From sky-high buildings to deep-dish pizza, Chicago's got a lot of pretty much everything – hotels included. From top-of-the-line luxe to everyday, wallet-friendly chains, you name it, it's here. In recent years, the field has only become more crowded, making the decision even more difficult than before. How to separate out the best of the new? Who's the real article, who is merely pretending? Which classics are best left in the past, and – most importantly – what's the difference between good value and just plain cheap? Choose one from this list of Chicago's very best hotels – new, old, recently revived – and you'll never go wrong, no matter your budget.
Most of Chicago's five-star hotels have enjoyed a moment in the top spot, but since the Langham opened its doors in a Mies van der Rohe office tower on the Chicago River in 2013, you'd be pardoned if you forgot that the others ever existed. A rather dramatic coup for a brand with minimal name recognition in the United States (the original Langham is in London, the brand is Hong Kong-based), none of the in-your-face flash of the nearby Trump and a location relatively remote from the forest of time-tested five-star properties defining the northern end of the Magnificent Mile. But here you have it – the seductively civilized Langham's all about service and comfort, making its guests feel a million miles from the street below, even if they can see what feels like half of downtown Chicago from those floor-to-ceiling windows.
ACME Hotel Company
Chicago was in desperate need of a well-located hotel that nailed the now-very-fashionable blend of laid-back style, grown-up fun and affordability. In its fairly short lifetime, this 130-roomer just a shoe's throw from Nordstrom has proved to be more than up to the task. Comparisons to the rapidly-expanding Ace brand are apt, but not entirely accurate – the ACME isn't nearly as aloof, offering with-a-wink service that includes fun freebies like on-demand morning coffee delivery and loaner Apple watches.
Overshadowed by newer luxury properties perhaps most notable for their look-at-me architecture, this dignified, Rush Street-adjacent address – bearing down on its 100th birthday – is the hotel equivalent of the upscale neighborhood's long-time residents that simply can't be bothered with all the new money that's come flooding in over the past decade or so. Not that the Talbott is living in the past, far from it – this classic gem recently underwent a sensitive rethink and is now in the capable hands of California's Joie de Vivre hotel management group. jdvhotels.com
For anyone who knows Miami Beach, the name will already be familiar – this hostel-hotel combo's southern sister property became one of the most popular hangouts for locals and in-the-know visitors almost immediately after opening, a few years back. Okay, so here in Chicago there's no spacious courtyard with pool, bar cart and mini-urban farm, but River North ain't South Beach, that's for sure. Still, this hasn't stopped the team behind New York City's ultra-luxe (and ultra-fashionable) Nomad Hotel from delivering a similar blend of smart design, low rates and cool nightlife. The Freehand is easily Chicago's hippest address right now, in case you were wondering. thefreehand.com
Virgin Hotel Chicago
A vintage bank tower overlooking one of the four turns (screeeeech!) in the elevated train tracks that gave the Loop its name is now one of the city's best-liked hotels, thanks to that special brand of Virgin pizzazz. More corporate cool than actual cool, you'll have to admit, but it can be awfully convincing . You don’t have to spend a lot of time critiquing the rooftop bar (Cerise) or the scene at said bar to enjoy a stay here, though – rooms have their design quirks but are ultimately some of the most interesting in the city. The second-floor (check out that staircase from the lobby!) Commons Club is a great add to this part of the city, providing a sophisticated, lunch-through-late evening work space / hangout, away from the worst of the tourist crush. Hotel guests are hosted here nightly from 7-8pm for smart cocktails. virginhotels.com
There was a time – quite a long time, actually, in hotel years – when a list of the best hotels in Chicago began and ended with this Michigan Avenue stunner, a project that brought true magnificence back to a not-so-Mag block of the Mag Mile, round about the turn of the century. As far as some loyalists are concerned, The Pen is still number one, particularly after a recent renovation, and they're really not wrong. It's hard, after all, to beat a hotel that offers bathtubs with full views of Michigan Avenue, allowing you to sightsee while up to your neck in suds. Fancy suds, no less. If there's ever been a quibble, it's the ever-so-slightly unpredictable service. (These things do happen, sure, but at this price point, it's absolutely okay to expect perfection.) peninsula.com
Chicago Athletic Association Hotel
A striking renovation of one of the grandest piles on this stretch of Michigan Avenue, Millennium Park in its front yard, a clutch of gorgeous dining and drinking venues and a Shake Shack at ground level, should the mood strike. Oh, and a terrific fitness center where you can work it all off. Why stay anywhere other than this one-time private club? That's what many people are asking, which is why nightly rates can soar to a point where you're better off shopping around – rooms, like every other square inch of the hotel, are wonderfully done, modern but quirky, cozy but masculine. Still, at times, it feels like the hotel is more interested in being a vibrant a social hub than a place for its registered guests to escape to at the end of the busy day. For now, at least, maybe don't break the bank to stay here. Definitely, however, stop by to see what the fuss is about. chicagoathletichotel.com
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