There are very few American cities that awe you with its architecture like Chicago does, and maybe no single part of the city emphasizes this quite like The Loop. With its classic structures stretching back to the 19th century to the glass structures that practically define what we consider the modern skyscraper, the area is one big work of art.
But it isn’t exactly a neighborhood that you’d consider ‘up-and-coming’ or ‘trendy,’ which is exactly what makes the recently opened Chicago Athletic Association so incredibly unique. It’s the kind of place that has the trappings you’d expect in a neighborhood like Williamsburg or maybe somewhere in Portland (vintage furniture, great cocktails, indie music coming out of the speakers), but as you walk through the massive structure, trying to imagine it in any other part of town would be impossible. America’s best new hotel effortlessly pulls off the cool vibe in the middle of the city’s most touristy area, but it’s somewhere that locals and people from out of town should flock to.
Originally completed in 1893, the first thing you notice when you walk into the eleven story landmark building are the little things. Every little detail, from the woodwork to the polished brass around the lamps that give off a glow faint enough that you might mistake it for candlelight, is perfect. It harkens back to the work of Louis Sullivan and the last days of the Gilded Age, but also has nods to the city’s advancement through the 20th century. Whether you’re scheduled to stay in any of the 241 rooms in the hotel or not, your first instinct will probably be to pull up to one of the bars, order a drink, and then go sit on one of the brown leather chesterfield couches in the massive Drawing Room on the second floor.
The building and its many rooms, which feel hidden away and private despite being so huge, were reimagined by Roman and Williams. It is a stylistic tribute to the place often billed as “The City of Big Shoulders” in terms of design, but Chicago is a town where you go to drink and eat, and the people behind Chicago Athletic Association know that. Teaming up with Land and Sea Dept., the local development studio that brought us Longman and Eagle and Parson’s Chicken and Fish, helped insure that when you step into that massive Game Room to play bocce or billiards, you’ll have a cocktail made by one of the city’s top-notch bartenders. The drinks, the design, and the unpretentious vibe in every room and restaurant you go into, all the way up to the “jewel in the crown,” at the top of the building, which gives you an unbelievable view of the city, makes you wonder if there’s even a point to leave the hotel.
If you are actually a guest in the hotel, and not just somebody who wisely made the trip to The Loop for a bottled Brooklyn (the lesser-known cocktail named after a New York City borough that utilizes dry vermouth instead of sweet), the great news is the Chicago Athletic Association serves as much more than a place to drink and socialize. The rooms are as classic as anything else you’ll find in the entire hotel, with leather furniture, great views, and big, comfortable beds with Faribault Woolen Mill Co. blankets draped over them — you have plenty of comfortable options for when you want to finally lay your head down. And with marble bathrooms stocked with C.O. Bigelow products, and a minibar filled with small-batch and locally sourced items, if for some reason you choose to spend your time utilizing any of the other rooms in this brand new gold standard for American hotels, you’ll be just fine in your room.