19 East Ohio Street
Freehand ChicagoWalk into the Freehand, a remodeled 1920s dive, and you’ll think it’s a millennial fantasy boutique hotel with its artisanal cocktail and coffee bars, and intensely curated wood-paneled clubhouse lounge filled with leather chairs, blue settees, and a Wurlitzer electric keyboard for guests to play. You can book a conventional private hotel room here, but it’s the 80 shared quad bedrooms that are the draw—and the city’s best bargain—at this reinvented, upscale “youth” hostel footsteps from Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile. Designed by Cooper Hewitt award-winning firm Roman and Williams, the rooms include deep-blue bath tiles and mahogany wood beds that were inspired by Lake Michigan but recall vintage ocean liner cabins (in size as well as color scheme). Communal rooms, co-ed or female only, have a bathroom, gym-style locker bank and four bunk beds each with a private lamp, reading shelf, and charging station. The clientele includes families with kids and budget-minded elders as well as youthful nomads, all of whom appreciate the guest kitchen and laundry rooms, and, especially, the staff’s friendliness. There is a cafe and a cocktail bar, and daily blackboard posts listing concerts, poetry readings, festivals, and other events and eateries outside the Michigan Avenue tourist orbit.