Since it first opened in 1910, the Blackstone Hotel on Chicago’s famed Michigan Avenue has hosted presidents, mobsters and celebrities.
Any tales you have heard about the hotel, which was named for railroad executive and philanthropist Timothy Blackstone, are probably true:
Yes, GOP bosses in 1920 met late into the night, chomping on cigars, in Suite 915 before choosing the relatively unknown Warren G. Harding as their presidential candidate. Harding became the 29th president. You can book the same suite, which is named the “Smoke-Filled Room,” but you can’t smoke there.
Yes, Charles “Lucky” Luciano in 1931 hosted the first organized crime convention in the Blackstone’s Crystal Ballroom. Weddings and other posh events are still held in the glittering space.
Yes, the Beatles’ one-time guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, bought the hotel in 1995 with the intent of turning it into luxury condominiums. His efforts failed, and the hotel closed in 2000.
Then along came some Marriott folks and their partners at Sage Hospitality. They extensively renovated the deteriorating neoclassical Beaux Arts building and re-opened it in 2008.
The latest makeover celebrates the hotel’s notorious history with equal doses of nostalgia and whimsy. The Gettys Group, a specialist in hospitality development and design, gave it an elegant new look and a contemporary attitude. More than 1,600 original artworks, primarily by Chicago artists, are on display throughout the guest rooms, Art Hall (5th Floor) and public spaces.
Marriott re-branded the 335-room boutique hotel, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as The Blackstone, Autograph Collection.
Blackstone folks and The Gettys Group invited my husband and me to tour the property and spend a night. We were happy to take them up on the offer.
The Blackstone has two entrances: The photogenic side is on Balbo Street. If you enter on Michigan Avenue, it’s fine. You might feel as though you walked into an office building, but you won’t miss the classical stone sculpture that’s been yarn-bombed. It’s definitely selfie-worthy.
Both entrances lead up a few stairs to the lobby, which resembles the living room of a rich, eccentric uncle. A melange of furnishings from every 20th Century decade is grouped for conversation amid warm wood paneling and contemporary artwork. The pool table is the one that starred in the 1986 movie, “The Color of Money,” with Paul Newman and Tom Cruise. You can sit at the 1908 Oliver manual typewriter and peck out a letter on hotel stationery.
Other spaces we checked out: tapas restaurant Mercat a la Planxa, upgraded fitness club with graffiti murals, Starbucks cafe with outdoor seating, and the 1600 Club concierge lounge.
We stayed in Room 2188, overlooking Grant Park and Lake Michigan. The room was appointed with a king bed wrapped in lush linens and soothingly decorated in soft grays with shimmers of champagne metallic. Among the assorted bric-a-brac were a Chicago coloring book, a mug of colored pencils and a black paperweight that resembled a small boulder. (Black stone, get it?)
The bath was decked out with an enormous shower and a lighted mirror with a built-in television monitor. The walls were papered with a black-and-white paisley print. I thought about those colored pencils but resisted the impulse.
After dinner on the town, we retreated to our room to find a delightful surprise: A small bottle of whiskey by Koval–a Chicago organic distillery–and two set-ups for the signature cocktail, Timothy’s Old Fashioned. There was also a cigar, which totally confused me. I understood the connection to “smoke-filled room,” but a cigar? We set it aside, and enjoyed our nightcap.
The next morning, my husband examined the “cigar” more closely. It was a cookie.
636 S. Michigan Ave.
Chicago IL 60605
(Thank you to The Blackstone and The Gettys Group for hosting our visit. Photo credit for featured image goes to Villano Photo.)