Be In the Know

Be In the Know. Sign up to have DesignDestinations delivered right to your inbox, weekly.

Don’t miss the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel or RH in the Gold Coast



Going to Chicago?

RH in Chicago

  Don’t miss the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel or RH in the Gold Coast.

People who follow know I go to Chicago periodically and love writing about and taking photos of fun things to do and see in the Windy City.

I’ve done blogs about:  The Wit Hotel.  A Segway Tour.  SOFA.  Fulton MarketEataly.    The Architectural Boat Tour.  Hearts and/or Refrigerators on Parade.   I could go on and on.  If you want to see other Chicago posts go to the pull down menu under the header or just click on the orange blog titles.

In keeping with that tradition I ‘d like to add two more spots to keep in your back pocket for when you find yourself in Chicago.   The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel and a remake of a home furnisings store: Restoration Hardware, rebranding itself as RH.

First, let’s talk about the hotel. It is so much more than a hotel.  It’s a new destination.

The 241-room Chicago Athletic Association hotel has a very cool roof top bar—a jaw dropping view actually.    If you live in the city, you gotta get out of doors. Roof top bars are a place to do that.  And for tourists like me, ahhh,  the view is fantastic. It was terrific to look  down at the Water Towers, The Bean and Frank Gehry’s twisting and turning performance venue.

Water Tower Chicago, view from Chicago Athletic Assoication Hotel
The Bean: seen from the roof top bar of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel



FullSizeRender 12

FullSizeRender 15

The building has an interesting history. Built in the 1890s, it was a private athletic club with many notable members.  It has been restored and now is a hub for folks who work in the Loop and for tourists who like being near the Millennium park and the Chicago Institute of Art.

What interested me were the very large public gathering spaces attracting folks with party time on their mind.  The game room contained pool tables, tables for poker and chess and even a bocci court.  It’s filled with all kinds of informal and flexible seating  for group gathering and mixing.  Very hip and cool.  Casual dining and of course, a great bar.


On the ground level, there’s a Shake Shack, Danny Meyer’s cutting edge burger emporium.  I tried one.  It was good.

I also loved the large front room of the Chicago Athletic Association—the lobby—a true showplace with the original flooring and woodwork. The furniture and accessories have that “gathered  over time” feel of a stately old home or maybe an updated Harvard Club.   Expect to see many references to the history of athletics, floor to ceiling fireplaces, original chandeliers and light fixtures, mosaic-tiled floors and tons of stained-glass windows.



The original speakeasy is open and if you stop to ask, the server will show you the door where patrons escaped when they were raided.

Whether you choose to stay at the hotel or not, it looks to me like a great spot to pop in for a drink after an after noon at the Institute of Art or as a place to meet up with family and friends during the evening.

I understand the hotel is working on having guided tours of the building.  I’m going to sign up for one when that happens.

The spot I really enjoyed and recommend for a relaxed time out from the chaos of Michigan Avenue is the Cafe at the new RH store in the Gold Coast. This, too, is an adaptive reuse of an old building—the Three Arts Club. Built in 1914,  the large structure was a dormitory for women studying the arts—music, painting, theater.  Men were only allowed in two rooms on the main floor.  A lobby and a tea room.


The 58,000 square foot building in the Gold Coast was  abandoned in 2003, and deteriorating until purchased and restored by RH.

What a change.  Visitors can meander all five floors looking at the furniture for sale, soaking up the trends presented by this cutting edge retailer.  There’s a champagne bar on the main floor and shopping with a champagne flute in hand is no problem.  Actually encouraged.

There’s a wine tasting room, a cafe and performance area, roof garden and a series of showrooms.






Enjoying refreshments while you browse makes it feel  more like being in a home, where a savvy hostess would offer you a drink.

It occurred to me that this $25 million dollar upgrade of an old building  is an effort to make shopping fun again, an experience. It could be an effort to counteract the blandness of big box stores and the isolation of ordering online.   More mature readers will recall going  to lunch in Marshall Fields in time gone by.  In a way, RH is restoring that tradition in a new and modern form.

Best of all is sharing a meal in the glass enclosed court yard.  The furniture is eclectic and promotes gatherings of different sizes.  My salad was terrific and my husband loved his burger.  It reminded me of the  coveted spaces in the center of Hotel Costes in Paris near the Jardin des Tuileries. —a magnet for the chic and cool in the City of Light.



Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


1 Comment
  1. posted by
    peggy depersia
    Dec 23, 2015 Reply

    You hit on so many aspects of ‘times gone by’ so to speak. Who didn’t love having a holiday lunch (my favorite was Salad Nicoise) at the Walnut Room in Marshall Fields or going to the top of the Prudential Building (before Millennial Park) to ‘see the view’. It has been very exciting watching the ways Chicago has repurposed wonderful old buildings, added a 21st century feel to the newest park on the Avenue and linked old and new over and over again in fresh ways to make Chicago one of my favorite cities anywhere.

Leave a Reply