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Let’s get this out of the way first: the Sable is not a cheap hotel.
My rate in July was right around $300 per night, which is expensive but not insane given the location and caliber of the hotel. Even in the fall months, you’ll find rates as high as $300 per night before taxes and fees.
If you decide to stay at the Sable, consider paying with a Citi Premier® Card. You’ll earn 3x Citi ThankYou points on your stay, which is equal to a 5.1% return on your purchase (based on TPG’s valuation of ThankYou points at 1.7 cents).
Alternatively, you can pay with a Hilton cobranded credit card to earn bonus Hilton Honors points. There are a handful of these cards available and each includes various benefits, like complimentary Hilton elite status and free night certificates.
As mentioned, Sable is located on Chicago’s Navy Pier. If you’ve never been, it’s a family-friendly pier in Lake Michigan that is home to a Ferris wheel, the Chicago Children’s Museum and a number of boat tours. There also are a handful of restaurants, including some classics like Billy Goat Tavern. It’s mostly geared toward those with children, and that’s very apparent as you walk down Navy Pier on your way to Sable.
Sable is located toward the end of the pier. It’s spread across three different buildings, which are all connected by walkways. It’s a huge structure — much larger than most other hotels in Chicago.
If you walk past the hotel, you’ll come to the Navy Pier Beer Garden and a concrete park at the end of the pier. This is a great place to see the Chicago skyline. Being out there reminded me of childhood walks with my dad, college dates and an old tradition I have with friends: walking the pier on Christmas Eve. It was a very nostalgic walk, and the memories hit me like a freight train.
But my childhood memories aside, the location isn’t great for those hoping to actually explore the city. It’s outside of downtown, River North and other popular tourist areas. Walking to the hotel from the nearest CTA stop is inconvenient and you’re charged a $5 destination tax when you take an Uber or Lyft to the hotel. If you arrive late, a Navy Pier guard will ask to see your hotel keycard.
This hotel may be a good option if you’re taking kids to see Navy Pier or are attending a conference at the pier’s convention center. If not, it’s a tough sell for solo travelers, couples or others who want an authentic Chicago experience.
Related: 7 things to do in Chicago with kids
It took me a minute to find the hotel’s main entrance from the pier, in large part because of how big the building is. You can enter on either side of the pier. The north-facing side is where Uber, Lyft or a local taxi will drop off and pick up.
When you enter the lobby, you’re greeted with a small seating area that’s well-furnished. I didn’t see too many people hang out here during their stay.
To the right of the check-in desk is a grab-and-go snack bar stocked with snacks, drinks and other essentials. You can use the dining credit included with your Hilton Honors elite status to purchase a quick breakfast or a mid-day snack.
I walked up to the check-in counter right around the hotel’s 3 p.m. check-in time. It was crowded, but the desk agent was friendly enough and quickly handed me a hotel key. That said, my Hilton Diamond status and its associated benefits were not acknowledged by the check-in staff.
I walked out of the lobby and passed by the restaurant. On my way to the elevator, I noticed that much of the main hallway is still unfinished. It feels very similar to walking through a conference center and really took away from the upscale feeling this hotel is supposed to relay. This was the first sign that this hotel has a little ways to go.
When I got off the elevator, I was surprised to see that the hallways were completely finished and looked quite modern. The hallways are painted a dark blue which contrasts nicely with the blue and yellow carpets. It’s worth noting that the rooms were not sealed with Hilton’s usual CleanStay seal.
I quickly found my room and used my key card to enter. I had booked a standard king room and was not upgraded with my Hilton elite status. That made sense though — the hotel seemed very busy, and it was early July, which is often an extremely popular time for tourism in Chicago.
Upon entering, I was greeted with a small hallway. Here, I found a large closet with an ironing board, iron, safe and some hangers. I really liked the design — it had rounded doors which added to the modern feel of the hotel room.
To the right of this was the bathroom, and it was excellent. You’re greeted with a large vanity when you enter the bathroom. It was outfitted with single-use toiletries, a mirror and a small makeup mirror. I’m a huge fan of the vanity’s rounded design that continued throughout the room.
The shower was to the right of the sink and also well-designed. The enclosed shower room was large and it had a very beach-inspired design, with light wooden floors and gold accents.
The toilet was located on the other side of the bathroom in its own enclosed space, but without a door. I really liked the Chicago flag artwork above the toilet, too.
Continuing past the hallway, I found the main sitting and sleeping area. The king bed was placed against the left wall. The bed was large, very soft and comfortable and I had no issues sleeping through the night.
There were nightstands on both sides of the bed which had reading lights and USB ports. You’ll also find an alarm clock with a wireless phone charger, which could come in handy if you have a newer smartphone and forget your phone charger.
There was a small coffee bar area to the left of the bed. It housed another lamp, ice container and a Keurig coffee maker. The coffee maker was on a tray that you have to lift up and set on the counter to plug into a power outlet. It was stocked with coffee and tea pods, cups and other essentials.
Across from the bed was a large flat-screen TV; it had a Chromecast to stream content from your phone or laptop. There was an empty mini-fridge inside the large console below the TV.
There was a small seating area to the right of the TV that I used as a workspace during my stay. There was only one chair, which was fine for my needs but may be a little awkward for couples traveling together.
All windows at the Sable have a city or lake view. From my north-facing room, there was a spectacular view of Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago. In fact, it’s one of the most stunning views of Chicago I’ve seen. There was even a bench next to the window for you to sit and soak up the view.
The bird poop problem
Here’s something I never thought I’d write: the only major issue with the room was the bird poop that covered the floor-to-ceiling windows.
To make matters worse, l I heard a fresh one hit the window as I was shooting photos of the room. Frankly, it was gross and the building needs to do a better job of window washing.
The bird poop problem is apparent on the outside of the building, too. It covers much of the building’s exterior and nearly all of the guest room windows. It’s disgusting to look at and gives a poor first impression of the hotel even before you check in.
Sable needs to fix this issue. It’s unacceptable,given the nightly rate, and takes away from the incredible views.
On site, you’ll find a gym that’s outfitted with Peleton bikes and other workout equipment. Other than that, there’s no business center, spa or other notable amenities.
As you’d expect, there is free Wi-Fi throughout the building which had average speeds of roughly 31 Mbps download and 23 Mbps upload.
Food and beverage
I went into the Sable experience with high hopes for the two on-site restaurants: Lirica and Offshore.
Lirica offers Latin-inspired cuisine with a huge bar menu that includes an array of craft beers, cocktails and wines. Offshore is a huge rooftop bar that holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for the world’s largest rooftop bar, at 20,000 square feet.
Frankly, service at both restaurants was a big disappointment and the low-light of my experience at the Sable.
I decided to take my parents to Lirica for drinks and an appetizer using the dining credit included with my Diamond elite status. We attempted to get a seat at the restaurant without a reservation and the hostess said it was full for the evening. Fair enough, but there were plenty of seats available at the time.
I asked the hostess if it was possible to sit down just for a quick appetizer and drinks, as I had to use my Hilton dining credit somehow. She agreed to seat us and we were promptly brought menus. A few minutes later, a waiter came to take our order. My dad and I ordered beers, my mom ordered a cocktail and we got chips and guacamole for the table.
Things came out relatively quickly. The beers from the local Cruz Blanca brewery were good and the cocktail my mom ordered was picture-perfect. The chips and guac were tasty too.
However, once served, we didn’t see or hear from our waiter for a good 30-plus minutes. After getting tired of restaurant purgatory, I finally walked to the hostess counter to try and get the check. Eventually, someone came by and I charged the bill to my room. Thankfully the dining credit was posted to my folio without issue and most of the check was free.
We had a reservation for dinner at Offshore later in the day, but left before we were seated. There were long lines and very weak air conditioning in the indoor area. It felt like a greenhouse because of its transparent roof, and the staff didn’t provide any updates on when we would be seated – despite having shown up on time for our reservation.
I would have loved to give these experiences a higher rating, but the service simply wasn’t there.
Here’s hoping this improves as the hotel and its dining establishments continue to tweak their operations and add staff.
Unfortunately, the service at the hotel wasn’t great, either.
The check-in process was relatively quick, but the representative did not recognize my Hilton Diamond status or convey any of the benefits that come along with it. I had to specifically ask if the $10 dining credit was connected to my reservation — which, thankfully, it was.
My experience at the restaurant speaks for itself. Service at this property has a long way to go, especially if the hotel wants to live up to the Curio collection’s upscale reputation. The current service was mediocre at best across the board, and there needs to be a massive improvement in order to bring this property’s quality of service up to an acceptable level.
The idea of a hotel on Navy Pier is great for those with children or those attending a conference on the Pier. I went into the hotel with high expectations (and a bit of nostalgia) after spending so much time in the area as a child. But the Sable simply didn’t live up to these expectations — or any expectation of a good hotel experience.
That said, I think the issues are fixable. The bird poo-covered exterior could be cleaned regularly, and the hotel could take steps to prevent this from recurring. Likewise, the hotel could better train staff at the on-site restaurants to avoid the long waits and poor service I experienced.
I hope the hotel improves, too. Its unique location and well-designed rooms are huge selling points. If the service matched, I think it could be a premier Chicago hotel for those looking to stay on Navy Pier. But until it makes some improvements, I can’t recommend it.
Feature photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy.
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