– the hometown of US President Barack Obama -- is booming. In 2011 the Windy
City welcomed 44 million visitors, an 11% increase on the year before; last
June, hotels hit a record 92% occupancy rate; and Chicago O’Hare International
Airport, already one of the world’s busiest, is getting busier, with Cathay
Pacific’s recent addition of nonstop flights to Hong Kong, and Qatar Airways
adding nonstop flights to Doha next April.
To keep up
with demand, a number of high profile hotels are under construction. In 2013, the
Hong Kong-based Langham Group will open a 316-room luxury hotel in the former IBM building, originally designed by Mies van
der Rohe; Richard Branson’s newest venture, Virgin Hotels,
plans to open its first property in a renovated Dearborn Bank building downtown,
and the 800-room Hyatt Regency McCormick Place will open a new 461-room
Why all the
activity? Because Chicago has a talented
workforce and a central US location with extensive airline service, which makes
it ideal for corporate headquarters such as Boeing, Hyatt, Motorola and United
Located on the western shore of Lake
Michigan, Chicago is bisected by the Chicago River. The downtown commercial
core of the city just south of the River is known as “The Loop” with upscale districts such as River North and
the Gold Coast to the north and the enormous McCormick Place convention centre to the south.
international flights arrive at the sprawling Chicago-O’Hare airport, located 17 miles west of downtown. The city’s secondary
airport, Chicago-Midway, 10 miles south of the city, is primarily used
by low-fare domestic carriers such as Southwest Airlines. Both are connected
via rail to the city’s metro system, known locally as “the L”.
iconic Waldorf Astoria brand scored big when it took over the Elysian -- one of
Chicago’s newest and most talked about five-star hotels -- and renamed it the Waldorf Astoria Chicago in February 2012. This elegant 60-storey
limestone tower also houses 52 private residences, a restaurant and bar (Balsan and Bernard’s Bar) and is frequently cited by reviewers
as one of the best hotels in the US for its stellar service, and elegant
touches like Carrera marble bathrooms and fireplaces in nearly every room.
The 339 modern
rooms at the imposing, steel-and-glass Trump Hotel Chicago soar above the Loop, many with giant
all-limestone bathrooms, fireplaces, kitchens and floor-to-ceiling windows with
expansive city and water views. The hotel’s contemporary Sixteen restaurant, located on the 16th floor, has quickly earned a reputation
as one of the best in town, offering classy continental cuisine as well as
creative local fare (like fried smelt, a fish, from Lake Michigan).
five-star Peninsula Chicago, Midwestern hospitality meets Asian-style
service. For example, guests can request a ride in one of the hotel’s classy
“Peninsula green” Mini Cooper S Clubman cars – a smaller, cuter take on the
well-known fleet of dark green Roll-Royces on offer at the Peninsula’s flagship
hotel in Hong Kong. And with corporate headquarters nearby, you can always
count on a stay at the198-room Park Hyatt Chicago to exceed expectations.
Ian Schrager has taken his reputation for over-the-top luxury down a notch with
PUBLIC Chicago, which opened in 2011 in the old Ambassador
East Hotel building. With a stronger focus on service than style, all 285 rooms
are modestly priced and minimalist chic with what the hotel calls “a soothing
no colour palette”. Room service meals are delivered without delivery charge,
and wi-fi is free. For a little local history, check out the re-imagined Pump
Room, the original hotel’s
famous bar/restaurant once patronised by stars such as Frank Sinatra, Bette
Davis and Mick Jagger, which now features fresh farm-to-table fare from celeb
chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
2011, design-forward Radisson Blu, with several popular hotels in Europe,
opened its first US property, the 334-room Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel on the first 18 floors of the
famously wavy 86-story Aqua Building, designed by acclaimed architect Jean Gang. Business
travellers tired of cavernous, windowless rooms will rejoice at the hotel’s meeting
space – most of which is bathed in full daylight, with floor-to-ceiling windows
looking out on city skyline, Millennium Park and Lake Michigan.
comfortably chic, 63-room Ivy Hotel is small by Chicago standards: there
are only five rooms per floor in this recently remodelled mid-century office building
– all with modern platform beds swathed in Egyptian cotton sheets, bathrooms
with large soaking tubs and eco-friendly touches like bamboo flooring. Added
bonuses include a popular rooftop bar and free wi-fi.
If you feel
like getting out of the (expensive) Loop and experiencing Chicago like a local –
or if your meetings are on the north side of town -- check into the retro-chic Hotel Lincoln. This newly renovated, 12-storey, 184-room
property is located in the heart of Lincoln Park, one of the city’s trendiest neighbourhoods.
plenty of world class restaurants that are perfect for a celebratory meal with
clients or colleagues. But with the world coming to Chicago, finding an
available table at one of the city’s top restaurants is difficult – so book
well ahead of time, employ your hotel concierge or tip the maitre d’ generously,
especially when citywide conventions or tradeshows are in town.
preparations of classic game dishes (like smoked squab or roasted duck) and a wine
list revered by Food & Wine magazine, book a table at Henri on
Michigan Avenue across from Millennium Park. On the western edge of downtown, the
understated, uber-popular Urban Union offers fare such as wood-oven
roasted marrow bones, whole fish or lobster in a rustic atmosphere – think
brick, rough hewn wood and steel chairs – making it a great spot for a laid
back, classy meal.
RPM Italian is the place for house-made pasta dishes such
as king crab spaghetti or duck agnolotti with figs and Brussels sprouts – served
by white-jacketed waiters in black and white surroundings. For years, Topolobampo has been serving up authentic,
high-end Mexican cuisine and a menu of constantly changing dishes like ceviche
(marinated raw fish), chile relleno filled with pork belly, fruits and nuts) or
barbacoa de borrego (wood-oven roasted lamb, wrapped in maguey leaves).
American cuisine in an elegant space, visit Sepia,
originally a 19th-century printing shop, and order the apple cider consommé
with pork and chestnut dumplings or a prime strip steak with maitake mushrooms.
At the three-Michelin-starred Alinea and its spawn, Next, chefs
turn out visually arresting, taste-bud-exploding dishes (such as a lemongrass,
cucumber and basil refresher served from a small glass tube) that seem to come
from a laboratory instead of a kitchen.
are in an all-American city like Chicago, it is only appropriate to grab a hot
dog at one of the many Portillo’s hot dog stands or at a sporting
event like a Chicago Cubs baseball game at Wrigley Field. To make it truly local, pile on condiments
such as diced onions, relish, mustard, celery salt, peppers and pickles. But do
not slather it in ketchup, which “Chicago-style” aficionados say is
Off the clock
just gazing up and wondering about Chicago’s distinctive and powerful
architecture, learn all about it on a Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise. From May through November, the
expert-led, 90-minute cruises highlight 53 historic and architecturally
significant sites, including Trump Tower, Merchandise Mart, Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower, and the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower.
Don’t do this!
Traffic between the city and its airports can be treacherous and
unpredictable, so do not wait until the last minute to leave. If you only have
a few bags, taking the L between the city and O’Hare takes a predictable
45 minutes; the trip to Midway is 25 minutes. But if you have large bags, if
your hotel is not located near a rail station or if you just prefer to take a
cab, car or bus, the length of the trip to either airport can be as short as 25
minutes or as long as 90 minutes, depending on traffic.