Nifty, Thrifty Freehand Reinvented As A Trendy New Hotel And Hostel


Anyone who books a hotel room in downtown Chicago during the prime tourist season will likely encounter sticker shock. But a stylish and affordable alternative awaits in a prime location. The Freehand Hotel at 19 E. Ohio is now open for business.

The Freehand (formerly the Tokyo Hotel) was just one of the many fascinating specimens featured during the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s 2015 Open House Chicago weekend last month.

Built in 1927, the Tokyo had fallen into disrepair in recent years. It became an SRO hotel before a massive renovation supervised by Roman Williams. Last June, it reopened as the Freehand.

Freehand Hotel-1

One of the more unusual aspects of the Freehand is that it’s a hotel and a hostel. Hint: choose the hostel option if you’re on a budget—hostel rooms run $30 to $50 per night. The hotel rooms aren’t bad either for this trendy River North neighborhood; they run $150 to $250 per night.

Freehand Manager Mary Beth Bennett.

Freehand Manager Mary Beth Bennett.

Although the hotel previously bore the name “Tokyo,” inside the design is inspired by Syria, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Many of the original architectural elements were uncovered during the renovation, according to manager Mary Beth Bennett.

“They used an unusual method to scrape away and uncover the original features,” she said. “It’s called ‘cornblasting.’”


NOTE: The Freehand Hotel was one of several Open House Chicago locations that were open for tours only to Chicago Architecture Foundation members. The Chicago Architecture Blog was provided with priority viewing for the Freehand Hotel by the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at

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