Chicago Athletic Association Hotel review, US: Beautifully restored landmark in a prime location

Our rating

4.5 out of 5

THE LOCATION

The hotel occupies a prime position on Chicago's Michigan Avenue, opposite Millennium Park, Maggie Daley Park and a short stroll to Lake Michigan.

THE SPACE

Originally a private members' club for the city's business and sporting elite, this gorgeous 1893 Venetian Gothic building reopened as a hotel in May 2015 after a meticulous two-year renovation. A striking mosaic-tiled lobby leads to The Tank, the club's original 40-metre swimming pool, which is now used for pop-up bars and events. Upstairs is the Drawing Room, a large, communal lounge with three grand fireplaces, intricate wood detailing and vintage Edison-era light bulbs. The club's sporting legacy continues next door in the Game Room, a bustling bar with two bocce courts, pool tables and board games. Innovative examples of reuse include bar stools made out of refashioned baseball bats and elevators lined with wood from the club's original fencing court.

THE ROOM

The hotel's 241 rooms are spread between two towers and have a distinctly masculine feel courtesy of dark drapes, leather detailing and lacquered caramel and black wood finishes. Everything feels solid and manly, from the heavy black doors to the metal framed bed to the grey boxer-style bath robes. The black and white porcelain tiled bathrooms are spacious and functional with twin Carrara marble sinks, large rain head showers and toiletries by C.O. Bigelow. While the design is true to the property's men-only sporting club roots, some colourful artworks or soft furnishings would help soften the masculine mood. Technology-wise, everything is present and correct, including a 106-centimetre flat screen TV, a handy bedside USB charging point and free high-speed Wi-Fi.

THE FOOD 

The property is home to six separate food and drink outlets, ranging from a Shake Shack burger joint, in the club's original Turkish baths, through to Cherry Circle Room, an elegant fine-dining restaurant named after the association's notorious star-studded supper club. Cocktail aficionados will love Milk Room, a daytime coffee shop that morphs Bugsy Malone-style into an exclusive eight-seat speakeasy specialising in vintage spirits and rare American bourbons. But the standout venue is Cindy's, a new conservatory-style rooftop restaurant, bar and terrace that serves locally sourced share plates with a side order of panoramic park, lake and city skyline views. Weekend brunch is the hot ticket – think decadent servings of maple syrup-smothered French toast, watermelon-flavoured Kick in the Daisy margaritas and live music from local DJs.

STEPPING OUT

Many of the city's most notable attractions are within walking distance, including Cloud Gate, Anish Kapoor's striking bean-shaped metal sculpture, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago River's attractive new bar-and-restaurant lined river walk. Those feeling more energetic can join a free Saturday morning run organised by the hotel.

HIGHLIGHT

A deliciously potent daiquiri made with Martinique rum and cane sugar in Milk Room.

LOWLIGHT

Slightly confusing layout with rooms spread across two buildings accessed by separate elevators.

THE VERDICT

A standout restoration that heralds a new chapter for one of Chicago's most storied landmarks.

ESSENTIALS

12 S Michigan Avenue, Chicago. Rooms from $US289. Phone +1 312 940 3552. See chicagoathletichotel.com

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Rob McFarland was a guest of Chicago Athletic Association Hotel and Choose Chicago.