Chicago’s newest and buzziest hotel is a renovated 250-room operation in the neoclassical Old Dearborn Bank Building, which was constructed in the 1920s. Stylishly functional rooms include thoughtful touches, like a makeup vanity and shower bench for shaving your legs that will be much appreciated by Virgin’s target market—female business travelers. A couple of rooms on each floor are also designated as dog friendly, complete with a doggy pullout beds and treats.
The Lobby: Download the Virgin Hotels app to your smartphone and you can bypass the front desk, formerly a cigar bar, and check in before you even arrive. The main staircase leading up to the Commons Club on the second floor is original, but in typical Virgin style, the new red velvet carpet ripples down the steps, mimicking a can of paint that’s spilled haphazardly. In the lobby, old is juxtaposed with new. Suede walls and a video installation add contemporary contrast to the original building’s terracotta floor tiles and ornate brass elevator doors.
The Personalized Experience: Virgin’s “The Know” loyalty program aims to understand you as a traveler, asking for your favorite snacks, drinks and music before you arrive. The best luxury brands, like Four Seasons, are known for discreetly gathering tidbits of information to personalize your experience with pleasant surprises. However, by asking outright what I’d most like to find in my minibar, that creates an expectation for me as a guest that you’ll do something special for me. Virgin does not disappoint. I mentioned that I love dark chocolate and found a personalized welcome to my room accompanied by a dark chocolate strawberry lavender bar from New York’s Chocolat Moderne.
The Room: Instead of a typical bathroom arrangement, the shower, toilet and sink are spread out across an open “dressing room” area, which gives the room, or chamber as they call it, a much more spacious feel. A sliding wooden privacy door separates this bathroom-closet-hallway hybrid space from the sleeping quarters.
There’s even enough space to stretch out and do a few morning sun salutations in the dressing room and Virgin is kind enough to leave a clean yoga mat rolled up right in the Poliform smart closet that offers ample space for luggage and wardrobe. I adored the vanity desk and its excellent lighting. I imagine the dressing room works wonderfully for allowing multiple people to get ready at once.
Pops of Virgin’s signature red from the door and desk lamp to the SMEG mini-fridge and a few random shower tiles brighten up the chamber’s neutral tones. I found the room to be just the right balance of innovation and efficiency, and the furniture, from the hybrid lounge bed to swiveling leather Poltrona Frau desk chair, is all very comfortable.
The reasonably priced minibar boasts “street level” prices and ranges from healthy Aloha dried green juice and gluten-free JimmyBars to perennial favorites like peanut M&Ms. I love the local touches from Veruca chocolate caramels in the pantry to Bow Truss Coffee accompanying the in-room coffee maker.
The Bed: The ergonomic hybrid bed doubles as a sofa, lounge chair and bed. The headboard is sturdy yet comfortable and angled perfectly for leaning up against as you’re typing furiously on your laptop. There’s even a chair back emerging from one corner at the foot of the bed, offering another seating option.
As for sleeping, the bed is firm and pillows fluffy, but not too soft. You can definitely hear ambulances whirring away and the ‘L’ roaring past, but that’s why they leave earplugs on your pillow.
The Vibe: The 6,120 square-foot Commons Club on the second floor is open to the public and transitions from easy-breezy cool-kid workspace during the day to a happy hour hotspot at night. The crowd is similar to the one at Soho House, Chicago’s other recent British hotel transplant, but slightly older with more international visitors.
There are plenty of outlets beneath the bar and along the walls situated within easy reach of tables and booths, so make yourself at home and get to work. Virgin has always been a popular brand with entrepreneurs and they do everything they can to facilitate the freelance lifestyle.
Adjacent to the bar is The Funny Library, a comic-filled reading room decorated with vintage toys, and The Shag Room. Here, shag is an adjective, not a verb, and the room is named for the shag throw rug that covers the ground. The semi-private low couches here are prime canoodling real estate.
Up Next: Miss Ricky’s modern American diner opens in March and the spa and rooftop lounge will follow shortly thereafter. Come 2016, Virgin Hotels will open a second property in Nashville, and New York follows in 2017.