Sleek and sophisticated, the Thompson Chicago hotel takes over a tony address that’s just a saunter from Lake Michigan and boutiques galore in the city’s Gold Coast neighbourhood. Completely re-styled with a mid-century makeover and gleaming new fixtures throughout, this glassy tower makes the most of the sparkling skyline and surrounding city views. And, James Beard award-winning chef, Paul Kahan, will be enticing visitors and locals alike with his take on rustic Italian at Nico.
Two welcome cocktails
In the know
Also need to know:
The hotel is completely non-smoking. Several rooms are adapted to accommodate mobility-impaired guestsLinger in the lobby, with its custom chandeliers and soaring windows, each morning from 6am to 10am with a strong cup of locally brewed Intelligentsia coffee or tea and the daily newspaper.
Swap well-worn trainers for urban trekking shoes. You’ll want to stroll down Michigan Avenue, aka the Magnificent-mile – a boutique and cultural-packed stretch – in serious style.
Keep your look cool and contemporary and you'll blend right in with the well-heeled urban crowd here.
Mr and Mrs Smith reviews
Ms Smith and I were headed to her hometown, Chicago, where I’d finally be experiencing the city of my all-time sports hero, Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls. Oh, and not to be overshadowed by my Air Jordan obsession, I was also thrilled at the prospect of meeting my girlfriend’s family. Go Bulls! And family!
Another bonus: we were checking into the Thompson Chicago hotel, which was fresh from a complete renovation last year. This glassy tower is conveniently perched in the fashionable Gold Coast neighbourhood, just a few blocks stroll to the pulsing North-South artery of Michigan Avenue and the prestigious shopping strip of Oak Street.
Stepping inside, we both appreciated how the spacious lobby – with its dark colour scheme and glowing fireplace in the stylish lounge – managed to exude warmth despite the soaring space. And we were drawn in further by a receptionist who gave us the bubbly and typical American-style (or maybe that’s just a Midwestern thing?) welcome we Europeans love.
Our room was a perfect balance of Danish design and modern minimalism with a heritage twist. Located on the 17th floor, we had a bull’s-eye view on Lake Michigan and the climbing skyline (including the stately Drake Hotel – a regal architectural highlight).
A scene, we discovered, that was even more mesmerizing after dark when the twinkling city lights and inky lake beyond makes you wanna just stay in your comfy room and stare out the window.
Cloud-high views aside, right there on the wall was a drawing by contemporary artist Wes Lang. Now, it might not suit everyone’s taste, but I’m a long time fan, well before he collaborated with Kanye West (a Chicago native) to design the artwork for his T-shirt collection. I was later informed that Lang’s artwork hangs in every room (I asked to for a tour, but was politely denied).
Prior to our trip we were told that we should not miss out on dining at the hotel's restaurant Nico Osteria, the latest hotspot from chef Erling Wu-Bower and James Beard-award winning chef and restaurateur, Paul Kahan. We were warmly welcomed at the restaurant, which follows the same interior concept as the hotel – contemporary, modern and inviting thanks to pitch-perfect lighting and an in-crowd atmosphere.
Unfortunately, our standoffish waiter wasn’t having his best day, but this didn’t dampen our spirits, and we still managed to have a fabulous feast of beautifully arranged and tasty food, in spite of him. Our only misstep was that we skipped the pasta course, which (we later found out) is what their kitchen is famous for.
We ended our night (and several afternoons post sight-seeing, too) at the hotel's bar, an exquisite conversation piece by interior design standards, with delicious cocktails to match.
The hotel is set in the heart of the city, making it easy to explore the boutiques, bars and restaurants nearby (we loved the Original Pancake House, a throwback diner one block away) on foot. Or, rent bikes as we did for a spin along the very cycle-friendly lakefront path (26-miles in all). Of course, you could take advantage of the hotel’s free limousine service for a lift to downtown restaurants, too.
For a better understanding of the neck-craning structures and ornate buildings piercing the clouds, join a Chicago Architecture Foundation walking (offered year-round) or Chicago River boat (spring through late fall) tour.
We hopped on board the docent-led boat cruise, which opened up a unique perspective on the city and its impressive buildings and architectural features. Did you know that pioneering architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe lived in Chicago for over 15 years and put his stamp on the city?
Another cool area to explore, apart from the prominent downtown spots, is the Bucktown/Wicker Park neighbourhood set west and a bit south of the hotel (off the Damen Avenue stop of the Blue Line ‘L’ train – Chicago’s metro). It’s essentially to Chi-town what Williamsburg is to New York, and it's dotted with a number of concept stores, beautiful boutiques, vintage shops, restaurants, bars and cafes.
So, what about those Chicago Bulls? Well, I didn’t want to bore you, but just to let you know: I went to my first Chicago Bulls game and I had a blast! I felt like a 15-year-old boy again when I entered the United Center, and actual goose bumps appeared when I saw the soaring Michael Jordan statue. The award for best girlfriend, however, goes to Ms Smith, whom I dragged into nearly every sportswear store in search of vintage Bulls, Bears, Cubs and Blackhawks shirts. What’s a trip without souvenirs, right?
No matter where we roamed though, we were always happy to return to the hotel and its prime location, cosy lounge bar, our sizeable room and the welcoming porter who was always quick with something funny or nice to say. Thanks to these small, but fine details, this may have been my first Chicago visit (what took me so long?) but it’s definitely not the last.
21 East Bellevue, Chicago, Illinois 60611, United States
1.5 mi / 2.5 km from city centre
- Valet parking
- Exercise gym
- Internet services
- Complimentary in-room coffee or tea
- Room service
- Onsite laundry
Nico Osteria, a rustic Italian restaurant with an emphasis on fresh regional seafood and silky house-made pastas is a draw for visitors and locals, alike. Start with a spiny lobster crudo before moving on to lamb capeletti or a salt crusted wild branzino. James Beard-awarded and all-around culinary head-turning chef Paul Kahan, along with his restaurateur partners, are also the clever lot behind Avec, Blackbird, Publican, Big Star and the Violet Hour – some of the country’s most forward-thinking and influential dining hotspots.
Snag a prime seat near the floor-to-ceiling windows and watch the Windy City whirl past outside.
Breakfast is served 6am – 10.30am; lunch weekdays 11am – 3pm; dinner 5pm – 11pm (Sunday to Thursday) and 5pm – midnight (weekends). The bar is open 10:30am – midnight.
Salone Nico occupies space an airy atrium with high ceilings and exposed brick, but the cosy alcoves with velvety banquettes and cocktail tables for two, keep things intimate. Sip a refreshing apertific at the bar or a glass of wine from the well-selected list featuring small producers and older vintages.