Tried & Tested

Hotel check: Sofitel Chicago Water Tower

26 Feb 2008 by Tom Otley
WHAT’S IT LIKE? Opened in 2002, the 32-storey white triangular tower, designed by Paris-based architect Jean-Paul Viguier, leans over its reception area like a boat intending to head down Rush Street towards the Chicago river. It’s a striking building when viewed from the outside, and continues to impress with its double-height reception and triangular staircase, which leads down from the meeting spaces on the second floor. There are coloured fibre-optic illuminated walls, black granite flooring and low sofas keeping any guests in the lobby out of the sightlines. WHERE IS IT? At the junction of Chestnut and Wabash Streets, a five-minute walk from Chicago transport station, and two minutes from the shops of North Michigan Avenue. The name of the hotel comes from the nearby Water Tower monument, which famously survived the great fire of 1871. The hotel is also a short walk from the “Viagra Triangle” of upmarket bars and restaurants around North Rush Street, where men who ought to know better go to meet younger women – worth a trip. ROOM FACILITIES There are 415 rooms on floors six to 32, with roughly 16 on each floor. The rooms have natural beech-wood walls, dresser and bed frame, with contemporary chrome hardware and deep rust-coloured carpeting. French doors open onto a spacious marble bathroom with a separate bathtub and glass-enclosed shower. There is a good-sized workdesk and high-speed internet access available at US$9.95 per day. There are large framed prints above the beds, but I found it difficult to sit up and watch television without making the frame sway ominously above me. There are some clever design elements however, most noticeably having the doors to the rooms staggered along the corridors, a feature which helps keep the noise levels down. In addition to the Standard rooms there are 30 Deluxe Executive rooms, 32 Deluxe suites and one Presidential suite, and many of these have good views of the Chicago skyline or Lake Michigan – although vertigo sufferers should be aware that in some rooms the leaning nature of the building (it extends 18 metres over the street at its most extreme) gives some rather scary views. RESTAURANTS AND BARS The small Café des Architectes on the ground floor serves French cuisine in a suitably modern setting of deep red banquettes, glass-topped tables, oversized lampshades, signature clock-faced carpet and glass walls. Le Bar is an atmospheric place in winter, with a fibre-optic ceiling, black and white newspaper-like blinds, a long stainless steel and bubinga wood bar, six projection destination clocks, a small library of books about Chicago architecture and design (for lone travellers or the antisocial), and a granite fireplace for visual warmth. BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES There are business centres and meeting rooms on both the second and third floor. The second floor, which houses the hotel’s fitness centre, has a total of 930 sqm of meeting space (including 12 window-walled meeting rooms), and overlooks the lobby from an opaque glass balcony. A glass staircase leads down to the third-level Grand Ballroom, which offers 418 sqm to accommodate 400 guests theatre-style, 260 seated guests, or 220 seated guests with a dance floor. The dramatic Ballroom, with its curved ceiling and royal tones, is naturally lit with floor-to-ceiling windows and a skylight, and has a pre-function area, which is distinguished by an entire glass wall. LEISURE FACILITIES There is a small, well-equipped gym on the second floor, with water, towels, fruit and free headphones for use on the cardio machines. The hotel has arrangements with spas including Equinox around the corner. VERDICT Something very different from most Chicago hotels, and with only ten Sofitels in North America, perhaps the hotel has to strike a pose to be noticed. The clientele is noticeably more European than at other five-star properties in this area, and both the restaurant and bar can be recommended, although there’s a lot of competition just a few minutes walk away. PRICES Internet rates for a fully flexible midweek stay in March started from US$300 for a Superior room. CONTACT Sofitel Chicago Water Tower, 20 East Chestnut Street, Downtown, Chicago; tel +1 312 3244 000; sofitel.com. Tom Otley
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