A Weekend Getaway in Chicago


With Chicago’s tourism numbers returning to pre-recession levels—46.2 million travelers in 2012—we wanted to see for ourselves what is drawing travelers to this cultural hotspot, so we spent this past weekend exploring the “Windy City.”

We called the Public Chicago in the Gold Coast neighborhood home, indulging in the 285-room boutique hotel created by Ian Schrager. The Public took over the classic Ambassador East Hotel almost two years ago, giving the property that once hosted regulars like Frank Sinatra and David Bowie a new look.

With this hotel, Schrager—the mind behind the Delano Hotel in Miami Beach and Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City—aimed to create a new class of hotel with a five-star feel on a more affordable level. The property has a contemporary look catering more to a younger tech-savvy set, and to make it more affordable to this set cuts out some of the amenities of a typical five-star hotel. Travelers won’t find a robe and slippers in their room, but they can request these items. The same goes for turn-down service. And as for room service, travelers are guaranteed to get their order in 10 minutes or less delivered in a chic brown bag. To top it off, the meals are by Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Vongerichten also took the helm at the legendary Pump Room restaurant, which is about to celebrate its 75th anniversary. With the redesign of the restaurant, Schrager transformed the space, taking out the chandeliers and replacing them with hand-blown glass orbs from an art studio in Milan, resembling champagne bubbles or a constellation. “Schrager put his personal stamp on the property,” says Michael Willson, the associate director of sales, as he was giving us a tour. This personal touch also includes a limestone fireplace in the library—which serves as a coffee bar by day and lounge by night—that is a recreation of one Schrager has in his home. Same goes for the design of the platform beds in the guestrooms taken from Schrager’s own bedroom in New York.

Schrager kept touches from the original property as well, such as the original washrooms, and the chandeliers from the Pump Room, which are now in the entrance of the lobby. The hotel also features 10 celebrity suites named after the guests who stayed there, such as the Elizabeth Taylor suite which features a terrace.

Guestrooms range from $215 to $285 per night.

In October, another hotel will open in the Gold Coast neighborhood as Thompson Hotels launches the first phase of Thompson Chicago.

The 247-room hotel will be located amidst the nightlife and dining venues of downtown Chicago, as well as the boutiques on Oak Street. While the first phase of the hotel opens in October, the Thompson Chicago will continue rolling out phases throughout the rest of the year, with signature restaurant NICO set to open in December. NICO—part of One Off Hospitality which includes Chicago hotspots like avec, The Publican and Blackbird—will offer Italian cuisine with fresh pasta, seafood and craft dishes.

The hotel is accepting reservations for stays starting Oct. 1. For more information, call (312) 266-2100 or visit thompsonhotels.com.

We tried a few of One Off’s restaurant, including Big Star in Wicker Park for tacos and margaritas and The Publican for Sunday brunch (the red wine poached eggs were incredible). If your clients are craft cocktail lovers, recommend The Aviary, which offers a different and more interactive take on cocktails.

Chicago blossoms in summer with its numerous parks and beaches, hosting big-name festivals like Pitchfork Music Festival and Lollapalooza. Recommend your clients head to one of the beaches or explore the Jun Kaneko scultpure exhibit or Lorie Gardens in Millennium Park.

While we enjoyed the summer weather in Wicker Park and attended a music festival, the winter also offers plenty for travelers. The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival attracts over one million people in November, with a parade, live music and fireworks over the Chicago River. The city also features the free German Christkindlmarket downtown with traditional food, drinks and vendors, also in November.

For more information, visit choosechicago.com. For more on Chicago, see “Hard Rock” Chicago-Style, Rock Out in the Windy City from the March 2013 issue.