Going to Chicago?
Don’t miss the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel or RH in the Gold Coast.
People who follow DesignDestinations.org 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 Market. Eataly. 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 DesignDestination.org 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.
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.