BACKGROUND: The world’s first Virgin hotel opened in Chicago in 2015. Pitched as a lifestyle brand combining“smart innovation”with “straightforward value,”Virgin Hotels will next launch properties in Palm Springs (2018), Nashville, NewYork and Dallas (all 2019). It plans to have 20 hotels by 2025, with European expansion in its sights.
WHERE IS IT? An excellent downtown location on North Wabash Avenue in the heart of the Loop, a few minutes’walk from the Chicago River and Millennium Park.
Friendly, glamorous and very Virgin, the hotel is in the 26-story Old Dearborn Bank building, a 1920s Art Deco landmark. Design firm Rockwell Group has fused the Virgin personality into the property while restoring its original features, including the lobby’s grand staircase, brass elevator doors and oak cigar bar (now the front desk). There’s lots of red, as you might exp ect, and staff members are trendy and professional.
ROOM FACILITIES: The hotel has 250 rooms – or “Chambers”– including 38 one-bedroom suites and two penthouses. They are cleverly designed, with sleeping and dressing areas divided by wooden sliding doors. The dressing section includes a walk-in rainshower, make-up table and ample space. Amenities are by Red Flower. The custom-designed Virgin King bed has a sofa-like padded ergonomic headboard –for those who like to work or eat on their lap – plus a corner seat built into the foot of the bed.
There’s also a desk, free WiFi, a sleek Stellé speaker, bedside plug sockets and USB ports, and a 42-inch LG smart TV from which you can control the air conditioning and order room service (no delivery charge). The minibar is fairly priced (Coke $1, beer $3, spirits $7), and tea and coffee are provided. The rooms are smart and unfussy, with hardwood flooring and gray felt wall coverings. My 19th-floor Chamber King had a great view of the river, but only one bedside table, so I had to leave my phone and glass of water on the floor. RESTAURANTS AND BARS: The red-carpeted lobby staircase leads up to the Commons Club, intended to be the brand’s signature lounge concept. It features a double-height bar offering free drinks and made-to-order cocktails for guests from 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM (a nice touch); the“Funny Library,”with large tables for work plus books and games; and the semi-private Shag Room, with burlesque photos on the wall.
Miss Ricky’s is an all-day American diner that serves a good breakfast, and Two Zero Three is a coffee bar by day and a wine bar by night. On the top floor is Cerise, a funky rooftop bar with a wraparound terrace offering fabulous views. DJs play here, while live music and comedy take place regularly in Upstairs on the 25th floor. MEETING AND LEISURE FACILITIES: Three event spaces on the third floor hold between 12 and 120 people. Cerise, Upstairs and parts of the Commons Club can also be booked, and Miss Ricky’s has a private dining area. The 25th-floor gym has Technogym equipment and a covered terrace with AstroTurf, loungers and yoga mats. The basement spa has five treatment rooms and a hammam.
VERDICT: A very impressive debut for Virgin’s hotel arm. Undoubtedly hip, it’s also welcoming and well thought-out, with a refreshing approach to pricing the extras and an excellent array of dining and drinking venues. Most enjoyable in the“City that works!”