Chicago Peninsula review: Gold-standard accommodation and superior service

THE PLACE

The Peninsula, Chicago. 108 East Superior Street (at Michigan Avenue), Chicago.

THE LOCATION

In the heart of Chicago's premier upscale shopping district, The Peninsula Hotel boasts a coveted Magnificent Mile – aka Michigan Avenue – address. Surrounded by landmark buildings and ritzy boutiques (Saks Fifth Avenue is directly across the street), the location is convenient for the business or leisure visitor. The hotel's guestrooms enjoy views in various directions over the Mile and indeed the city, stretching as far as the beaches along Lake Michigan's shores. 

It's a 20-minute transfer by taxi or Uber to Chicago's O'Hare Airport, or about an hour on the Blue Line train.

THE SPACE

Opened in 2001, the hotel is part of the luxury international Peninsula Hotels chain. With 339 guestrooms and suites, this is a grand hotel with an airy feeling of space and calm.

Soaring floor-to-ceiling windows flood the Lobby restaurant with light, making this an appealing spot for meals and afternoon tea.

An upscale Chinese restaurant, Shanghai Terrace, is popular with hotel guests, Chicago residents and visitors. At street level, Pierrot Gourmet is a European-style cafe serving French bistro meals and decadent desserts. The rooftop Z Bar is a must-visit for views, tunes and glamorous people-watching.

A full-service spa offers top-notch facials and massages with an Asian influence (balance your Qi with a bamboo massage and so on), while the fitness centre, yoga room and indoor swimming pool are solid facilities for those looking to work out or wind down.

THE ROOM

Boasting some of the most spacious accommodations in Chicago, the hotel's guestrooms and suites range from superior (50 square metres) to the whopping 339-square-metre Peninsula Suite.

Classically furnished in muted earth tones with elegant pops of blue soft furnishings and art, the effect is tranquil, classy and welcoming. The king bed in the superior room is swathed in white Pratesi linen and four of the largest pillows I've ever slept on.

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An adjoining dressing room keeps my messy luggage out of sight, and in the expansive bathroom, everything is compartmentalised: the toilet in its own soundproof cubicle, a deep bathtub, and a separate shower cubicle.

Complimentary Wi-Fi and worldwide VOIP phone calls come as standard. Every room comes with a fully stocked mini-bar and coffee pod machine.

Two features of the room were most welcome, overlooked as they often are by even the fanciest hotels: almost-silent airconditioning, and just one button to turn off all the lights.

THE FOOD

Chicago is a foodie town and while you'll be tempted to get out and about to eat deep dish pizza or Michelin-starred cuisine, do make time to eat in the hotel. It's worth it. Breakfast is an elegant affair in the Lobby, with an a la carte menu that runs the gamut from healthy "spa" options to Asian staples and forget-the-diet fry-ups. My head wanted the huevos rancheros, but my heart wanted the pancakes. What to do? The waiter came to my rescue with a special side order of a single pancake, drizzled in maple syrup and topped with crispy bacon. Don't tell anyone.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, the Lobby offers an all-you-can-eat dessert experience, Chocolate at the Pen.

Fine dining is served Cantonese and Shanghainese style at the hotel's Shanghai Terrace, voted best Chinese restaurant in Chicago by Zagat.

After dinner, head up to the elegant rooftop Z Bar. Never fear the Chicago chills; the bar and lounge is cleverly heated and insulated. Smart twists on bar snacks, well-crafted cocktails and spectacular city views have made this newly opened bar an instant hit.

STEPPING OUT

Conde Nast readers just voted Chicago the best big city in the US and it's not difficult to see why. With so much so close, it's an ideal weekend or short break destination. Popular pastimes include city architecture walking tours and cruises, spectator sports (go watch the Cubs play baseball at Wrigley Field), eating well on all budgets, and catching live theatre, music or comedy. It's easy to get around on foot, public transport, taxis or Uber.

The Peninsula runs a Keys to the City program for guests to experience the city in style. Top picks include VIP passes at the Art Institute of Chicago, private shopping sessions at Saks Fifth Avenue with designated dressing rooms and complimentary brunch at Althea, or a private "Temple Tour" at Chicago's premier luxury chocolatier, Vosges Haut-Chocolat.

THE VERDICT

Treat yourself to a stay here and experience Chicago in style. Close to everything and run with the highest level of attention to detail, this is a gorgeous city hotel.

THE ESSENTIALS

108 East Superior Street (at Michigan Avenue), Chicago. Rates from $US399 night. See peninsula.com/chicago

HIGHLIGHT

The Peninsula brand has roots in Asia, with legendary "Pen" hotels in locations including Hong Kong, Tokyo and Bangkok. It really shows in the level of hospitality and heartfelt care from the room attendants right up to the GM. At the end of each day I came back to find the room fairies had worked their magic, re-arranging my makeup in the bathroom, creating Zen order where there was mess and even undoing the tangles in my phone charger cord and tying it up with a ribbon. My childhood fantasy of living in a luxury hotel was fully rekindled.

LOWLIGHT

Visiting during a summer heatwave with temperatures soaring, I craved a refreshing swim. However, the glass-walled indoor pool area was uncomfortably warm and stuffy. No doubt it's a delightful amenity in the middle of a Chicago winter.

Kristie Kellahan travelled to Chicago as a guest of Air New Zealand. See airnewzealand.com.au.

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