The world’s first Virgin hotel opened in Chicago in January last year. Pitched as a lifestyle brand combining “smart innovation” with “straightforward value”, Virgin Hotels will next launch properties in Palm Springs (2018), Nashville, New York and Dallas (all 2019). It plans to have 20 hotels by 2025, with European expansion in its sights.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Friendly, glamorous and very Virgin, the 250-room hotel is housed in the 26-storey 1920s art deco Old Dearborn Bank building. Design firm Rockwell Group has done a great job of bringing the Virgin personality into the property while restoring its original features, including the lobby’s grand staircase, brass lift doors and oak cigar bar (now the front desk). There’s lots of red, as you might expect, from the lip-shaped sofa outside to the scarlet Smeg minibar fridges. The staff are trendy and professional.
WHERE IS IT?
An excellent downtown location on North Wabash Avenue in the Loop, a few minutes’ walk from the Chicago River and Millennium Park.
The hotel has 250 rooms – or “Chambers” – including 38 one-bedroom suites and two penthouses. Starting from 26 sqm (Grand Chambers are 35 sqm; suites from 47 sqm), 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, ample hanging space and shelving. Amenities are by Red Flower. In the sleeping area is a custom-designed Virgin King bed with a sofa-like padded ergonomic headboard – designed 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 and local calls (international calls are at Skype-equivalent rates), a sleek Stellé speaker, bedside plug sockets and USB ports, and a 42-inch LG smart TV from which you can control the air con and order room service (no delivery charge). The minibar is fairly priced (Coke US$1, beer US$3, spirits US$7), and tea and coffee are provided. Décor wise, the rooms are smart and unfussy, with hardwood flooring and grey felt wall coverings. My 19th-floor Chamber King had a great view of the river and the Trump hotel opposite, 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 7pm to 8pm (a nice touch); the “Funny Library”, with large tables to work at plus books and games; and the semi-private Shag Room, with burlesque photos on the wall.
The street-facing 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.
Three event spaces on the third floor hold between 12 and 120 people. Cerise, Upstairs and parts of the Commons Club can also be hired, and Miss Ricky’s has a private dining area.
The 25th-floor gym has Technogym kit and a covered terrace with AstroTurf, loungers and yoga mats. The basement spa has five treatment rooms and a hammam.
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.
Internet rates for a flexible midweek stay in October started from US$267 for a Chamber King room.
203 North Wabash Avenue; tel +1 312 940 4400; virginhotels.com