The Beaux-Arts architectural panache of The Blackstone, a Chicago Renaissance Hotel is immediately evident by the gracefully scalloped Parisian-style Mansard roof. Upon opening in 1910, the 332-room hotel raised eyebrows due to its stark contrast with the city’s more masculine, early-American industrialist design streak prevalent at the time. But it became a huge hit anyway with upper society. Hollywood glitterati, politicos and high-ranking mob bosses all rubbed elbows in the lofty grand lobby below ornate dentil-coffered ceilings illuminated by gold sconces and crystal chandeliers.
In the ensuing years, 12 American presidents from Taft through Carter slept at The Blackstone in the 10th floor Presidential Suite, with a hidden door behind the fireplace for the Secret Service boys. Following a $128 million renovation in 2007, that suite and the 9th floor VP Suite were dutifully preserved—hardwood floors, bed canopies, Federalist-era reproductions and all. Bill Murray is a big fan.
Thankfully, the owners decided to be a little playful with the rest of the renovation to avoid The Blackstone feeling too grandma. The designers blended local contempo art and mid-century Modernist furnishings and fabrics with the restored chandeliers/sconces and filigreed balustrades in the lobby and meeting spaces. The end result is an ambiance not just unabashedly cheeky, it’s exceedingly fun and comfy too.
“In many ways, it’s a celebration of opposites and very residential with all the knick knacks and surprises,” says Ryan Buck, director of sales. “You wouldn’t think this wonderfully obnoxious gold couch would go in here [the lobby], but it gets the most positive comments from our guests.”
He then points out the Brady Bunch-era, doughnut-shaped stainless steel light fixtures, designed to salute “The Bean” sculpture in Millennium Park. I comment how I’m growing on the groovy, sorta ’60s psychedelic area rug. Buck says, “I call that our lollipop melting in the sun carpet.”
We grab a seat in the Catalan tapas restaurant, Mercat a la Planxa, designed like an outdoor Barcelona market. The eggs bennie with chorizo ham and chili pepper is crazy good, and Buck informs me that local hero chef Jose Garces won James Beard’s “Best Chef Mid-Atlantic” this year.
Upstairs, the guestrooms were enlarged during the renovation and the simple and bright design with uncluttered desks and huge bathrooms with glass rainshowers are a welcome breath of design restraint. Try to grab an east room overlooking Grant Park and Lake Michigan. The top floor inside the Mansard roof with Jetsons-like porthole windows houses two sleek minimalist boardrooms seating 8 and 12. There’s also the sassy Hubbard Place exec lounge with private club-style seating that feels like a den room for Prince Harry.
Back during Prohibition, Al Capone and “Lucky” Luciano visited The Blackstone regularly for haircuts in what’s now The Barbershop meeting room. But the stunner group space is the overtly Beaux-Arts Crystal Ballroom, with a wraparound inner balcony and French doors/windows providing loads of natural light in the 3,400-sf room. Robert De Niro playing Al Capone in The Untouchables performed his infamous teambuilding (with a bat) speech, here. Total meeting space is 11,400 sf.
Buck adds, “We’re considered the closest luxury property to McCormick Place Convention Center,” which is about a 7-minute cab ride away. Millennium Park and the adjacent Art Institute of Chicago museum are a mere 10-minute walk.
“I like how the hotel feels so classic Chicagoan, but entirely modern and worldly, too,” I say. “It belongs here.”
Buck, who very much belongs at this property, says with more than a little pride, “This is Chicago’s hotel.”