The Acme's central location, just north of the river, is its best asset. "It used to be a great Japanese restaurant and a really scungy hotel," says a Chicago friend. Since a makeover in 2012, it's a boutique hotel with a funky rock 'n roll edge. It's on East Ohio Street, two-and-a-half blocks to Michigan Avenue's Magnificent Mile of shopping and a block from a Red Line subway station that gets you quickly to most of the main tourist attractions, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the sculptures of Millennium Park and the famed Wrigley Field where the Cubs play baseball. As well as a good range of restaurants within walking distance, the hotel has its own darkly stylish cocktail bar, the Berkshire Room, and the West Town Bakery on ground level.
This is where the Acme uses that location well. The change from the old Comfort Inn and Suites has brought all sorts of cute touches that appeal to travellers wanting something different from a standard tourist hotel. The lifts, for example, are decorated with classic album covers, including AC/DC, Eurythmics and the Ramones, and you travel between floors to rock music rather than muzac. There's a natty lounge on the second floor with table football, board games and a TV. In the basement is a small gym in a cage, a sauna and a self-service laundry. The decent-sized rooms – the hotel has 130 – have a blackboard and stick of chalk at the door so you can write your own Do Not Disturb (or any other) messages to staff. At night, luminous lips on the bathroom mirror act as a night light. Appealingly, the Acme describes its mini-bar and snack bars as a service rather than a profit centre ("2 bucks quenches the thirst, 5 bucks conquers the munchies, 5 bucks for a brew"). Guests get free Wi-Fi and free coffee delivered to your room in an Acme flask from the bakery downstairs every morning. And before you even arrive, you get an email with handy tips for your stay in Chicago. All nice touches.
The "Knock & Drop" room service (which means no drowsy fumbling for a tip) covers breakfast as well as that free coffee. For $US8, guests get a croissant with jam or a bagel with cream cheese plus a yoghurt, orange juice and fruit. While excellent value, there was a rock 'n roll haphazardness about when and how it arrived – 30 minutes early one day, an extra order another day, half an order the next day – but mix-ups were always cheerfully and quickly fixed. If you plan a big night, the hotel offers a Hair of the Dog package for $US25 that includes two bottles of Gatorade, two aspirin packets and a $US25 certificate to a burger joint. Two minutes walk from the hotel is Eataly, an Italian food emporium with two floors of restaurants and produce. Five minutes away is Portillos, which has quick and cheap Italian food. There are two Whole Foods Markets – perfect for a quick healthy bite – within easy walking distance. And if you like to watch sport on a screen while having a drink, Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery is just around the corner.
Showing a flair for innovation, the Acme lends out Googleglasses and a portable Wi-Fi hotspot to guests. But even if you don't need that level of technology, the hotel is a 10-minute walk to the DuSable Bridge, where you might see two veteran buskers sing soul classics better than you'd see on stage in other parts of the world. Just near the bridge, you can take a river cruise that focuses on Chicago's exceptional architecture. Five minutes from the hotel is the House of Blues with live music and southern food. Twenty minutes walk away is the Navy Pier, a popular tourist attraction with a Shakespeare theatre, children's maze and an IMAX theatre that is an enjoyable place for an afternoon stroll by Lake Michigan.
A distinctive Chicago experience, conveniently located, that is more fun than a standard hotel.
The friendly staff on the front desk who warmly field questions about services and the city.
A concierge's recommendation for a large taxi to the airport that turned out to be an unhappy hustle.
Garry Maddox stayed at his own expense.