There are several excellent hotels along Michigan Avenue in Chicago, but a select few stand out from the others for their historical value and cultural contributions to the city.
Occupying the entire block between 8th and Balbo is the massive Hilton Chicago. This hotel was originally opened as the Stevens Hotel in 1927 and was the largest hotel in the world. It was designed by Holabird and Roche and had 3,000 rooms. The Stevens family went bankrupt and the hotel changed hands a few times, including being property of the US Army and used as a barracks during WWII. Conrad Hilton bought it in 1945 and redesigned it by enlarging the rooms and cutting capacity to about 1,500 rooms.
The Hilton has some of the best convention and event space in Chicago. It’s worth popping in to see the elegant Grand Ballroom and the foyer leading into it. I’ve attended a few events there and the hotel is also one of the few Chicago hotels I’ve been a guest at. Every event and stay has been a memorable experience. Click here for the official site of the hotel.
At the corner of Illinois Street is the Hotel InterContinental. It was originally built as the Medinah Athletic Club by the Shriners Organization in 1929 but was lost during the Great Depression. It went into a reincarnation as a hotel in 1944 and was reopened as the InterContinental in 1990. The hotel retains many of the historic features of the original Medinah Athletic Club.
The most famous part of the building is the Johnny Weissmuller Pool located on the 11th floor. At the time it was built, it was the highest indoor pool in the country. Olympic swimmer and Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller would often train in it.
The Spanish Court is on the fifth floor and features Moorish elements in the design.
The Hall of Lions and King Arthur Court, designed with a Medieval theme, are located on the second and third floor. The King Arthur Court was used as a men’s smoking lounge and is now used for special events.
I wasn’t able to visit the Grand Ballroom because it was in use at the time of my visit. If you’d like to see these historical rooms, ask the concierge for instructions on how to visit the historical aspects of a building and a paper copy of the building’s history. They’re very happy to help and enthusiastic about the building. They also offer a free audioguide but they were all in use.
The historic Allerton Hotel at the corner of Huron Street was built in 1924. It was a trendy hotel that featured several social events. The famous lounge, Tip Top Tap, was on the top floor until it closed in 1961. It was frequented by stars such as Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. Click here for a brief history.
Finally, the legendary Drake Hotel, located on Walton Place, has hosted presidents, monarchs, foreign heads of state, and celebrities since it opened in 1920. There are luxury shops located on the ground floor as well as the lobby’s Palm Court, which serves the most famous afternoon tea in the city.
The Cape Cod Room, a seafood restaurant, opened in 1933 and was a city favorite until it closed on December 31, 2016. Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe famously carved their names into the wooden bar when they visited the restaurant, and that piece of history has been preserved by the hotel.