Thursday, Oct. 09, 2008

Hotel Blake

Fusing boutique-hotel modern with the historic architecture of the Printers Row neighborhood, the Blake's 19th-century Morton Salt building façade leads to an of-the-moment lobby. Its understated interior—think forties-meets-Zen—is decked out with gauzy curtains and low black tables, and the glass-walled business center is perfect for impressing clients. Muted taupe walls in the 162 guest rooms artfully set off the red and maroon bedding and sleek glass desks; many of the quarters are also framed by exceptionally tall windows. Rain showers are de rigueur in the bathrooms, as are porcelain vessel sinks, all part of the hotel's fulfillment of the urban lifestyle fantasy.

Insider Tip: Sample the short ribs or veal carpaccio from the acclaimed Custom House restaurant without changing out of your slippers—just pick up the phone and dial room service.

Room to Book: For airy 12-foot ceilings and oversize windows, book a corner room, for great views.

Hotel Burnham

Perhaps no other hotel showcases Chicago's impressive architectural history like the Burnham. The historic 1894 Reliance Building was lavishly restored, and rooms on the upper half of the hotel's 14 floors feature the original heavy wooden doors, iron elevator grillwork, ornate hardware, and worn marble stairs from the landmarked skyscraper's days as an office tower. The décor in the guest rooms, however, is forward-looking, with whimsical blue velvet headboards, harlequin-patterned pillows, and fancifully oversized ottomans; the tasseled curtains and mahogany furniture add a sumptuous note, as do the views from the building's distinctive Chicago Style bay windows. The ground floor has a reconstructed red-and-white mosaic tile floor and a tiny, cozy lobby with a huge stone fireplace and the superb Atwood Café, a stylish spot offering upscale versions of American comfort food classics.

Insider Tip: Rest your head on down, foam, or even buckwheat ordered up from the hotel's pillow menu.

Room to Book: Chicago history buffs take note: Al Capone's doctor treated his famous patient—and his girlfriends—in room 809.

Sofitel Chicago Water Tower

Paris flirts with the Midwest at Sofitel's North American flagship property. The 32-floor glass prism, Parisian-inspired restaurant (Café des Architectes), and sleek staircase in the lobby all create an understated elegance. With paneled maple walls, king-size feather beds, burgundy carpet, and bamboo textiles, the 415 rooms may sound imposing, but actually provide a comfortable, light-filled respite after a day of shopping. Local and Parisian silk-screen prints fill the hotel walls and elevators, and Le Bar, the cocktail lounge, features striking oil paintings.

Insider Tip: Short on time? Café des Architectes serves a four-course lunch every day for $23.95, and promises you'll be eating it within 15 minutes.

Room to Book: One of the 32 deluxe suites. Wood French doors separate the bedroom from the living room, and furniture includes a reproduction Ligne Roset velvet couch and Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair, a stereo system, and LCD TV's in the bedroom and living room.

The James

Opened in April 2006, The James marries a residential vibe to a hotel setting. To evoke an apartment style, all of the 297 contemporary rooms have a separate dining area with plasma screen TV's; some include a separate living area with oversize couches, coffee tables, and Eames chairs. Art is also an essential part of the property—the lobby features a rotating gallery from the Museum of Contemporary Art; David Burke's Primehouse restaurant showcases painter Todd White; and the Jbar displays video art on plasma screen TV's.

Insider Tip: To compensate for the rooms (lofts and studios) that lack city views, the hotel projects artwork on inner courtyard walls during the evening.

Room to Book: Reserve one of the 26 lofts, which have separate dining areas, plus media rooms complete with king-size bed, Bose stereo system, front-screen projection TV, and DVD player.

The Peninsula

As you walk into the Peninsula, the concierge and receptionist greet you by name; classical music plays when you enter one of the 339 rooms; and your bedside table has a control panel to manage the lighting, deactivate the doorbell for privacy, and alert housekeeping when you want service. The luxury extends to the hotel's spa by ESPA: it includes an outdoor sundeck, spa cuisine, eight treatment rooms, a steam room, and a lap pool. And be sure to dine at Shanghai Terrace— Food and Wine voted it one of the top 100 Asian restaurants in the U.S.

Insider Tip: Enjoy Chocolate at The Pen every Friday and Saturday from 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Open to the public, the event features a jazz trio along with an unlimited selection of sweets ranging from chocolate-dipped strawberries to chocolate tiramisu.

Room to Book: Reserve one of the renovated rooms with new linens, carpeting, iPod docking stations, and flat-screen TV's. (All rooms are scheduled to be renovated in 2008.)