Chicago has always been a storied architectural laboratory. In the early 20th century, countless buildings, many clad in brick or Indiana limestone, served as pillars of the Midwestern economy. Now, a growing number of former commercial buildings have been repurposed as hotels, including the LondonHouse Chicago in the Loop and the Robey in Wicker Park. The renovations have revealed intricate design details and created rooftop spaces that allow hotel guests to enjoy the vistas that continue to define Chicago.
Where: 85 E. Wacker Dr.; londonhousechicago.com.
Rates: From $149.
Basics: Designed by prominent Chicago architect Alfred Alschuler, the London Guarantee and Accident Building was constructed on the site of Fort Dearborn in 1923. The building, once home to the London House, a famous jazz club, now houses the LondonHouse Chicago, which opened in 2016 after a lengthy renovation. The 452-room hotel, part of Hilton’s upscale Curio Collection, is located in the original beaux-arts building, along with a new 22-story glass addition. The meticulously restored gold-lacquered ceiling in the rotunda and hallway reaffirms the building’s ornate history. The bar in the second-floor lobby offers a daily tea service, high-backed, plush chairs that seem right out of “Alice in Wonderland,” and a nice lower-level view of Marina City, the 1960s-era apartment and retail complex. There is a tri-level rooftop featuring views of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, along with a 23rd-floor cupola.
Location: Situated in the northernernmost fringe of the Loop, the hotel is an excellent base for exploring the city’s top attractions, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Millennium Park and the Riverwalk. The DuSable Bridge, only a few steps from the hotel, takes you to Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile.
The room: My eighth-floor vista king room had an attractive view of the river, the Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower, one of the more striking Gothic skyscrapers ever. The wood paneling was appealing, along with the framed pictures evoking a Jazz Age sensibility. The complimentary Wi-Fi worked well. Each room comes with a minifridge and Nespresso coffeemaker.
The bathroom: A frosted sliding door revealed a marble-clad sink, with a modern, glass-enclosed shower (no bathtub). There was an array of Malin+Goetz products, including rum bar soap and cilantro hair conditioner.
Amenities: The rooftop bar immediately became a hot Chicago destination, which means you may struggle to get the attention of a bartender during peak times. The outdoor terrace is open year-round, while the rooftop bar is weather-permitting. Try the Roaring Twenties, a strawberry and jasmine tea preserve with Champagne ($16), and take in the view, anchored by Lake Michigan. The cupola is a popular place for proposals.
Dining: Between LH on 21, the indoor bar and restaurant space, and LH on 22, the 22nd-floor rooftop, there is a range of food options. The morning of my departure, I opted for in-room dining, ordering the outstanding blueberry pancakes and bacon. Recent selections include the toasted grapefruit and a waffle with powdered sugar, berries and anglaise.
The bottom line: The LondonHouse Chicago gives guests a classy, upbeat experience in the heart of the city. If you love great views and proximity to the waterfront, you’ll appreciate the hotel even more.
Where: 2018 W. North Av.; therobey.com.
Rates: From $135.
Basics: The building that now houses the Robey was long known as Northwest Tower. The art deco building opened in 1929. In the 1980s, it acquired another nickname, the Coyote Building, as its spire and towering flagpole were said to favor a baying coyote. By the late 2000s, the building had been dilapidated for some time. In 2014, approval was granted to Grupo Habita, a Mexico-based boutique hotel operator, for a hotel conversion, and in late 2016, the Robey opened. The 89-room hotel, a member of Design Hotels, draws in guests with its revolving wooden door, dark green marble and stately brass elevator doors on the first floor. An adjacent building was previously a sister property and was renamed Robey Hall last year.
Location: The Robey, with its triangular flatiron shape, sits at one of the more well-trafficked locations in Wicker Park. The Damen “L” station, on the Blue Line, is roughly half a block away from the hotel, and offers an easy ride to and from O’Hare, along with quick access to the rest of the city. The area has an array of restaurants, vinyl record stores, bars and bike shops. Big Star, a bustling Mexican restaurant, is close to the hotel.
The room: My upper-floor corner suite offered an unobstructed view of Wicker Park and the Chicago skyline. I was so taken by the landscape that it took me almost 15 minutes to start unpacking. Wooden floors evoked an era of old-school craftsmanship. With the touch of several buttons, I was able to raise and lower the blinds and dim the lights. The minibar was neatly hidden.
The bathroom: There were two separate sinks, both outfitted with Le Labo soaps, lotions and bath products. It was by far one of the most spacious bathrooms I’ve seen at a hotel. The shower floor was slightly elevated, which prevented water from leaking onto the bathroom floor (there was no tub).
Amenities: A cozy second-floor lounge has food available. Enjoy tea and a banana nut muffin in the morning and a glass of wine later in the day. The Cabana Club, on top of Robey Hall and open from May through September, gives off urban charm, with its rooftop pool and bar, proximity to the “L” trains and city views. The Up Room, the intimate 13th-floor rooftop cocktail lounge, has an indoor space and an outdoor terrace. Try the Oaxacan on Broken Glass cocktail, with Banhez mezcal, lime cordial, chile liqueur and bitters ($15) and relax in a chair overlooking the skyline. The Cabana Club and the Up Room have earlier hours for hotel guests before they are open to the public.
Dining: Café Robey is open for brunch and dinner, with modern American fare. Selections range from a breakfast salad, with kale, walnuts, beets and goat cheese ($14) to pan-roasted striped bass, with couscous, olives, dried apricots, yogurt and harissa ($23).
The bottom line: With Wicker Park as an anchor, my experience at the Robey was exceptional. As you view the sunset from the rooftop, you will likely want to stay for an extra night, or an extra week.