continental breakfast at the Radisson Blu Aqua
hotel in Chicago, Illinois, can fuel a guest for
— I grew up in Chicago and still go there often. But
since I’m visiting my family, I rarely stay in hotels.
post on Facebook about their weekends at the historic
Burnham or the boutique James, the bargain Days Inn or the
glitzy Wit; it all sounds very "downtown" and
exotic compared with my mom’s suburban townhouse.
overcome with envy — and "on assignment" — I
booked rooms at three Chicago hotels, all opened within
the past nine months. Each of these newcomers has its own
style, price point and charm.
was a hectic trip, what with changing hotels each day, but
it turned out to be a great way to experience three
distinct parts of the city — Lincoln Park, with few
hotels; the east Loop, which is thick with ‘em, and the
walkable River North district.
1816 N. Clark, at the bottom of the "V" where
Clark and Lincoln converge, across the street from Lincoln
Park and its famous zoo.
Retro, with a healthy splash of kitsch. Garage-sale
paintings adorn a lobby stairwell, and Chicago-specific
photos and art decorate the rooms.
The lobby, which adjoins Elaine’s coffee shop and
Perennial Virant, chef Paul Virant’s farm-to-table
restaurant, makes an appealing hangout.
10th-floor room was small but nicely appointed, with
zillion-thread-count white sheets, 27 pillows, flat-screen
TV, Wi-Fi and comfy rolling office chair. Its single
window overlooked Lincoln Park and the lake.
gorgeous Sunday afternoon lured me outside, where the
hotel has free bikes for customer use. I took one and
pedaled through Lincoln Park, past the famous zoo that I
visited as a child and out to the blue-green lakefront
that makes Chicago one of the country’s great summertime
north, I headed up to Belmont, where a big harbor was busy
with pleasure boats. A few blocks to the west and I was in
Lakeview, where I browsed at Unabridged Bookstore and
drank coffee in the window of Intelligentsia, the best
small-chain coffee place in town.
seekers can head a few blocks south to Old Town, home of
the Second City comedy club and chock-a-block with
a hearty breakfast at Nookie’s on N. Wells, then stroll
in the adjacent Old Town Triangle district, an old German
enclave of quiet streets clustered around massive St.
Michael’s Church. With its narrow streets, small houses
and apartments, shade-dappled sidewalks, birdsong and
school playgrounds, it’s entirely charming, the kind of
place you would want to live in if you moved to
issues: Total bill for one night in my single-king-bed
room was $406, with no room service or minibar raiding. I’ve
seen online offers at about half that rate, which is more
in line with what it’s worth. At $406, it’s
drastically overpriced, especially for a non-Loop
and Web: 1-312-254-4700; www.hotellincolnchicago.com.
Blu Aqua Hotel
221 N. Columbus Dr., just east of the Loop and south of
the river in the massive Lakeshore East development above
the old Illinois Central rail yards.
Spare and clean, with sizable splashes of elegance and
Bribe someone to get yourself booked here for an
expenses-paid convention. Or simply splurge for a couple
of nights with your sweetie. It is the first Blu in North
America, by Minneapolis-based Carlson hotel company; the
second is set to open at the Mall of America next March.
hotel occupies the first 18 floors of an 82-floor
apartment tower by Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects,
one of the more beautiful tall buildings in a city with an
outsized share of the world’s tall buildings. You will
run down your camera’s battery shooting the wavy,
shape-shifting balconies of the exterior from every angle
and in every light.
sleek blue-and-white check-in area at street level gives
way to a giant bronze-and-gold fireplace lobby that doesn’t
seem to fit with the hotel’s name, but which makes a lot
of sense in a city with long, blustery winters.
corner room had floor-to-ceiling windows and a walkout
balcony with views of both the city and Navy Pier. Inside,
the bare wood floors, blond built-in cabinets and giant,
glassy, white bathroom made me think I was in a luxe condo
in Copenhagen. You’ll need to fight the temptation to
stay in your handsome room.
the second and third floors for a fitness complex that
includes indoor and outdoor swimming, a half-basketball
court, sauna and steam rooms, locker rooms, cardio rooms
and weights. A massive outdoor seating and walking area
includes barbecue grills and windproof love nests. I did
my morning run on the 1/5-mile cushioned outdoor track,
with unmatched views of tall buildings and sun-struck Lake
Blu is in a bit of a no-man’s-land when it comes to
finding, say, a coffee shop or a diner, but it’s a block
from the biggest tourist attraction to hit Chicago since
Navy Pier: Millennium Park. I joined thousands on the
grass there for an outdoor concert by Jonathan Richman
beneath the popcorned shapes of the stainless-steel Frank
an easy walk from the Blu is the dock for the Chicago
Architectural Foundation’s river cruise ($35-$38). In 90
minutes you see 100 years of the City of the Big
Shoulders, from the not-terrible new Trump Tower to the
massive Merchandise Mart and the former Montgomery Ward
warehouse, with its 2.1 million square feet of space.
Expertly narrated by foundation docents, this is a must-do
for anyone wishing to learn more about architecture in the
city famed for "building, breaking,
rebuilding." The foundation’s walking tour of
famous Loop buildings also is highly recommended.
issues: Total bill for one night in a corner room with
walkout balcony was $458, which included a lavish,
so-worth-it, room-service breakfast priced at $26. For
Chicago, this is an expensive option, but it’s a splurge
you won’t regret.
and Web: 1-312-565-5258; www.radissonblu.com/aquahotel-chicago.
15 E. Ohio St., in River North, two blocks from the
Magnificent Mile shopping district on Michigan Avenue.
Funky, arty, with lava lamps in the lobby and logo
bathrobes fit for the boxing ring.
This old-building conversion was the least expensive of my
three hotels, and it showed in things like an AmericInn-style
breakfast and a "workout center" that was a cage
in the basement with a vending machine nearby. My room,
though small, had a comfy bed and was nicely decked out in
the now-common "Ace-like" manner: masculine,
industrial fixtures mashed up with retro lamps, midcentury
office chair, Wi-Fi, flat-screen TV and non-corporate
however, the Acme puts you in a very desirable and
walkable area. A 12-minute stroll brought me to the
Goodman Theater, where I joined a sold-out crowd for five
hours of Eugene O’Neill ("The Iceman Cometh"),
with Brian Dennehy and Nathan Lane. Three blocks to the
east and you are smack in the middle of the luxe shops
along the Magnificent Mile. Across the street, the 1894
Tree Studios, for decades home to Chicago artists, house
an attractive row of small shops and a great lunch place
called Grahamwich (eat in the courtyard in back).
on the block is the Medinah Temple, converted into a
Bloomingdale’s home store. It’s just a few blocks west
of the Merchandise Mart. Extending north from there on
Franklin Street for about six blocks is a concentration of
design studios, art galleries, coffee shops and such
upscale home-decor outlets as Artemide, Luminare, Roche
Bobois and Poliform.
a short walk from the Acme is one of the great private
houses of Gilded Age Chicago, the Driehaus mansion on Erie
Street, at Wabash. The 25,000-square-foot, three-story
"Marble Palace" had various owners since banker
Samuel Mayo Nickerson, who built it, moved out. In this
century, the house was established as a museum by
hedge-fund director, collector and philanthropist Richard
Driehaus, who poured a reported $20 million into the
lavish interiors. You may tour it on your own or with a
guide. (Driehaus has offices kitty-corner from this
building, in a gorgeous Richardsonian romanesque structure
that is, alas, not open for tours.)
issues: Total bill for one night in a room with a king bed
was $221, which included no extras.
and Web: 1-312-894-0800; http://www.acmehotelcompany.com.