Ooh, it would be nice to get used to this!
It was a pleasant surprise, though somewhat daunting, to be invited to write about the Chicago hotels where people stay when they’re either very rich or plain folks who have decided to splurge.
Regular visitors to this blog will know that Mevrouw T and I are not usually five star people. We normally ride our bikes to basic B&Bs or sleep in mountain refuges. The places and the journeys between them are what interest us; a hotel is just somewhere to lay our heads, though we hope it’s hygienic, comfortable and not shared with a football team on a post-season booze-up.
We sometimes feel intimidated by lobbies like the one pictured above, so it was nice to find that we were welcome, even when we hadn’t visited a laundromat for a few days and our shoes were showing signs of wear.
That’s the thing about top-class hotels. They are nice to people. It’s called ‘service’ and it’s what keeps them on top. They greet you by your name and remember you in the morning. They go the second mile.
‘If it’s not immoral or illegal, we’ll do it for our guests,’ said Kathryn Day, director of hotel services at the Waldorf Astoria. I couldn’t think of any really tough request to put this to the test (‘Get me an albino chihuahua by five o’clock tomorrow’) but I believed the staff would attempt anything on my behalf. Possibly for free.
If you offer a tip to the chap who carries your bags into the Waldorf Astoria, it will be politely refused. They have a strict no tipping policy, though they pride themselves on their superb service. That suits us Aussies beautifully. It’s not about the money, it’s the potential social embarrassment of the tipping system that we want to avoid.
When and how do we tip? What is the going rate? If we give too little will we seem mean, and if we give too much will we look like arrogant show-offs?
In the other classy establishments where tipping is allowed, staff were polite enough to act surprised and appreciative of our modest contributions. Note to self: The tipping minefield is worth a blog post on its own.
So back to the subject of this post…where did we stay?
The Four Seasons building is a massive tower, but it wasn’t easy to find the entrance – the lobby is on the seventh floor, above a few storeys of department store Bloomingdales. I guessed we were in the right place when a rather famous actor walked out the door – no, I didn’t get a photo and I’m not saying who. He’s entitled to his privacy and as a guest of a classy hotel so am I.
But the doormen directed us to the correct elevator and once there, we couldn’t miss it. That’s the lobby pictured above…or a small part of it.
Dennis at the reception desk had lived in Sydney, so we had a pleasant chat before heading upstairs…well, upelevator to the 25th floor. The view over Lake Michigan was spectacular.
The Four Seasons is tall enough to have its own climate, so when the fog rolled in off the lake, the view was gone. The room was still very comfortable of course and in the bathroom was a nice range of shampoos and skin care products. We were too classy to pinch them.
Double rooms at the Four Seasons cost from US$449 a night.
The Public, opened in 2011 after remodelling, is an Ian Schrager hotel. Design is the feature. The website says of entrepreneur Mr Schrager:
“His passionate commitment to the modern lifestyle has been expressed through a series of pioneering concepts: The hotel as home away from home, the hotel as theater, “cheap chic”, “lobby socializing”, the indoor/outdoor lobby, the urban resort, and the urban spa.”
We did enjoy the ‘cheap chic’ and ‘hotel as theater’ aspects.
The cafe/bar is called a ‘library’, furnished with books and newspapers, and packed in the afternoons as the after-work crowd drop in for a drink. The barista also does a very good coffee, a rare achievement in Chicago.
We were thoughtfully upgraded to the ‘Marilyn Monroe’ room. The lady had moved on of course, but her picture was on the wall, along with an interesting collection of architecture and film books.
Breakfast at the Public was also excellent, beautifully served by Nicholas.
Officially the Public is only a four star establishment and the price reflects that, but we thought it was excellent value.
From US$180-555 per night.
Yes, the name alone creates expectations, but this is not the original old-style New York hotel. This is a smart modern concern, opened in 2009 as the Elysian Hotel, and rebadged by the Waldorf Astoria in 2012. It is rated Chicago’s number one hotel by TripAdvisor and Conde Nast, and who are we to argue? It’s simply stunning.
The highlight of our stay was a meal in Danny Grant’s two Michelin-hatted restaurant RIA, with superb service and degustation menu, accompanied by matching wines.
Great Getaway rooms at the Waldorf Astoria cost from US$316 per night.
Seasonal Tasting Menu at RIA Restaurant is US$110, with matched wines add US$85.
Your correspondent was the fortunate guest of the Four Seasons and Waldorf Astoria and received a press rate at the Public Hotel. He travelled with the assistance of the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture.