Words by John L. Dorman, New York Times News Service
For generations, Chicago has been a storied architectural laboratory, boasting designs from Frank Lloyd Wright to I.M. Pei. Now, the city features a growing number of former commercial buildings that have been repurposed as hotels, including the LondonHouse Chicago in the Loop and The Robey in the Wicker Park neighbourhood.
Designed by the prominent Chicago architect Alfred S. Alschuler, the building was once home to the namesake insurance company, as well as the London House, a famous jazz club. After a lengthy renovation the LondonHouse Chicago opened its doors in June 2016.
The 452-room hotel, part of Hilton’s upscale Curio Collection, is located in the original beaux-arts building, along with a 22-story glass addition that was built during the renovation. On the first floor, the meticulously restored gold-lacquered ceiling in the rotunda and hallway reaffirms the building’s ornate history.
The bar in the second-floor lobby offers a daily tea service, high-backed, plush chairs that seem right out of a film adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland,” and a nice lower-level view of Marina City, the 1960s-era apartment and retail complex. There is a tri-level rooftop, with indoor and outdoor space. The latter features views of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, along with a 23rd floor cupola that is available for private events.
Situated in the northern most fringe of the Loop, the hotel is an excellent base for exploring some of the city’s top attractions, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Millennium Park, and the Riverwalk. The DuSable Bridge, only a few steps from the hotel, takes you to Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile.
My eighth-floor vista king room had an attractive view of the river, the Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower, one of the most striking Gothic skyscrapers ever constructed. The wood paneling around the room was appealing, along with the framed pictures evoking a Jazz Age sensibility. In the bathroom, a frosted sliding door revealed a marble-clad sink, with a modern, glass-enclosed shower (there was no bathtub).
Between LH on 21, the indoor bar and restaurant space, and LH on 22, the 22nd-floor rooftop, there is a range of food options. Recent selections include the toasted grapefruit and a waffle with powdered sugar, berries and anglaise.
The Robey Hotel, Chicago
In 2014, approval was granted to Grupo Habita, the Mexico-based boutique hotel operator, for a hotel conversion, and in late 2016, The Robey opened its doors. The 89-room hotel, a member of Design Hotels, draws in guests with its revolving wooden door, dark green marble and stately brass elevator doors on the first floor.
The Robey, with its triangular flatiron shape, sits at one of the most well-trafficked locations in Wicker Park. The area has an array of restaurants, vinyl record stores, bars and bike shops.
I stayed in an upper-floor corner suite, which offered an unobstructed view of Wicker Park and the Chicago skyline. I was so taken by the landscape that it took me almost 15 minutes to start unpacking. The wooden floors evoked an era of old-school craftsmanship. With the touch of several buttons near the comfortable king bed, I was able to raise and lower the blinds for each window and dim the lights. The minibar was neatly hidden behind a large cabinet door.
The corner suite bathroom was by far one of the most spacious bathrooms I’ve used at a hotel. The shower floor was slightly elevated, which prevented water from leaking onto the bathroom floor, which can be an issue at many hotels (there was no bathtub).
The Café Robey, on the first floor, is open for brunch and dinner, with modern American fare from the executive chef Kevin McAllister. Selections range from the breakfast salad, with kale, walnuts, beets and goat cheese to the pan-roasted striped bass, with couscous, olives, dried apricots, yogurt, and harissa.
Photography: Nicholas James, The New York Times