The American Midwest, on the southwest shore of great Lake Michigan.
Monumental works of architecture practically everywhere you look, some of America’s finest museums and cultural institutions, chefs pushing the limits of modern gastronomy, and an ascendent bar and cocktail scene — all served up with typical Midwestern humility, at low Middle-American prices.
It’s a long but easy trip into the center of the city from Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), one of the largest American hubs, while Chicago Midway (MDW) is less well served but closer to downtown. Interstate 90, the northern U.S.’s main east-to-west artery, also passes through the city.
With so many towering buildings, many of them hotels, Chicago has an impressive number of rooftop bars. Many of them make great vantage points on one of the great American skylines. Oh, and just as a friendly reminder, it has indeed been known to get a bit windy.
As a business traveler — or anyone planning a trip to Chicago, really — choosing a hotel, until recently, offered something of a conundrum: stay conveniently downtown in the Loop, home to most of the major businesses and many of the city’s greatest museums and cultural institutions, or strike out for one of the cooler outlying neighborhoods, where they don’t close the kitchens and roll up the sidewalks as soon as happy hour ends. Today, though, a spate of new bars and restaurants is altering the after-hours landscape, with some of the most significant openings happening not way out at the gentrifying fringe, but easily within range of downtown.
Of the several excellent hotels just outside of The Loop, there may be none more stylish than the James, whose warmly lit, loft-style rooms leave no question that a Midwestern hotel can be as confidently urbane as any of its coastal cousins. Located just off the Magnificent Mile in the aptly named Near North neighborhood, it’s not exactly redrawing the map for Chicago hotels, but as places like the cocktail and pintxo bar Barcito and most recently the highly anticipated Moto-alum project Baume & Brix have opened nearby, the area increasingly seems a choice place to stay for dining and nightlife.
A few blocks away is the Trump, an unmissable, statement-making business hotel. It’s an easy trip from there to another three stylish new drinking establishments — RM Champagne Salon, Nellcôte and Grant Achatz’s Aviary. Together, they make it all too easy to cocktail-hop late into the night.
If you aren’t equipped with an extremely generous expense account, MileNorth Hotel presents an excellent value just a few blocks away from the James. And whether you’re staying the night or not, its rooftop bar C-View is well worth a visit for, yes, the views. For another soaring perspective on the city, Hotel Lincoln’s covered rooftop bar J. Parker, up in Lincoln Park, hums year-round with a younger crowd. It’s not as close to downtown, but it’s well worth the short trip.
Same goes for the Gold Coast’s storied Pump Room. It recently underwent a renovation alongside PUBLIC, the sophisticated but unpretentious Ian Schrager hotel that houses it. The bar and Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant seek to evoke a 1930s supper club, and indeed the dining room oozes glamor under the warm glow of its distinctive globular lights, suspended above the room like planets and moons illuminated from within. It’s worlds away from what you’d expect in one of Chicago’s older, more heavily touristed neighborhoods — further evidence that the new wave of Chicago restaurants and cocktail lounges is not a race to the fringes, but a reinvention from the inside.