Courtesy of The Freehand

Welcome back to the spotlight, Chicago.

Nikki Ekstein
September 14, 2015

There's a new crosstown classic playing out in the Windy City—but this one’s among a crew of visionary hoteliers instead of between the White Sox and the Cubs. No fewer than nine stylish hotels are opening this year, almost all of them within a one-mile radius of each other downtown. Why the sudden surge? Affordable buildings with great bones are luring developers, and more and more flights to the city are drawing travelers. We checked in to a few of these newcomers to compare notes on everything from location and amenities to art and artisanal coffee.

Cheap and Chic: The Freehand

Almost half the rooms are shared quarters in this hostel-hotel hybrid, designed by Roman & Williams. Like its Miami predecessor, the focus is on what goes on downstairs: there’s an outpost of the tiki-inspired Broken Shaker; a coffee bar called Café Integral churns out excellent Nicaraguan brews; and a kitchen serves comfort food like toast topped with berries, balsamic, and ricotta. Doubles from $259.

Coming Soon: The Chicago hotel boom is far from over. Before the end of 2016, the stylish Mexico-based Grupo Habita will open its second U.S. property in hip Wicker Park, and a Nobu Hotel will launch just steps from the West Loop’s restaurant row.

An Icon Reborn: The Peninsula

Courtesy of The Peninsula Hotel

The Chicago classic on the Magnificent Mile has unveiled a thorough makeover inspired by the company’s recent Paris opening. Like its palatial French sibling, the rooms bear every conceivable technological upgrade (the digital displays on the light switches can be translated into 11 languages with the push of a button). And the hotel’s perks are in a class by themselves: take a free cooking lesson with Curtis Duffy at the Michelin threestarred Grace. Doubles from $630.

The Surprising Stunner: Loews Chicago Hotel

Across the street from the NBC Tower is this tall, glass-enclosed new building with 400 rooms, all spacious and monochromatic, many with views of Navy Pier. The real design triumph is in the lobby, where an installation made up of half-charred slats of wood memorializes the Great Chicago Fire of 1871; there’s also a dramatic travertine fireplace. Next door is an excellent Jose Garces restaurant that channels Argentinean estancias with canvas tented ceilings and agricultural accoutrements. Doubles from $319.

Loews Hotel (left) / Virgin Hotel (right)
Tara Donne

Clever Crowd-Pleaser: Virgin Hotels

Chicagoans take their coffee seriously—this is the origin of Intelligentsia and Sparrow Coffee Roasters—and so do the city’s hoteliers. At this hotel, you’ll find a DIY pour-over kit tucked into a cabinet beside the mini-bar, complete with a kettle, multiple filters, a glass cone dripper, and grounds from Bow Truss Coffee. It’s one of many thoughtful details—like the reasonably priced room service and the inventive spa, with five moody, podlike rooms where you can get the trademark jet-lag-curing massage—that make this opening shine. Doubles from $329.

The New Grand Dame: Chicago Athletic Association Hotel

Alan Shortall / Courtesy of Chicago Athletic Association Hotel

Across from Millennium Park, in a 1893 building that served as one of America’s first homes for organized sports, the CAA (above) is the city’s most talked-about opening. The painstakingly restored, Roman & Williams-designed hotel is filled with nods to its past: the ornate millwork in the lobby is original, and fencing-court floors are used as wall paneling in the elevator. There’s a game room for bocce and foosball, the steak house now has a beloved local chef, Peter Coenen, and the old speakeasy serves Stumptown coffee. As for the 241 rooms, they’re masculine with a modern edge (one has a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, repainted so he’s wearing a flat-brimmed baseball cap). Doubles from $269.

Read T+L’s Guide to Hotels in Chicago for more hotel ideas.

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