Basic Luxury: A Review of The Gwen, a Luxury Collection Hotel in Chicago

Jun 23, 2019

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I had planned a Saturday night in Chicago and was looking for a hotel near Michigan Avenue, the city’s most famous thoroughfare. The Gwen is part of the Luxury Collection, one of the few brands in the Marriott portfolio whose properties evoke a sense of place. So I was excited when I saw decent rates for the hotel at around $150. I decided to check out the 311-room property, which is named after the Chicago sculptor Gwen Lux.

In This Post

Booking

I booked a member’s rate directly on the Marriott app for $159 plus taxes and fees. For normal weekdays, I’ve seen the rate hover in the mid-$200s, and for weekends, as low as $199.

I put the bill on my Citi Prestige card, which earns me 3x points on hotel stays, and racked up 834 ThankYou points. I could have also used Marriott points for my stay. As it was a Category 5 hotel, it would have cost 35,000 Marriott Reward points. As an Ambassador member, I also earned 4,382 Marriott Reward points for my stay, worth close to $40, according to TPG’s recent valuations.

Location

The Gwen opened in 2015 in the old Conrad Hotel. The hotel is adjacent to The Shops at North Bridge, a mall that includes Nordstrom and Eataly. The location is perfect for those business trips that may occur during one of Chicago’s infamous polar vortexes when the prospect of going outside is just too much to bear. And during the summer, it provides an air-conditioned refuge from the sticky humidity of the Midwest. It’s not just business travelers coming for meetings in the Loop that will enjoy the location, though. I’m sure those visiting the Windy City for pleasure will also find the location favorable as well.

The hotel is accessible from Rush Street. Without traffic, it takes about 30 minutes and costs about $40 to get to O’Hare Airport (ORD), though you should definitely give yourself over an hour in rush hour. If you are making your way downtown on the “L”, allocate about an hour.

Check-in

The hotel’s lobby is located on the fifth floor, but there was plenty of signage, and multiple valets pointed us to the elevators when we first arrived.

The elevators door opened up to the lobby, with the check-in desks directly ahead.

The pink couches, geometric designs and dark hues were striking. I liked the classic, elegant vibes — it all felt very old-school Chicago.

Like I mentioned earlier, the hotel is named after Chicago sculptor Gwen Lux — one of her works is displayed prominently in the lobby.

I arrived around 7pm, and check-in took about five minutes. I had completed mobile check-in, but it didn’t seem like the property had enabled mobile room keys yet.

I wasn’t proactively asked to choose breakfast or points as a Platinum amenity, though I did ask for the breakfast amenity before heading up to my room. I requested a room with two double beds, but the check-in agent mentioned those rooms were fully committed for the night, so she offered (without me asking) to send up a rollaway to our room, which I did appreciate. She handed over my keys, and I passed the buzzing lobby bar as I made my way to room 709.

Room

The door for my superior king room opened up to a small corridor with the luxurious bathroom on the righthand side.

The bathroom was stocked with classy Molton Brown toiletries in the shower and bathtub.

A separate water closet with the toilet was on the other side of the vanity.

The entire bathroom was spacious and well-appointed. Past the bathroom, the king bed was centered against the back wall, with wall art behind it. The bed was comfy, and the linens were silky smooth. Two end tables framed the bed with outlets on each side. There was one small table awkwardly perched against the window wall without a chair next to it. The tree lamp also felt slightly strange for the space.

On the other side of the room was a massive TV and a desk against the wall. The hotel had just gotten a new TV system, and the channels weren’t listed and a guide wasn’t available. The front desk also couldn’t locate the NBC Sports channel, which is available in most upscale hotels. A technician eventually found it for me, though I missed almost half of the soccer match I had wanted to watch, which was unfortunate. I imagine this is probably a one-off experience during the transition period between systems.

Under the TV was an empty minifridge, which is much more useful than a minibar, along with a few water bottles, glasses, coffeemaker and an ice bucket.

The view outside was of Michigan Avenue and the InterContinental Hotel, which wasn’t particularly special. The windows were quite dirty but did a great job of keeping out street noise.

The decor of the room felt bare for a Luxury Collection hotel. It seemed more akin to a Westin. The space was large, and the finishings were classy though nothing really made the rooms feel more unique than other luxury brands.

Food and Beverage

The free breakfast that I received as an Ambassador member was served in Circa Bar in the lobby of the hotel. Platinum guests could choose a basic continental breakfast or use $14 toward something else on the menu. I opted for the chilaquiles, which were OK. The salsa was bland, and it didn’t come with many fixings.
I also found the drink menu pretty basic — no unique juices, no kombucha and no coffees to get excited about  — though I then remembered that I was in the Midwest, not Portland. The food menu was a solid breakfast menu, but considering this was Sunday brunch, I was expecting a little more oomph. 
On the balcony outside Circa is Upstairs at The Gwen, a nice rooftop cocktail bar that’s lively when the weather’s good.

Amenities

The gym, open 24 hours day, was on the ninth floor. It was equipped with plenty of cardio machines, free weights and a few weight machines and … drumroll … not one but two Peloton bikes!
Wi-Fi was available free of charge to all guests, with premium internet also free for Gold and Platinum members, and I never had any issues with it. For summer stays, the hotel also offers an “urban glamping” experience, which I’ve never seen. Essentially, guests can stay in a decked-out tent on a hotel balcony during the Chicago summer, which sounds like it could be a cool experience. The concierge also offers free tours of the property that highlight some of Gwen Lux’s work and her story every Wednesday and Saturday at 11am and also upon request.

Overall Impression

The Gwen is a solid upscale option in Chicago. They do the basics really well: nice toiletries, a comfy bed, a nice gym and great location.That being said, nothing particularly stood out about the hotel during my short stay. I only ate at the restaurant once, so don’t think it is fair to say all of their offerings are mediocre, but the sample size of one was not that exciting. The service was fine, but I would have hoped they could have accommodated an Ambassador guest’s request for a room with two beds, especially since I had messaged them a few days ahead of time. All that being said, I found the hotel a comfortable base in Chicago, and will happily visit again for the right price.

All photos by the author.

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