The Ritz-Carlton Chicago
Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to stay at the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago with a friend who was visiting from South Africa for two days of fun. Three years ago we met up in Boston and neither of us had ever been to Chicago, so this time around we met up at O'hare, and I booked The Ritz-Carlton, thanks to the largess of Chase Bank's Ritz Carlton Card. I redeemed one of the card's Club Level upgrade certificates, and the hotel also generously upgraded our room to a suite on the 25th floor, recognizing my SPG Gold level status match (status upgrades normally cannot be combined with upgrade certificates). The beauty of a two day leisure stay at The Ritz-Carlton Chicago finds itself in the value of Ritz-Carlton's Club Level experience and the value found in Chicago's local offerings.
A unique welcome gift was left for my friend, whose birthday was several days prior.
Great views and photo opportunities could be had from the 25th floor - the John Hancock Center is directly across the street.
The Club Level lounge offers a complimentary private dining and lounge experience for guests staying on the Club Level floor. There was an ample selection of complimentary beer, wine, and cocktails, as well as a luxury barista machine for cappuccino and latte lovers. Club Level guests can enjoy complimentary breakfast in the lounge, which offers a much more relaxed and leisurely atmosphere than the hustle commonly found in lobby-level restaurants or cafes. Four other scheduled cuisine offerings are also presented throughout the day with variety enough to satisfy anyone. Another nice perk for Club Level guests is the laundering of two clothing garments per day, complimentary. There is also a Lounge Concierge available for many sorts of requests.
The climate outside the hotel, although frigid for an Angelino and African, was lively and festive. We encountered an improvised Hanukkah celebration before arriving at Streeter's Tavern, a mere three-minutes-walk from the hotel. And it can't be overstated enough that one of the great perks of staying at The Ritz-Carlton Chicago is its proximity to many great local watering holes.
The following day after binge watching American Vandal, we quickly walked through Millennium Park, and then left to make the obligatory walk by Chicago's original sculptural masterpiece, Calder's Flamingo; only pausing a moment for a quick glance at the President's lonely hotel in the distance, before giving up on sightseeing altogether and heading to Chicago's most legitimate tourist attraction: Lagunitas Brewing Company.
Yes, they actually play that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory song, while eager drinkers skip down a psychedelic hallway, gleefully awaiting to be offered complimentary beer at the Tap Room.
And Lagunitas isn't stingy. Not only is their beer already high in alcohol by volume, but they make sure you get to try several offerings before allowing you to choose your favorite to take on the 'tour.' And the good folks at Lagunitas have designed a proper tour, only subjecting the thirsty to thirty minutes of very interesting, and often times surprising anecdotes.
Then it's on to the bar for more samples ($14 flight). Lagunitas has a beer named 'Aunt Salley,' and she was a spinster. You can skip her, but she no doubt makes the rest of the beer taste better. I'll tell you the truth - this was the best value inebriation I've experienced outside of going to the supermarket.
After the Tap Room, only a 32oz porterhouse at Torali Chicago could sober me up. Torali Chicago is located inside The Ritz-Carlton. The $100 hotel incidental credit provided by the Ritz-Carlton card when staying two nights or more can be used at the restaurant. I didn't know steak could even be aged as long as thirty days. I'm not kidding- it was the best steak I've ever had. Seriously. It melted in my mouth even without dipping it in the whipped black truffle garlic butter. Even if you're not staying at The Ritz-Carlton when visiting Chicago, I highly recommend steak at Torali Chicago.
After checking out the following day, we decided to walk across the street and take the elevator to the top of the John Hancock Center to have a drink at The Signature Lounge on the 96th floor and take in the view. There is no fee and access is surprisingly easy for a tower of its height. Consider that one must pay $20, pass through a metal detector, and wait in line to ascend the Sears Tower. What's more, the restaurant on the 95th floor below the bar is astounding. There are few dining establishments in America, if not the world, that utterly take your breath away through sheer elegance alone. The Signature Room restaurant atop the John Hancock Center is one of those rare arresting microcosms. Yet it is often passed over in lieu of the bigger and newer.
The tower itself, an aberration among skyscrapers, stands alone as one of the great architectural masterpieces of the second half of the Twentieth Century. When completed in 1968 only the Empire State Building stood taller- a building from the 1930s. By the time construction of the Sears Tower and the World Trade Center was underway, the architectural zeitgeist had already progressed towards a flatter, more stoic expression, leaving the John Hancock Center as the only tower of considerable height in the world designed in the early-sixties and built later the same decade.
And the grace of the tower's early-sixties design is not lost on its restaurant in the sky. Like a beautiful woman unafraid of growing old, The Signature Room has appropriated the beauty of the tower's age as the cornerstone of its service- slight in manner, stately, and literally rising above the fray. The Ritz-Carlton's Club Level experience, too, manages to negotiate this fine line between the old and the regal.