Virgin opened its first U.S. hotel in a 26-story, 1920s art deco tower. Originally a Chicago bank, the building’s high-ceilinged, second-floor hall has been transformed into the Commons Club, a socializing spot divided into a library, dining room, and oval-shaped zinc bar with red leather seating and power outlets for tech-addicted travelers. Apartment-like rooms are smartly divided by sliding doors into two sections: a sleeping lounge, and a large dressing and bath area. The Virgin brand’s red-and-white logo is referenced in retro-looking red Smeg mini-fridges stocked with treats at street prices and eye-catching seats made from repurposed red Vespas. With in-house concerts, live DJs, and other performances at the rooftop Cerise lounge, the hotel entrance is sometimes clogged with clublike lines of locals, with security checks that delay guests trying to return to their digs. The live-like-a-local esprit extends to machines for brewing artisanal Chicago Bowtruss brand coffee in your room and, especially, to the hotel’s online itineraries curated by local artists, food and fashion bloggers, and digital entrepreneurs whose tips transport visitors outside the usual tourist bubble. Lifestyle amenities also include yoga mats in the rooms and a free app for using your smartphone to control lights and communicate with the courteous, helpful staff.
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The hotel sits one block in from Michigan Avenue, just south of the Chicago River and within walking distance of the Theater District, Millennium Park, the Art Institute, and the south end of Magnificent Mile’s upscale shopping. The Loop and Lower Michigan Avenue are in the midst of a revival. Head for Block 37 (108 N. State St.), a mall whose local brands include Bucketfeet sneakers designed by street artists. Catch the Red “El” train to the happening neighborhoods of Wicker Park and Bucktown, or the Blue line to O’Hare airport. Acanto (18 S. Michigan Ave.) serves modern Italian dishes; master sommelier Apana Singh’s Seven Lions (130 S. Michigan Ave.) offers a modern farm-to-fork menu; and Remington’s (20 N. Michigan Ave.) dishes up great barbecue.
Need to Know
Rooms: 250 rooms, some with pet beds. From $186. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: 12:30 p.m. Dining options: The dramatic Commons Club serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is most crowded during the daily social hour, with complimentary drinks. Cerise, with indoor and outdoor seating on the roof, is the place to savor architectural views over craft cocktails and Japanese bar food. On the ground floor, Two Zero Three is the hotel’s European coffee and wine bar, while Miss Rickey’s is a reasonably priced modern American diner. Spa and gym details: The rooftop gym features Technogym cardio machines. The spa’s highlight is a Middle Eastern hammam with orange quince steam mists, cardamom amber oil, and Moroccan mint tea silt purifiers; treatments start at $15.
Who it's best for: Extroverts seeking a ready-made party scene; also travelers (and sound sleepers) looking for locally curated experiences away from the Loop and traditional tourist areas. Our favorite rooms: Southwest-facing rooms have less noise from the “El” (elevated) metro trains. North-facing rooms ending in 11 on floors 17 and above afford Chicago River views. Explore in style: Book the red Tesla Model S electric car service for a stylish orientation spin around the Loop.
Upside Down Tea
Something magical happens on weekend afternoons in The Commons Club, located on the second floor of the hotel...a tea service. This isn't the stuffy tea and crumpets of yore, however, but a delightfully hip take. Enjoy boozy teapots (my favorite includes Ketel One Vodka infused with oyster shells, tropical juices, coconut syrup, and green tea) which you top off in your tea cup with Moët Champagne. Purchase by the teapot, or for the more adventurous such as myself, you can choose a bottomless teapot by the hour. If that wasn't enough, then comes the delectable tower of finger sandwiches and sweets, all too delicious and changes weekly.