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Public Chicago is new cool spot for hipsters in the Windy City

 I recently stayed at the Public Chicago in the ritzy Gold Coast part of Chicago, Ian Schrager’s latest foray into the hospitality industry.

While I thought the 1926 landmark building was long on “cool” and short on amenities, the rebirth of the Pump Room was amazing.  Ian Schrager, known for Studio 54 and slick high priced hotels like Gramercy Hotel, Royalton, the Paramount, the Delano and others is dabbling in the no frills hotel business while reinventing the gathering spot for the glitterati.

Sadly, I never went to the legendary Pump Room, a Chicago landmark since the 1920s. I think I would have liked it.  When I posted that I had been there on Facebook and included a couple of photos, a number o f people piped up with fact that it had been a favorite of their parents.


Well, I suspect those parents would be shocked with the uber coolness of the large dining room/super club.  It’s the restaurant du jour in Chicago, and actually one of the reasons one might consider staying at the Public is that it gets you a “go to the head of the line” when it comes to getting seated. I understand reservations are very difficult to come by.

We made our reservations the day we arrived.

But first, our room.   When I say lean on amenities I mean no make up mirror.  No note paper.   No closet lighting.  The room was quite dark.  So was the elevator… fact, the only way to see the numbers on the button in the elevator was to use your cell phone to light up the panel.  The bathroom was tiny. While WiFi was free, we struggled with finding outlets to plug in our devices.   It was cool design, visually pleasing but functionally lacking in areas that make a hotel room comfortable, especially if one is staying several nights as we were.

I loved the public spaces in the hotel. They drew me in and made me want to chill out.  The comfortable seating, the perfectly concocted  Cosmo, a small plate of crispy calamari  and a steady stream of chic young things traipsing in and out in very high heels all made for an entertaining spot to hang out.   Cooly elegant and just the right degree of casual hip.


The elements like a handful of old chandeliers that were combined for a giant cluster of crystal hanging by the entrance combined a nod to the past with a wink to the current “recycling” trend. Nifty idea.


Who wouldn’t smile at the tongue in cheek portraits done in style of Vermeer but with Coca-Cola bottles in the hair? Made me giggle.

But lets talk about the Pump Room.

The revitalized space is a neutral envelope of beige, grey, sage and white with 150 varying sized resin globes arranged on a steel jungle gym suspended from the ceiling casting an elegant glow over all the diners. Powerful. Dramatic and yet not overwhelming.


Called the planets or constellations they create both a romantic and hip atmosphere, exactly what Schrager and his design team were after.

The kitchen is overseen by celebrity chef, Jean-Georges Vongerichten.  He is most recently known for winning the James Beard award for ABC Kitchen in New York.  We tried to have lunch there in December but the wait was one and a half hours–for lunch!   Here’s a photo of my tuna tartare at the Pump Room.  Hmmm. Tasted as good as it looks.

We particularly enjoyed the black and white photos of vip visitors lining the entrance.   Paul Newman.  Marilyn Monroe.  Michael Douglas. Frank Sinatra. Judy Garland. Humphrey Bogart. Lauren Bacall.  They all came here when this was the glamour spot to stay in Chicago.

Ian Schrager’s goal is to create the old “see and be seen” destination.  Time will tell but the vibe last week was hot. I would expect that folks will return for repeat visits long after the newness wears off.



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. posted by
    Kathy Pleune
    Jan 31, 2012 Reply

    Susan, I always love the way you describe all these wonderful and fascinating destinations!  You truly have a gift for writing and also for observing all the important details.  

    • posted by
      Jan 31, 2012 Reply

      Thanks Kathy, I appreciate your kind words and encouragement.  

  2. posted by
    Jan 31, 2012 Reply

    Thanks for the heads up…..I fixed my typos.  Oh, how I love a good editor! 

  3. posted by
    Feb 26, 2012 Reply

    SuSan, the Public sounds fun, thanks for an interesting review. Your review made me think about the time I went to the Pump Room back in the late 80’s while living in Chicago. By then its glamour was still lingering but in a more faded way – the days of Paul Newman long past. It was however still a favorite of local celebrities and politicians. Our experience on this one particular evening was enhanced when we spotted a sweet but odd couple- Ann Landers and Ernest Borgnine (Gilligan’s Island) dining there, evidently out on a date. She, all 5 ft of her, was flirting happily and he, towering above, flirted back in a gentlemanly way. And, yes, her had style featured her sinature flip. It would be fun to go back and look at the old photos from the Pump Room Days also the new coke can art at the Public. I’m adding it to my list!

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