Diary Of A Chicago Hotel Reviewer
A little over a year ago, I was contacted by an editor asking if I’d be interested in reviewing hotels in Chicago for The Telegraph in the UK. It didn’t take too much thought to respond with a giddy yes. I’d previously visited dozens of Chicago’s hotels when writing the Frommer’s EasyGuide to Chicago, and I was eager to return to some that I’d been to before and also visit the dozen-plus new ones that opened since writing the guidebook (the hotel scene in Chicago is booming!).
Since the gig began in the fall of 2016, I have stayed in and reviewed more than 40 Chicago hotels. That includes one B&B (The Publishing House Bed and Breakfast in the West Loop) and one apartment-style option (The Guest House Hotel in Andersonville). It has also involved eating at all of the hotel restaurants. In short, it’s been quite a year.
A number of people have asked what my favorites have been. So I decided to sit down and reflect on the last 14 months. Here are my thoughts.
I love me a good theme. The hotels that really stood out this year, in my book, took an idea and ran with it. Hotel EMC2 nails the art/science motif with its wet-lab-inspired showers and Savioke robots that deliver water and toothbrushes on demand. I also love how Hard Rock plays up the rock ‘n roll theme, loaning guitars to guests and displaying museum-quality rocker memorabilia. The hallway carpeting even has sound waves on it.
Some other things that stood out:
- The Zen-like feel of dana hotel and spa (and the incredible bar/restaurant options, with dramatic and playful cocktails at Leviathan and Apogee and fantastic seafood at Portsmith).
- The comfy one- two- and three-bedroom apartment offerings—and Andersonville location—of The Guesthouse Hotel. It’s got the live-like-a-local appeal of airnbnb, but with 24/7 hospitality/service.
- The peek-a-boo surprises around every corner at the history-drenched InterContinental Chicago (and that pool!).
- Swimming amid skyscrapers in the 17th-floor pool at Hotel Palomar.
- Lounging in an in-room windowseat with a book (my childhood fantasy) at Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco.
- Picking up a picnic packed by Fairmont Chicago to take to a concert in Millennium Park (complete with wine and cups–such a smart offering!).
- The breathtaking designs throughout Viceroy. (And the food at Somerset–Chef Lee Wolen is a perennial favorite).
- While I didn’t get to review it this year, I love the quirk and fun tech focus of ACME Hotel Company (I’ve toured the property a few times, and once got to try out Google Glass there).
These are a few of the photos I took this year. You can see more on my Instagram: @thekatesilver.
Chicago hotels have absolutely phenomenal restaurants. I mean, seriously. I had some ridiculous meals this year (and following those meals, I was also grateful for a handful of stellar hotel gyms and pools for a workout). Standouts (with plenty of exclamation marks! because it was all that good!):
- Somerset at Viceroy (everything! but especially that beet tartare, which, I learned, is more popular than the beef tartare.)
- Booth One at Ambassador Chicago (everything! but especially those truffled scrambled eggs; that big-eye tuna and those poofy potatoes!)
- Chromium at the Hotel at Midtown (everything! but especially those 48-hour duck fat tater tots!)
- Mr. Brown’s Lounge at Hard Rock (crave-able spicy Jamaican stew!)
- South Water Kitchen at Kimpton Hotel Monaco (those deviled eggs! that barrel-aged mezcal old fashioned!)
- Publishing House Bed and Breakfast (breakfast is only available to guests, but man, can they poach an Instagram-worthy egg, and it’s a revelation on avocado toast with pickled ginger! I actually saw a journalist friend grab my Instagram photo and share it on Facebook, asking for tips on how to poach an egg like that. It’s very bizarre to see your photo appear in someone else’s feed.)
- Margeaux Brasserie at Waldorf Astoria (those duck wings!)
- Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse at InterContinental Chicago (still dreaming of the 23-layer chocolate cake. And omg that garlic bread!)
- Bottle & Baptiste at Conrad Chicago (that bone marrow! those smoking cocktails!)
- Breakfast at 676 at Omni Chicago (banana bread pancakes!)
- Mercat a la Planxa at The Blackstone Hotel (I still can’t believe that pluma de Iberico bellota is pork–it tastes like filet mignon!)
The fact that so many hotels still charge for Wi-Fi makes me grumble. It feels like a blatant money grab. At least bury it in the room rate so it’s less irksome.
Please bring back the in-room coffee. Even if it’s mediocre. It matters.
I was able to take the El to most places, but I also can’t believe the amount of money Chicago hotels charge for parking. Some are upwards of $70 per night.
Luxury prices and attentive service don’t always go hand in hand. Some of the lesser known, smaller hotels I stayed in had staff that was far more tuned-in than a couple of big-name luxury brands. It’s not a revelation to re-discover you don’t always get what you pay for. And in Chicago hotels, more pomp is not always better.
A special thank you to all hotels that have ongoing “fan” options in their thermostats. As someone who struggles to sleep in hotels (oh the irony), having access to that white noise has been my salvation many nights over. Give me whirring blades any day over silence.
I don’t understand the appeal of turn-down service.
Pillow menus are kind of a cute thought. At first. But really?
Rooftop lounges are pretty awesome (especially the ones with firepits). And Chicago hotels do them up right.
I dare hotel restaurants to get a little more daring with their menus. I can just about predict what will be on most hotel menus now (steak, short rib, scallops, roasted chicken, salmon, a few pasta offerings, perhaps a seafood tower, an expensive burger). I’d love to see some go beyond the French/Italian/upscale American offerings and mix it up. The Jamaican fare at Mr. Brown’s Lounge at Hard Rock was a refreshing change. The seafood focus at Portsmith at the dana hotel and spa was a breath of fresh air. How about some Mexican or Asian influences to spice it up a bit?
What a year. I have always loved that my job as a freelance writer takes me to cool places. In the past, those places have often been far away from home. It’s been a blast—and an education—visiting so many destinations … in my own backyard. Can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store!