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







Questions you ought to ask before you book your accommodations

Asking questions before booking accommodations does not make you a prima donna. It makes you a smart traveler.

You are tech savvy so you already know to check if a place is WiFi or if there is a fee to hook up your lap top. But there are a lot more things that can make the difference between an OK and really good trip whether for work or play.

Odd as this may sound, think about what you like or wish you could change at home.

Bathroom – Think about the times you checked in to find a bathroom that was just redone and a dream compared to what you had at home. Or maybe, the opposite happened.

  • Do you have a shower but wish you had a soaking tub or a Jacuzzi?
  • Do you have a tub but wish you had a really good rain shower with space to sit?
  • Are you used to enough space to spread out shaving or makeup stuff at home so hate when you can’t do that when traveling?

Imagine checking in and finding your room has a shower but you want a tub or it has a pedestal sink with no place to put anything except on top of the toilet seat which you usually leave up.

By not taking settling for just anything, you are not a prima donna, you are a smart traveler.

Our room at the InterContinental Montelucia Resort & Spa had an amazing bathroom, fine view and comfortable seating
Our room at the InterContinental Montelucia Resort & Spa had an amazing bathroom, fine view and comfortable seating

Do: Send an email or call to find out exactly what the bathrooms have before booking a room.

Bedroom – What kind of bedding do you have, does the view matter and do you want a comfortable chair and a king size bed? For example: B&B’s are charming but some have a comfortable reading chair and others have just a place to sit to put on shoes. Many B&B’s only have space for queen or regular size beds.

  • It’s OK to ask for two beds if traveling with a partner who cocoons so you end up with no blanket or who kicks and turns throughout the night.
  • If you need a hard mattress then ask if any of the rooms have that.
  • If you hate the little pillows so many hotels think are a cute décor statement, ask if the hotel has regular or large size pillows. Some hotels even have a pillow concierge.
  • Unless you have a suite the bedroom is your base of operations so ask about the view. A room listed as partial view probably means you can see the water between the trees in winter when the leaves are gone or you have to step out onto a balcony and almost fall off to see it.
  • Rooms usually say if they have a chair but check if it is for the desk or a comfortable, upholstered chair.

Do: Look at the rooms on line. Most places show rooms in different price categories.

Be sure you know what comes with the accommodations

If a deal sounds too good to be true –

  • Check for add-ons such as a resort fee which you would have to pay just to use the pool or workout room
  • Check if the deal is per person or per room
  • Ask how old the place is and when it was last renovated or updated. Historic is charming but mildew and mold aren’t.

Checking before booking may sound like a lot of work but it is worth avoiding the hassles later.