Chicago, Illinois, USA ~ Virgin Hotels Chicago

October 2019

Chicago is a great hotel town with new options opening all of the time. We get to the city on a fairly regular basis and have found a handful of hotels we love. Even so, it’s hard to resist trying new properties, so we rarely stay in the same place twice. For this quick weekend trip centered around the wedding of two friends, we originally planned to stay at The Langham, which is housed in one of our favorite Mies van der Rohe modernist buildings right on the Chicago River and appears to be one of the more refined choices in Chicago. But we decided to save The Langham for a longer visit, so went looking for another option. We recalled a recommendation from friends who, a few years back, had visited Virgin Hotels Chicago and liked it quite a lot, so we booked a room there.

The Virgin personality

IMG_0514This stay was our second experience with the Virgin brand, the first being a train ride from London to Edinburgh. On the train – and in the first-class lounge before departure – we were introduced to Virgin’s playful and somewhat cheeky personality. The experience was a good one, and we would surely travel by Virgin trains again. We weren’t sure how the brand would translate to a hotel – there was a risk it would be full of young people in the city for a weekend of revelry – but for a short two night-stay, the stakes were low, and we were willing to give it a go.

We arrived mid-day – the hotel is perfectly situated on the corner of Lake and Wabash  Streets and less than a block from the train, which we took from Midway Airport – and were able to check right in after deciding to upgrade to a corner suite on the 19th floor. The 250-room property is housed in the neo-classical Old Dearborn Bank building, one of Chicago’s many beautiful brick high-rises. The person at the front desk was friendly and warm and seemed genuinely excited about the room he was checking us into. As we waited to board the elevator, we had fun viewing the elaborate pumpkins from the prior day’s pumpkin-carving contest.

Ahhh the views…but for one thing

Our room on the building’s northwest corner featured six big windows with fabulous views out to the Chicago River from one side and back toward the Loop on the other. Coincidentally, we ended up looking right out to The Langham, so even though we weren’t staying there, we nevertheless got to enjoy the van der Rohe building.

Only one thing got in the way of the truly top-notch views. From four of our room’s six windows, a prominent feature was the giant “TRUMP” mounted on the side of the Trump Tower. Anyone who has been to Chicago in recent years will know exactly what we’re talking about. The size of the letters certainly matches the size of Trump’s ego, and it was hard, each time we looked out the windows, not be reminded of the state of the U.S. presidency. At night, the sign was even more obtrusive. While we’d prefer to take in the city lights, we did choose to pull the blinds when it came time for bed.

Close to pristine

The hotel opened in 2015 and is holding up quite nicely. Our suite, which included a lounge, a spacious Jack-and-Jill style bathroom and a bedroom, was in nearly impeccable shape. We had to look closely to find any sign of wear-and-tear. We appreciate this, partly because we know how hard it is to maintain a property when people are coming and going every day. The walls in our suite were unscuffed, the tile sparkled and the furniture surfaces showed no signs of scratches or stains. We did find some small tears on the bottom of a leather upholstered appendage on the end of the bed (a slightly awkward design element that we’re pretty sure has frequent run-ins with the vacuum), and the engineered wood floors squeaked a little, but on the whole, the suite felt like we were one of its first inhabitants – that grand illusion hoteliers seek to create and guests hope to experience.

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Features of note

The furnishings and amenities in our room weren’t lavish, but they were tasteful. The only thing that didn’t quite work was the Vespa chair – in Virgin’s trademark red – that sat at a table with two other more appropriately sized chairs. The chair certainly aligned with the Virgin sensibility, but it didn’t quite fit in our room. It seemed almost as if the Virgin designers identified the chair as an important feature for each room, but the floor plan of ours didn’t offer it a good place to sit.

We did appreciate some of the suite’s other features, including, of course, all of the windows. The suite also had a big ottoman perfect for feet propping, a huge shower with both hand-held and rainshower fixtures, generously-sized bath products from Red Flower, pour-over coffee, a full mini-bar with two small bottles of bubbly (perfect when one glass is just right) and a digital clock that projected the time on the ceiling (it sounds gimmicky; it really wasn’t). We also have to mention Rambo, the dog that stood watch in our hallway.

During our stay, we never made it to the rooftop bar, although judging from the wait for an elevator in the evening hours, the bar is a popular spot. Before heading to the wedding, we did have time for a quick drink at the second-floor bar and restaurant, which was buzzing when we were there – always nice to see. And the coffee shop attached to the hotel made tasty cappuccinos and flat whites.

In our estimation, the Virgin managed to provide a high-quality hotel experience without taking itself too seriously. That’s not easy to do, and we think the balance was just about right: playful, yet grown up. We’ll add the Virgin to our list of preferred Chicago hotels.

Stay details

  • Virgin Hotels Chicago
  • Location: Lake and Wabash, downtown Chicago
  • Our stay: 2 nights, November 1 and 2
  • Room: Suite 1911

Where we ate, what we did


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