Sir Richard Branson—in addition to being an adventurer, bon vivant, and tycoon—does a pretty decent job as a host.
His Virgin Hotel Group launched its first property last month in Chicago in the former Dearborn Bank Building at 203 N. Wabash Street. It’s unlike most any other hotels you’ll see. Virgin Hotel Chicago boasts functional and whimsical architectural elements.
The design team at the Rockwell Group made every decision for the hotel with the comfort of guests in mind. That extends to amenities like the mini-bar. In most hotels, you’ll pay $5 for a Snickers bar or a bottle of water. In guest rooms at Virgin Hotel Chicago, the mini-bar pricing is nearly the same as the Walgreen’s a couple of blocks west on LaSalle and Lake. A video introduction welcome from Sir Richard on the hotel’s website boasts that the thread count on the hotel bed linens is “infinity.”
What other surprises does the new Virgin Hotel have in store?
1. A lot of things had to remain untouched
The 250-room hotel was adapted from a historic landmark building. That required the Virgin developers to maintain certain spaces. The terrazzo floor, ceiling, and bronze elevator doors are all original.
2. Back in the day, you could get a bank loan and a cigar
Much of the space looks just as it did in the late 1920s, including the hallways leading to guest rooms. Those have an austere office-bank look. The lobby has some ornate touches, owing largely to the pedigree of the building’s architects (Rapp & Rapp), who mostly designed theaters. That could also explain the cigar bar in the bank, which is now a check-in desk.
3. You’ll see lots of marble walking up the stairway from the lobby
And some of it was in pretty bad shape with chips and cracks, so master craftspeople spent hours patching it to smooth out the rough patches. The same is true of the ceilings, where workers spent many hours patching plaster molding.
4. Everything is functional
That’s not a Vespa scooter—it’s a chair, and a very comfortable one. Everything in the guest rooms was designed to be functional and look good. For instance, the bed was specifically created for Virgin Hotels, with an ergonomic design so it doesn’t hurt your back, even if you want to sit on the bed to work or dine.
5. There will be fun on the roof
Come spring, there will be more fun up on the 26th floor roof deck. Originally, the roof sloped in. The Virgin design team tilted it up and used the attic space to create a deck with outdoor terraces and a fitness center one floor below.
6. A bar emerges where offices once stood
7. No goat is present, but there are plenty of touches of Chicago
In the mezzanine lounge area, you’ll find displays with whimsical, fun artifacts, many of which have a distinctly Chicago feel. In fact, all of them were sourced locally. The Virgin people want to make locals and out-of-towners feel welcome.
8. Austin Powers would probably enjoy the “Shag Room”
Upstairs from the main lobby, you’ll find a number of exotic small lounges and meeting areas. One of the most unique is the “Shag Room” (so named for its vintage shag carpeting) where guests can chill out on a round ottoman surrounded by banquettes. The ceiling of the Shag Room has LED lights covered with a mirrored Barrisol fabric, allowing guests to experience psychedelic light shows.
9. Dogs may not be welcome at Maggie Daley Park, but they are here
10. Lucy creates a very smart guest room experience
You can sit back and let your fingers do the walking in the Virgin Hotel guest rooms, and get anything you want with a smartphone or tablet. The Virgin smartphone app (known as Lucy) can control anything in the room—the temperature, music, TV. It can order from room service, retrieve phone messages or offer advice on entertainment options in the area.