The Windy City is more than just a destination for taking selfies at the Bean, seeing a cubs game, and going shopping on Michigan Ave. It’s full of history. From the historic buildings in downtown to forgotten gems on the south, north, and west sides. Chicago is not just another tourist destination. It’s a history lesson.
Before you read on, you should know that I am slightly biased towards writing about history, specifically Chicago’s. Ever since I took a History of Chicago course at university, I’ve been on the quest to find out more about buildings I pass or enter in. Who lived there? When was it built? What happened here? All these questions I truly to ask myself every time I see an interesting building.
(Funny story – most of my internships were a result of me walking into buildings and just looking…I would find myself talking to the owner or the curator of a small historical museum and getting all the information I could about what this building was prior to whatever it was being used for. I have a natural curiosity for the past)
So I decided to write this quick but informative guide to exploring historic Chicago in many blog posts! I talk about all my favorite spots that are hidden gems. The first edition of this guide is for a very historic hotel. Ready?
Exploring Historic Chicago
If you live in Chicago or are coming in from out of town, I encourage you to visit these historical landmarks and spots in my Historic Chicago guide. I choose each spot because I like it and because there’s a certain mystique and glamour to it.
No need to Uber anywhere in Chicago. The transit system here is great and you can pretty much get anywhere by public transit and walking. Buy an all day pass from Ventra, the Chicago Transit Authority transportation system and use it all day without limitations. You can even get a 3 day pass to use without limitation and it’s much more cost effective than Ubering. Plus, this hotel is in a prime location. You really don’t need to do much to get around.
The Blackstone Hotel
Skip the glamour and glitz of the Gold Coast and North Michigan Ave and come on down to the Loop! There’s just as much (personally I think even more) glamour in the loop which is full of history. You can even stay on Michigan Avenue and have amazing views of the skyscrapers and lakefront. Want to know my favorite haunt?
The Blackstone Hotel on 636 S. Michigan Avenue is the most luxurious, historic, and charming hotel I have ever stayed at. I will tell you right now that when I did stay there my experience was nothing but blissful and I felt so pampered! Not only was the service impeccable, but the story behind this hotel is that of resilience, art, and a deep rooted history in Chicago.
From the exterior, the hotel is a stunning architectural marvel. Historical architectural firm, Marshall & Fox, designed this hotel with a contemporary feel of the time (1910) and since then the hotel has been renovated a few times. The current renovation has salvaged a lot of architectural details that were original to the hotel (how amazing!!).
My favorite part about this hotel is the history of star filled rooms. From Presidents like John F. Kennedy and President Eisenhower to stars like the Gish sisters (I found a newspaper article from 1918 saying they stayed there) to Ginger Rogers, popular Hollywood starts of the 20’s and 40’s. The hotel was also the spot of Al Capone’s famous barbershop, a space still standing today and part of the hotel!
As you can see, I take my historic Chicago sight seeing outfit very seriously
If you are a local and get a chance, definitely take advtangae of the free Open House Chicago tours of this splendid hotel. You’ll see the Presidential Suite, where it was rumored Marilyn Monroe was snuck out of a hidden door in a closet. Our you can see the magnificent ballroom, a place you’ll want to waltz your way across. But the historic spots are not the only thing to check out at the Blackstone Hotel.
The lobby, while also historic, has 4 wonderful lounge areas with all the amenities you could think of, including an old fashioned typewriter! Sit down, write a thank you note, love letter, or a furiously typed newspaper opinion piece. Enjoy a glass of Champagne as you relax on one of the Art Deco lounge chairs and read a book. Or simply work on your computer (or theirs) as you wait for your dinner at Mercat a a Planxa, a Spanish inspired restaurant.
Heavenly meets the 1920s? That’s the best way to describe these rooms. As soon as I walked into my room on the 22nd floor, I was blown away by how lovely it was. Modern yet historic, these rooms provide amazing views, comfort, and style. My bathroom has a TV in the mirror and I could not stop marveling at the view from the bed either. Check out some of the images below to see what I mean.
I was treated to a lovely suprise during my stay. The kind team at the Blackstone Hotel provided me with a customized picnic in the park goodie bag filled with delicious treats and sweets that included Garret’s Popcorn – a staple in Chicago, KitKat’s, gummy bears, a picnic blanket, and a delicious dinner from Mercat along with beverages and snacks for a movie in the park. Unfortunately it was raining out, so I had a movie in the bed instead!
I couldn’t pass an opportunity to show the world below my cat pajamas – hey, don’t laugh, I love cats. Check out this view below though from my other window. All that used to be just grass in the 1920s! Imagine nothing there but grass (minus the Art Institute)
Other lovely historic parts of this hotel were not so obvious. Sitting 1600 club for a late evening spot of decay coffee, I spied with my little eye and intriguing book. Upon opening it, I found a lovely inscription. Read if for yourself:
What an amazing piece of modern history! I’m half Polish so this was extra special to find while having my coffee so late in the evening. But what a find! You never know what gems you find in books. That’s why I always encourage others to let curiosity run free – you’ll learn so much as I did in just a few short seconds. This definitely made my night more cozy as I settled in.
Speaking of which, I slept like a baby despite an early morning appointment the next day and staying up for a late night jazz and blues show at nearby Buddy Guy Legends…where another surprise happened and I think perhaps the Blackstone Hotel rubbed some good luck off to me: Buddy Guy showed up! Which is why I don’t have any pictures of the place. His presence meant no pictures. It was an amazing experience and it is very evident that history is happening all around us.
The Blackstone Hotel is in a prime historical Chicago location. The South Loop was often one of the first neighborhoods Chicagoans visited, having Dearborn Station so close. This hotel was the pit stop and vacation destination of many great stars, politicians, and celebrities of the time. One could visit (and still can), all the best museums and shops Chicago has to offer just a few blocks away from the hotel.
I sit in the historic “English Room” a room literally transported from Britain to the hotel, complete with every imaginable details. It is said a ghost has travelled with the room to the hotel….I can report no ghost was seen nor heard during my stay. The room is perfectly peaceful and so are the suites.
Let me tell you something about visiting Chicago: the crowded spots are over rated and you don’t need to do the regular tourist thing. There are so many charming and wonderful places to visit during your stay here or even if you are a local. I would encourage anyone who graces Chicago to learn about it’s history. Chicago is more than just a Frank Sinatra inspired song, it’s a very important city that has a lot of tragedy, joy, and relevance in modern day America.
If you’re a history fanatic and you’re coming into town, the first place to start is the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago. This is my number 1 recommendation for visiting my beloved hometown. You’ll be treated like a starlet, you’ll bask in the history, and you’ll enjoy everything this wonderful city has to offer from this stunning hotel.
Until you stop by, I’ll be permenantly glued to the typewrite in the lobby. I desperately need practice. That thing is harder to type on that it seems.
Till next time….
For more information on The Blackstone Hotel, click here.
Follow the Blackstone Hotel on Instagram: @theblackstonehotel
Thank you The Blackstone Hotel for sponsoring this post