Archive for the ‘Hotels’ Category

First in series that updates “downtown” Chicago hotels

 

Chicago is high on the list of travelers destinations. (Photos by J Jacobs)

Chicago is high on the list of travelers destinations. (Photo by J Jacobs)

As a Chicago-based  travel writer I’m constantly receiving notices of new hotels going up, remodeling taking place at older, established hotels and changes being made regarding check-in conveniences, a TV’s room information and hotel  restaurant options.

They range from comparatively inexpensive to high end, large, convention-sized lobbies and meeting rooms to boutique size with small lobbies and little meeting space. And from casual, pick up and go breakfast bars to open-kitchen designed trendy-food emporiums.

There are about 25 ot choose from just in the Loop, another 13 hotels on and near the Mag Mile (Northern Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to Oak Street (Oak is also considered the Gold  Coast). Another 25 hotels are in the River North Area just west of Michigan Avenue.

All of that means Chicago visitors have an abundance of choices.  Some travelers may consider that good news. Others might find it overwhelming. Fortunately, Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism website the hotel category is broken down by area type and other options.

But travelers should be aware that even when supposedly speaking the same language, hotel and room descriptions translate differently to listeners and speakers.

Having unpacked in all sorts of accommodations in the US and abroad, I have found that words such as roomy, with a view and convenient to sights and shopping, may mean one thing to a traveler and something different to hotel managers and public relations or sales agents.

I found out that a view of the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Lake Michigan in Chicago meant if you walked out onto the balcony and craned the neck you probably could glimpse the famed structure or crammed into a corner of the room and stood on tiptoe you could get a glimpse of Lake Michigan.

The big question is – are new and remodeled hotels meeting the needs and wants of business and vacation visitors today? The first quarter of the 21st century saw big changes in electronic communications and food and exercise trends.

Please give input in the comment area or send an email to jjtravelsmart@gmail.comof what you look for in a hotel. Email addresses will not be shared. Comments will be helpful when looking at other Chicago hotels.

The hotel series will look at new and updated downtown Chicago hotels starting with Aloft Chicago Mag Mile and  Hotel Julian,  two boutique hotels that opened in October 2018.

 

Aloft Chicago Mag Mile and Hotel Julian

If looking for a new boutique hotel that is near some of downtown Chicago’s sights you will find two excellent options in Aloft Chicago Mag Mile and Hotel Julian.

I liked them both for different reasons but what surprised me when visiting them when they opened was room size. They both were what people in real estate use when describing small houses – cozy.

Compared to some hotel rooms I’ve stayed at in good European hotels, the rooms probably could be described as spacious but Americans might describe them as efficient. The room sizes and accompanying narrow desk and closet space are following a trend I’ve noticed in other recently redeveloped Chicago buildings turned into hotels such as the London House.

What the two hotels lack in room size, and size is merely a judgment call, they make up in good vibes and good location.

 

Aloft Chicago Mag Mile

Aloft Chicago Mag Mile goes for modern art decor (Aloft photo)

Aloft Chicago Mag Mile goes for modern art decor (Aloft photo)

The hotel sits where the Museum of contemporary Art resided before it moved a few blocks north. It does not overlook Michigan Avenue in spite of its title but it is a few blocks east so is within easy walking distance of the Water Tower Place (indoor shopping mall), the John Hancock Building’s 360 Observation Floor, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Navy Pier (Includes Chicago Shakespeare Theater), Lookingglass Theatre and the Dreihaus Museum.

Restaurants of all cuisines and price points are also nearby.

For” time-out” from running around, the hotel has a pool, an airy fitness center that has two Peloton Bikes, a lobby where board games are set out ready to use and a bar where people in the neighborhood stop by.

Meet Corgan, a robot "bowtler" at Aloft Chicago Mag Mile. (Photo by J Jacobs)

Meet Corgan, a robot “bowtler” at Aloft
Chicago Mag Mile. (Photo by J Jacobs)

Its restaurant, Re:Fuel, is basically a pick-up and go type, self-serve food bar available 24-7 and WI-FI is free throughout the hotel. A hotel guest looked comfortable working on his lap top in the food bar area.

The vibe here is fun. Corrigan, a robot “bowtler” instead of a butler, mingles with lobby guests, tells jokes and when programed at the desk, delivers items to rooms upon request. there is also music on Friday and Saturday.

Visitors who appreciate modern art and good design that incorporates light and bright colors in halls, nooks, rugs and in room and lobby spaces will find this hotel to be a comfortable home while in the city. Aloft Chicago Mag Mile is  at 243 E. Ontario St., Chicago, IL 600611

 

 

 

 

Hotel Julian

Hotel Julian room. (Hotel Julian photo)

Hotel Julian room. (Hotel Julian photo)

The hotel has moved into and risen in the historic Atlantic Bank Building on the west side Michigan Avenue just north of Millennium Park.

Designed by famed architect Benjamin Marshall and completed in 1916, it had just 12 of its originally planned 17 floors built.

Now, the Oxford Capital Group that recently redid the London House building as a hotel at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, has beautifully redone the terra cotta clad structure and added five floors with floor to ceiling windows.

Confined by the building original bones, public and private spaces are narrow but from the gourmet “About Last Knife” dining space to the contemporary-designed rooms the descriptive word could be “sleek.” High ceilings make the rooms look and feel larger than they are. The fitness room is small but has a Peloton Bike.

Some rooms at Hotel Julian have a partial view of Millennium Park. (J Jacobs photo)

Some rooms at Hotel Julian have a partial view of Millennium Park. (J Jacobs photo)

A side benefit of adapting needs to space is that instead of an ironing board rooms have steamers. In our family this means not having to hang clothes in the bathroom and turning the shower to hot.

Positioned in the market as a luxury hotel, it has Frette linen and robes and Panpuri bath products designed for the hotel.

Named for the patron saint of travelers, Hotel Julian is well situated for visitors who want to see the Art Institute of Chicago or Cloud Gate (The Bean) and activities in Millennium Park while in town.

It is also near the Theatre District’s shows at Goodman TheatreChicago Theatre and the Broadway in Chicago productions at the Ford Oriental Theatre, all a few  blocks  west of the hotel.

Hotel Julian is at 168 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Illinois 60601

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five things to do in Chicago for Spring Break

Here are some ideas of where to go and what to do whether visiting Chicago from out of town or planning to take advantage of the city if living in its metropolitan area.

 

Take an architecture tour

Chicago is known for its architecture – whether it’s the fabulous Louis  A. Sullivan Auditorium Theatre at Congress Parkway west of Michigan Avenue, the Rookery designed by Danial Burnham and John Root, with a grand atrium redesigned by  Frank Lloyd Wright on LaSalle Street or the Aqua Tower, an undulating multi use building designed by Jeanne Gang and her Gang Studios on North Columbus  Drive that includes the Radisson Blu hotel.

The Architecture Foundation does excellent art deco and other walking tours and has a good boat tour on the Chicago River. There are also other good architecture boat tours such as those done by Wendella.

The Marina Twin Towers on the Chicago River are on architecture boat tours and the Chicago Film Tour. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

The Marina Twin Towers on the Chicago River are on architecture boat tours and the Chicago Film Tour. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

 

See movie and TV filming sites

Chicago is a popular movie and TV location site. A really great way to see the city is to take the Chicago Film Tour.

More than 80 movie and TV shows have been filmed in Chicago including The Dark Knight, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Sting, Spiderman, The Fugitive and North by Northwest so the tour goes from Wrigleyville on the Northside to China Town south of the loop and lots of places in between.

It takes close to two hours but while on the bus you also get movie shots on a TV monitor and background information from very knowledgeable guides.

 

Combine  Millennium Park with a lunch break

You’d never guess that any eyesore once used by the Illinois Central Railroad could be turned into the gorgeous 24 plus- acre park of gardens, walkways, remarkable sculptures, fountains, art work and public concert spaces that is Millennium Park.

The park stretches along Michigan Avenue from Randolph Street on the North to Monroe Parkway on the South. But what first catches the eye is the interesting stainless steel ribbon-like top of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry.  Its lawn is covered by an artistic sound grid.

Stroll the park to see the Lurie Gardens, the sculptures by Chaikaia Booker in the Boeing galleries section of the park (up now through April 2018, the 50-foot high towers of the Crown Fountain desiged by Jaume Plensa (the towers have changing faces of Chicago residents and the tower spits water into a wading area and the park’s famed Cloud Gate, better known as The Bean.

A 66-foot long elliptical sculpture by Anish Kapoor, The Bean is where visitors go to take selfies. Chicago’s clouds and skyline are beautifully reflected on the Bean’s polished stainless steel surface.

The Bean is a popular selfie site in Millennium Park. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

The Bean is a popular selfie site in Millennium Park. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

Leave the park by way of the Nichols Bridgeway, a long pedestrian bridge going from the park up to the Renzo Piano restaurant and the Bluhm Family Terrace in the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing. The restaurant, named for the architect Renzo Piano who designed the Modern Wing and the Bridgeway, is a terrific lunch spot with a view of the city. But you need a reservation.

If you haven’t snagged one go out onto the Terrace to snap photos and go back down to the park where you might be able to get a table at the Park Grill below the Bean.

 

Enjoy Chicago’s music scene

If you like blues, jazz or folk, find out who is at The House of Blues, Andy’s, Green Mill or The Hideout. For classical programs check Orchestra Hall, the Civic Opera House and the Harris Theatre. Also look up the Pritzker Pavillion in Millennium Park, host of the Blues Fest, for free concerts.

 

Indulge in a short but wonderful “staycation”

Lots of hotels downtown Chicago have a workout room however few have the space for a good-sized pool and a great spa. Stay and book a spa treatment at the upscale, Oriental influenced Peninsula Hotel overlooking Chicago’s Magnifenct (shopping) Mile on North Michigan Avenue and swim in its half-Olymic length pool. You can also order drinks and lunch there.

Or  stay at The Langham, a five star hotel on the Chicago River with British roots. Aside from a fine lap pool and spa, the hotel is known for its traditional tea, good services and spacious rooms. Located in a former Mies van der Rohe skyscraper on Wabash Avenue, the hotel is also well situated for downtown and Magnificent Mile exploration. When reserving ask about the room’s views.

 

Chicago really is a terrific destination even for a few days. Enjoy!

 

 

How to beat January cabin fever blues

Cabin fever? It’s early January but cold and snow have already moved Spring up high on the wish list.

We can wait with fingers crossed until Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, 2015, to hear what Punxsutawney Phil has to say in Pennsylvania or Woodstock Willie in Illinois when they predict Spring’s coming. Or we can bring spring closer with these steps.

Woodstock Willie predicted lots more winter last year

Woodstock Willie predicted lots more winter last year

1. Go to the Chicago Travel and Adventure Show Jan. 17-18 to collect ideas and colorful brochures on places to go for spring or summer vacation. The show is in the west suburban Donald E, Stephens convention center in Rosemont. Turn it into a mini break by staying at the nearby Loews Hotel near the upscale Fashion Outlet mall.

2. Breath deeply a botanic garden’s indoor spaces. The Chicago area has the historic impressive Garfield Park Conservatory west of the downtown Loop and the lovely Lincoln Park Conservatory north of the Loop.  In the northern burbs there are lush tropical and flowering desert plants in the Chicago Botanic Garden’s greenhouses in Glencoe.

Feast the eyes on colorful plants and breath warm air inside a greenhouse when outside temps dips way below freezing.

Feast the eyes on colorful plants and breath warm air inside a greenhouse when outside temps dips way below freezing.

3. Host a Super Bowl party with a desert theme. NFL’s Super Bowl XLIX is February 1 in sunny Arizona at the U Of Phoenix stadium, Glendale. Turn up the heat, wear shorts, serve margaritas and be inspired by some of Phoenix’s Mexican restaurant menus.

4. Or just celebrate winter with a trip to Lake Geneva, WI for the National Snow Sculpting Championship the last weekend in January. Teams come from across the United State to sculpt amazing, fantastical forms and vignettes.  The town will be celebrating Winterfest with lots of food and fun. Stay the weekend at the Grand Geneva Resort for its ski slopes and spa.

Green Bay: Go for football legends, stay for color and food

Fall destinations Series: Part 1 is Green Bay, Wisconsin

Vince Lombardi and Curly Lambeau stand tall outside the Lambeau Field Stadium in Green Bay.

Vince Lombardi and Curly Lambeau stand tall outside the Lambeau Field Stadium in Green Bay.

You don’t have to be a fan of the Green Bay Packers to appreciate the team’s famed Lambeau Field but you arguably should be an admirer of cheese curds and hometown brewers to appreciate this northern Wisconsin town.

Imagine running out into the stadium to the roar of the crowd via the players’ tunnel or being allowed up on the exclusive club level. You get to do both when you take the stadium’s tour. The cost ranges from $8-$11 depending on age and military status.

As a Packers’ tour guide reminded us, Lambeau is up there with Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Boston’s Fenway Park as one of the historic stadiums on sports fans’ want-to-see list.  Dedicated Sept. 29, 1957, with the Green Bay-Chicago Bears game, the field was called City Stadium until renamed Sept. 11, 1965 after Curly Lambeau died. It is owned by the City of Green Bay and Green Bay/Brown County Professional Football Stadium District with shareholders who live all over the world.

Visit Algoma, about half an hour from Green Bay, for its fishing and historic winery.

Visit Algoma, about half an hour from Green Bay, for its fishing and historic winery.

But the Greater Green Bay Area has enough to see and do to fill out a football weekend or a fall getaway.

Outdoors

Color explodes around this northern Wisconsin area so bring hiking or good walking shoes to enjoy the scenery.

Explore the L. H. Barkhausen Waterfowl Preserve’s 920 acres of forest and meadows on the Bay’s western shore. The preserve has nine miles of hiking trails beginning at the Interpretive Center.

Bring the fishing gear and head to nearby Algoma, about a 35 minute drive. The fish always seem to be biting here.

Peter Rabbit likes to visit here at the Green Bay Botanical Gardens.

Peter Rabbit likes to visit here at the Green Bay Botanical Gardens.

Visit the Green Bay Botanical Gardens, a delightful 47 acres of rose, shade and seasonal gardens for adults and a terrific place where children will find butterfly and Peter Rabbit gardens and a frog bridge.

Cruise the Fox River to its mouth on the Foxy Lady and see the town from the water.

Indoors

Visit Hinterland, an artisanal brewery. It has $5 tours on Saturdays by appointment that includes two beers but stay to do dinner because, as with the beer, the quality and variety is way better than a typical pub.

Relax at Titletown Brewery because the place is fun, has terrific atmosphere and good, handcrafted beers and burgers. The brewery is in the old C. & N.W.R.R. depot, a historic building designed by Chicago architect Charles S. Frost at the turn of the last century. Titletown also has decent cheese curds.

Do a wine-tasting at Captain’s Walk Winery in a historic Green Bay house or at its parent location, The von Stiehl Winery in a historic Algoma building. No worries if you don’t know a lot about wines. Both places are delighted to answer questions and both have award winning wines.

Parallel 44 winery grows its grapes on site and has excellent tastings.

Parallel 44 winery grows its grapes on site and has excellent tastings.

To see a vineyard and taste award winning wines drive over to the Parallel 44 Winery in Kewaunee.  Owners Steve Johnson and wife Maria Milano have figured out how to grow a mix of varietals that produce excellent wines and survive Green Bay winters.

Learn a little more about the area and the science behind football at the Neville Public Museum. It is fun for youngsters and adults. The museum’s mission not only covers history and science, it also has an art component. Currently on exhibit are some terrific WPA paintings.

Take a train ride around the National Railroad Musuem but also tour the barns and the exhibits.

Take a train ride around the National Railroad Musuem but also tour the barns and the exhibits.

Just as you don’t have to love football to appreciate Lambeau Field, you don’t have to be a railroad buff to enjoy peeking into old railroad cars. The National Railroad Museum has a Green Bay address but it is on the edge of town that is also considered Ashwaubenon. Save enough time to visit the engines and old cars tucked into barns on the property, tour the museum which currently has an extensive dining car china exhibit and take a ride around the property.

Dining

Green Bay is not just brew-pub food although some of the pubs turn out exceptional meals. Please leave a comment in that section with a recommendation or an experience. With only two days to sample the culinary scene I have only two recommendations.

The best dinner I’ve been lucky enough to eat anywhere in United States was at Three Three Five, a private dining club downtown Green Bay that opens to the public only on Wednesday nights.

Chef Christopher Mangless works on dessert for patrons of Three Three Five

Chef Christopher Mangless works on dessert for patrons of Three Three Five

The rest of the time chef Christopher Mangless and his staff are turning out dishes for the club’s patrons, Hollywood celebs and political notables such as former president George W. Bush. When asked how people find out about him, his restaurant and that he caters dinners everywhere, Mangless  said “word of mouth.”

He is also known as The Traveling Chef. Wednesday is a farmers market which helps him decide what to serve that night. Even though his dishes, which are small plates, are very creative and beautifully plated, you can identify what you are eating.

I wish he were based in Chicago so I could eat there once a week, or at least, once a month. BTW, Mangless’ cheese curds side dish was among the best I’ve sampled.

The next best cheese curds I’ve eaten was at The Courthouse Pub in Manitowoc, Wisc., a nice detour when coming from Milwaukee or Chicago.

While in Green Bay, also check out Ogan a restaurant on the Fox River. You’ll like the food and the view.

Stay

The Tundra Lodge's waterpark, restaurants and atmosphere work for families visiting Green Bay and its proximity to Lambeau Field works for adults.

The Tundra Lodge's waterpark, restaurants and atmosphere work for families visiting Green Bay and its proximity to Lambeau Field works for adults.

With little time to check out the many accommodations available, I opted for Cambria Suites, a business-style hotel that is about a good football field toss from Lambeau. The suite and bathroom were comfortable, modern and clean.

However, families might like The Tundra Lodge which has a North Woods atmosphere and is also near Lambeau. It has regular restaurants, a snack and shop store and  an indoor-outdoor waterpark.

When to go

Green Bay’s ski and snow mobile trails are a winter treat. Fox River, the Bay’s waters, and Lake Michigan make the area a good fishing place, spring, summer and fall (unless you want to add ice fishing for winter). Add the leaf color changes in the fall and you may make it a year-round destination. In addition, even if you aren’t into football, Lambeau Field is worth a stop any time of year.

Do a two-for-one getaway

Cruise the Fox River to its mouth and see Green Bay from the water on the Foxy Lady.

Cruise the Fox River to its mouth and see Green Bay from the water on the Foxy Lady.

Tie a visit to Green Bay with a vacation in Door County. Green Bay is at the foot of the peninsula so it is about 10 to 20 minutes from The Door depending on your destination.

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