Chicago’s Wicker Park and Buck­town ’hoods fi­nally get the chic ho­tels they de­serve

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - GLOBE TRAVEL - ADAM BISBY CHICAGO

Only a few min­utes tran­sit from O’Hare, WP&B’s uniquely be­guil­ing streetscape is quickly be­com­ing one of the city’s tourist gems

Like brunch spots and Star­bucks, bou­tique ho­tels of­ten her­ald ur­ban gen­tri­fi­ca­tion. But not in Wicker Park and Buck­town: These ad­ja­cent Chicago neigh­bour­hoods al­ready of­fered just about ev­ery ur­ban amenity one could want – from vin­tage fash­ion bou­tiques and record shops to taco stands, cock­tail bars and even a land­scaped rail path – years be­fore Mex­i­can ho­tel de­vel­oper Grupo Habita si­mul­ta­ne­ously opened the Robey and the Hol­lan­der in late 2016 on the six-cor­ner in­ter­sec­tion un­for­tu­nately known as “the Crotch.”

Ar­riv­ing too late to be har­bin­gers of de­vel­op­ment, the ad­ja­cent prop­er­ties in­stead fill a glar­ing gap in WP&B’s travel cre­den­tials. Now visi­tors can jet into Chicago O’Hare, take the “L” train di­rectly to the Da­mon stop, and step into a uniquely be­guil­ing streetscape that fi­nally fea­tures stylish and ver­sa­tile ac­com­mo­da­tions to match. And should guests wish to ex­plore the more fa­mous di­ver­sions of “the Loop,” as cen­tral Chi-town is known, the area pro­vides an ideal jumpin­goff point.

STAY

The Robey: Name-drop­ping this 69-room ho­tel still seemed to thrill lo­cal mer­chants more than two weeks af­ter it opened. And no won­der: Full-ser­vice lux­ury ac­com­mo­da­tions, and their af­flu­ent out-of-town guests, are rel­a­tively few and far be­tween out­side the Loop.

Along with the stan­dard-is­sue com­forts of its lux­ury-chain ri­vals on the Mag­nif­i­cent Mile – plush robes and slip­pers, fine linens, fine din­ing, Blue­tooth-en­abled sound sys­tems and so on – the Robey de­liv­ers plenty of the art-deco flair for which Chicago is fa­mous. Housed in the 12-storey North­west Tower, a flat­iron-style land­mark that rose over WP&B in 1929, the Robey’s vin­tage flour­ishes adorn ev­ery­thing from the com­pact lobby’s checker­board floors and dark-wood pan­elling to the gleam­ing el­e­va­tor doors. The lit­eral cap­per: The “Up and Up” lounge and rooftop ter­race, where an or­nate cham­bered spire bi­sects glo­ri­ous views of Chicago’s sky­line.

Four room con­fig­u­ra­tions start at $175 (U.S.) a night and range from stylishly min­i­mal­ist units with queen- and king-sized beds to an aptly-named “Panorama Suite” with sep­a­rate liv­ing room. The tower’s tri­an­gu­lar foot­print in a low-rise neigh­bour­hood, com­bined with gen­er­ous win­dows, means most rooms af­ford su­perb city views and are bathed in nat­u­ral light. The flip side: With the noisy “L” train mere steps away, light sleep­ers may want to re­quest quar­ters on the op­po­site side of the build­ing. 2018 W. North Ave., ther­obey.com The Hol­lan­der: Like the Robey next door, this ho­tel-hos­tel hy­brid em­braces its his­toric name­sake home – a cen­tury-old five-storey ware­house – with plenty of ex­posed brick and art­fully-dis­tressed paint in the airy lobby/café/bike shop.

The self-serve laun­dry fa­cil­i­ties, day lock­ers and eight dorm-style rooms (start­ing at $45) are the stuff of hos­tels, to be sure, but make no mis­take: The Hol­lan­der pro­vides a spot­less and pleas­ingly ver­sa­tile op­tion for fam­i­lies and groups. A dozen pri­vate rooms (start­ing at $125) all in­clude en­suite bath­rooms, small re­frig­er­a­tors and flat-screen TVs, with bunks and queen-sized beds clev­erly in­cor­po­rated into the spar­tan, vaguely in­dus­trial decor. 2022 W. North Ave., the­hol­lan­der.com

EAT AND DRINK

Big Star: This guide could only avoid us­ing the word “hip­ster” for so long. But the ca­sual eatery that started Chicago’s so-called “hip­ster taco” trend in 2010 is the fur­thest thing from stand­off­ish or pre­ten­tious.

Friendly, knowl­edge­able serv­ing per­son­nel help guests nav­i­gate the nine taco va­ri­eties on of­fer – three or more will fill you up – while say­ing “sur­prise me” is bound to yield some­thing de­li­cious in the lively, roomy din­ing room or out on the ex­pan­sive pa­tio. 1531 N. Da­men Ave., bigstarchicago.com

Mindy’s Hot Choco­late: Yes, the eight hot choco­late va­ri­eties are moniker-wor­thy – es­pe­cially when topped with an ex­tra house-made marsh­mal­low – but there’s much more than warm bev­er­ages here. Brunch is es­pe­cially pop­u­lar and eclec­tic, with the char siu fried rice meld­ing bar­be­cued pork, peas, car­rots, eggs and scal­lions and the butter- milk pan­cake topped with cider ap­ples and drip­ping in caramel butter. 1747 N Da­men Ave., hotchoco­lat­e­chicago.com

Café Robey: The art-deco-style eatery on the Robey’s ground floor makes the most of the wedge-shaped build­ing with floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows that are ideal for peo­ple-watch­ing. The French-Amer­i­can menu, mean­while, fea­tures con­tem­po­rary twists on stan­dards such as steak frites and duck con­fit. The cozy se­cond-floor lounge above is ideal for af­ter-din­ner cock­tails such as the pom­padour, a lively con­coc­tion of rum, pineau de char­entes, lemon juice and pey­chaud’s Bit­ters. 2018 W. North Ave., ther­obey.com

Publi­can Anker: Con­tinue watch­ing the world go by in this brand-new gas­tropub that’s kitty cor­ner to the Robey. Sip one of 14 draft beers and nib­ble on smoked mack­erel be­hind win­dows that are straight out of Ed­ward Hopper’s Nighthawks. 1576 N. Mil­wau­kee Ave., pub­li­cananker.com

SHOP

Vin­tage Charm Buck­town: WP&B’s many vin­tage bou­tiques are as care­fully cu­rated as any, but this charm­ing op­tion stands out with vin­tage-in­spired at­tire, ac­ces­sories, house­wares and decor items that are not ac­tu­ally vin­tage. All the style, none of the musti­ness. 1735 N. Da­men Ave., shopv­in­tagecharm.com

Una Mae’s: Amid the fast-fash­ion chain stores that have popped up on bustling North Mil­wau­kee Av­enue, this mul­ti­level in­de­pen­dent bou­tique of­fers an ap­peal­ingly retro col­lec­tion of menswear and wom­enswear – think skinny jeans, pea­coats and ec­cen­tric cos­tume jew­ellery – along with hand­made toi­letries and whim­si­cal house­wares. 1528 N. Mil­wau­kee Ave., una­maeschicago.com

deci­Bel Au­dio: Au­dio­philes will ex­ult in the new and used stereo re­ceivers, am­pli­fiers, turnta­bles, speak­ers and ac­ces­sories. High Fi­delity fans will ex­ult in the deci­Bel Au­dio T-shirts worn by John Cu­sack in the 2000 film, which was set in Wicker Park. 1429 N. Mil­wau­kee Ave., deci­bel.com

LO­CAL SE­CRETS

The 606: Named for the first three dig­its in ev­ery Chicago zip code, this el­e­vated train track-turned-green­way runs 4.3 kilo­me­tres from the less-gen­tri­fied Lo­gan Square dis­trict to the east­ern fringe of Buck­town. The sculp­ture-dot­ted path, which opened in 2015, is a boon for strollers, jog­gers and cy­clists and hosts sea­sonal events such as an “Arts Blitz” in Septem­ber and a “Block Party” in June. the606.org

The writer was a guest of the Robey and the Hol­lan­der. They did not re­view or ap­prove this ar­ti­cle.

The Hol­lan­der, a ho­tel-hos­tel hy­brid,boasts plenty of beau­ti­ful ex­posed brick and dis­tressed paint in its lobby, an homage to the space’s in­dus­trial roots.

ADRIAN GAUT/COUR­TESY OF GRUPO HABITA

Lo­cated on a flat-iron lot, the his­toric Robey ho­tel af­fords guests some of the best views of the sur­round­ing city.

SCOTT SHIGLEY

Mindy’s Hot Choco­late is a pop­u­lar joint in the neigh­bour­hood, serv­ing an eclec­tic brunch menu and eight va­ri­eties of hot choco­late.

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