When I attend conferences, I generally stay at the host hotel which is not always my first (or tenth) option. It’s about convenience to the sessions, the shuttles (if applicable) and the attendees. Making the compromise from my favorite chain or boutiques is usually about the discounted cost for attendees and I usually regret the choice after the fact. For the weekend conference in Chicago, the host hotel was the historic Palmer House Hilton Hotel.
The Palmer House is located downtown with Milennium Park (where CloudGate aka “the bean” is located) two blocks away, the Chicago River about six blocks (ten minutes walk) and the elevated (L) train outside. The Chicago Art Institute is a short walk. Shopping and food options abound in the area. Without crossing a street, you have Starbucks, Freshii, Corner Bakery, McDonalds and Miller’s Pub within feet of the hotel. The hotel is along Jewelers Row and blocks from the Theater District. So for a first time or multiple visitor, the location is pretty good, especially in cold weather to know it’s a short walk to most places.
The hotel is a massive, they have 1,641 rooms which is a big change from the small boutique hotels I like (in Paris, there were 33 rooms). To reach the lobby, on the second level, you can use the main entry stairs, the escalators or the elevators. Taking the escalator up to check in, I was instantly struck by the beauty and grandeur of the ceiling and lobby. I could imagine coming here in it’s heyday when celebrities played here as it is the grand dame of hotel lobbies. The original owners’ wife designed the hotel so that romance could be seen throughout the space – whether by Romeo and Juliet statue, paintings in the hallway or through the design.
I used the main check in line which moved quickly but the front desk person seemed like she was trying to process the most people as there was a line despite the large staff working the desk (about ten). I was not welcomed as a HHonors member, not welcomed as a conference attendee and not provided the conference wi-fi code. She did switch me from a double/double to a King room, which I would later realize was not a good thing. Passing the welcome beverage station and the Concierge desk, the ten bank elevators are in a U shape with a round seating area in green velvet.
Exiting the elevator, I made a few turns and passed many a star of yesteryear, actually stars of a time well before I was born. For younger guests, I doubt they even know who any of these faces are, especially as there are no plaques to explain. This was telling, the photos of the ghosts of the hotel – those who in their fame and stardom played at the hotel. As if the lobby and other features, didn’t scream “historic hotel” and “old school”, these photos definitely did.
When I travel on a cruise ship, I choose the inside cabin which has no window/light as it is the cheaper option. I’m fine with the lack of light as I rarely spend time in the room. So why the cruise stateroom analogy? My room at the Palmer House was an inside room without light despite a window. When I first entered, I was struck with the heavy feeling of the room – this was not a fun boutique hotel that I like, this room made me feel sad (on the website, the rooms seem happy). The room was dark, the furniture dark, the rug dark – definitely not my style.
The king bed was striking in white with four pillows (quite comfortable too), a contrast to the dark furniture, green chair and heavy curtains. As I do, I went to the window to check out my normal alley (no view) view, in this case, I opened the blackout curtains and raised the shade to see this unique view and further explained why the room was so dark. Note that this wins my “worst view ever” despite the cool photo of the various metals. Given that it was winter and my room had no light, I really should have switched rooms as it may have made me feel better. Not quite sure why I didn’t call.
The closet contained the safe, an ironing board and iron. With a pull cord for the light, I had flashbacks to my childhood – it was odd that the decor was new and other parts were old and not in the good way or marrying old & new.
The bathroom was very small with a full size tub and small vanity in the compact space.
I would dine at the restaurant for breakfast, enjoy drinks both in Potter’s bar as well as the lobby Lockwood Bar. The lobby area was constantly packed throughout my visit. On Sunday night, after many weekend/conference folks had left, I was able to easily get a seat at the lobby bar to order a glass of wine and dessert.
On my first visit to Chicago, I stayed at the Peninsula Chicago and their concierge team was fantastic. The Palmer House Concierge team is also fantastic. Robert was my go-to guy the entire weekend. Robert gave me the team’s pre-printed sheet of restaurant suggestions, walking directions and frank opinions when asked. He made a local reservation and the restaurant gave us free dessert (nice perk)! His breakfast suggestion to Wildberry Cafe for pancakes was fantastic. Robert was great to talk to and took his time with me and all the guests which is, like the hotel, a bit of a throwback to customer service of years gone by. I put him through his paces and he succeeded each time – definitely a highlight of my stay.
I forgot my toothbrush and called Housekeeping at 10:45 pm and within 15 minutes they delivered two toothbrushes with toothpaste. They must be psychic as I would end up dropping one between the tub and vanity (too tight to recover dropped items so be careful) so definitely needed both.
The Palmer House Hilton is a category 7 hotel for HHonors (50,000 points to redeem for a free night). If you can get a low rate like I had ($139 +tax in March) then save your points for when this hotel charges close to $400 during peak season. With so many rooms to fill, there seem to be lots of deals online. The history of the hotel in the lobby, the hallways and the rooms won’t be everyone’s cup of tea (see how the hotel evokes these old phrases) but the location is wonderful, service is attentive and it’s easy to explore Chicago. Just ask for some light!