In 2011, hotelier Ian Schrager reopened the iconic but faded Ambassador East Hotel as the Public, instantly infusing Chicago's Gold Coast with some flash. Its Pump Room restaurant was the city's first posh, post-Prohibition, celebrity hangout (everyone from Fred Astaire to John Belushi has come). Keeping its name but little of the old decor, the revitalized Pump Room has a 24-foot bar with a 12-karat white gold–leaf ceiling and a changing menu by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The high-ceilinged, columned lobby feels both grand and intimate, and it's now divided into a lounge with a computer-equipped workstation and an elegant library/coffee bar with deep couches and original art, including photos by Hendrik Kersten. Residential high-rises along Lake Shore Drive obscure views of Lake Michigan from the hotel, but drop-dead gorgeous rooms elegantly infuse the pre-WWII architecture with white stuffed couches, bronze textiles, and white sheepskin throws for an effect of lush minimalism befitting one of the city’s oldest and toniest neighborhoods.
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To the east and north, the hotel is surrounded by some of the city’s oldest and most elegant brownstone mansions and luxurious lakefront Gold Coast high-rises. Four blocks south, the intersection of Rush and State streets marks the top of what’s sometimes called the “Viagra Triangle”—a bar and restaurant scene known for wealthy fiftysomething gentlemen with (ahem) younger companions at places such as Tavern on Rush (1031 N. Rush St.) and Morton’s Steak House (1050 N. State St.). For more relaxed, casual dining, Lou Malnati’s (at 1120 N. State St.) is a perennial contender for Chicago’s best deep-dish pizza.
Need to Know
Rooms: 285 rooms; from $163. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served in the updated Pump Room (jackets no longer required), where farm-to-table menus highlights local, seasonal ingredients. The 1930s–themed supper club serves tapas, craft beers, and artisanal cocktails by the in-house mixologist. Neighborhood denizens turn up for Sunday brunch and daily Pump Room Happy Hour. Spa and gym details: The 24-hour, 11th-floor Fitness Center has a sunny view to the south and smartly curated equipment. The hotel also offers free access to the neighborhood David Barton Gym (600 W. Chicago Ave.) and complimentary chrome Trek bikes for exploring the scenic, skyscraper-backed 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail three blocks east.
Who’s it for: Style-conscious travelers (including celebrities) who want to be away from the Gold Coast dinner crowds and tourist hordes on Michigan Avenue while remaining within easy reach of Chicago’s sites and diverse restaurant scene. Our favorite rooms: For those who can’t spring for the blowout Elizabeth Taylor Suite, choose room 1415, aka the Michael Jordan Suite, which has the only other private sundeck with an excellent view of the John Hancock building and other towers to the south. Wall of fame: For a taste of history, don’t miss the wall of black-and-white portraits of the Pump Room’s famous diners hanging in the restaurant vestibule.