Chicago Is the Future of Hotels

Virgin has arrived, but Branson isn’t the only one with designs on Second City.
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Virgin has arrived, but Branson isn’t the only one with designs on Second City.
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The coastal powerhouses - New York, Los Angeles, Miami – were, naturally, in the under consideration, but Virgin Hotels wasn’t looking to open just another shiny hotel. They wanted to experiment with the American market and Chicago has become the hospitality industry’s luxury laboratory.

“We were scouting around Chicago and walked past this historic bank building sitting on the corner with enormous presence,” says Raul Leal, CEO for Richard Branson’s Virgin Hotels and one of the company’s first employees. “There was a sign on the building that said it was available, and 30 days later it was ours.”

The 27-story Art Deco building - the old Dearborn Bank Building - dates to 1928 and occupies a prominent corner in The Loop district. And when it finally re-emerges from under the scaffolding on January 15 as the Virgin Hotel Chicago, it will have two rooftop bar areas, a gym, three restaurants and 250 guest rooms (they’re calling them “chambers”) divided into two areas. There are also the massive, designer that beg for more than the traditional deux.

The project is impressive without being unique. Over the next three years, Chicago will open more than 2,500 new rooms to the sleeping public. In addition to the Virgin Hotel Chicago opening, recent and slated openings include SOHO House Hotel, ACE Hotel (2015), The Kinzie Hotel, The Langham Chicago, a Loews hotel (2015), Hyatt The Loop Chicago (2015) and many more – has been two-fold.

The city has become a bit more De Beers and a bit less “Da Bears,” with a Michelin star studded downtown and some decidedly un-midwestern architecture. It’s vibey, which, let’s be honest, is a new phenomenon.

“Twenty years ago, Chicago was a big convention and business travel city, with some leisure travel during the summer months,” explains Bob Habeeb, President and COO of Chicago-based First Hospitality Group Inc. “Over the last 20 years, though, that’s flipped. Now it’s a significant leisure travel destination with a robust commercial and convention business, too.”

We enjoy a little leisure (and hotel sex) so the openings are welcome news. Here’s are the places we’re looking forward to checking in:

TheLangham, Chicago

Opened in 2013 as the flagship North American property of the upmarket Hong Kong-based brand, the Big L has 316 rooms with sparkling views over the river and out toward Lake Michigan. Located in the iconic Mies Van der Rohe IBM building, the hotel’s high-style interior is a far cry from its businessy façade. We love morning laps in the 67-foot-long swimming pool, Asian-inspired services in the spa (not what you’re thinking) and the super personable butler service in the Club Lounge.

SOHO House Chicago

Opened in August in the city’s Fulton Market District, this “members-only hotel club” made a splash thanks to its 80-foot rooftop pool. The look is decadent vintage, with velvet couches, oriental rugs and a swank lobby bar where you can mingle with locals. And a 12,000-square-foot gym complete with a celebrity-style boxing setup gives a nod to local color (bruise blue).

Thompson Chicago

This A-list boutique hotel opened on the Gold Coast in late 2013 and has drawn the likes of Fiona Apple, Jake Dylan and Nick Jonas to bed down in stylish surrounds inspired by contemporary music. The hotel’s Nico Osteria does killer seafood and is helmed by beloved local chef, Paul Kahan. Penthouses have private outdoor balconies with dizzying views of Lake Michigan and that iconic skyline.

Kinzie Hotel

New in 2014, this soon-to-be River North institution built on the site of the former Amalfi Hotel offers mellow luxury with a residential feel. It’s not as fancy as the other hotels on this list, but it’s a conventioneer’s dream.

The Godfrey Hotel

Also new in River North, the Godfrey has one of the city’s hot new rooftop scenes at IO, which has fire pits (and a roof) for winter goes convertible when the summer sweeps the lake.

ACE Hotel

The details are still being working out, but the Portland, Oregon-based hipster hotel chain has set its sights on a two-story warehouse building in the transitioning Fulton Market District. One imagines a well-stocked beer bar and women in leather. But one imagines those things regardless.

Hyatt the Loop

Slated to open in early 2015 in a vintage 1920s office building in West Loop, this 257-room property will have (surprise) a rooftop bar on the 22nd floor as well as a French bistro. Think of it as the ACE with less street cred.

Photos by The Godfrey Hotel