21 East Bellevue Place, 312-266-2100, thompsonchicago.com. 247 rooms from $229 (U.S.).
"You ladies look like you're going shopping," says a gentleman in a chipper Midwestern twang as our elevator descends to the lobby of the new Thompson Hotel in Chicago.
You'd think it was a sexist remark (we are, in fact, headed out to take in some of the city's finest architectural specimens) except that the hotel is smack in the middle of the city's swanky retail district, and almost everyone staying here enters with armfuls of pretty paper shopping bags.
If you're in town to show your credit card a good time, then the Thompson's perch between the designer boutique strips on North Rush Street and Michigan Avenue (otherwise known as the Magnificent Mile) is ideal. Less than five minutes from your bedroom door are Barneys, Saint Laurent, Jil Sander, Hermès and Vera Wang. Still in walking distance are Eataly, the much-buzzed-about Italian food emporium from Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich, and the departure dock for the city's beloved architectural boat tours.
Once home to the Sutton Hotel, the building has been updated by British designer Tara Bernerd, whose hand is apparent in the lobby's blend of industrial (a black iron and brass mesh staircase), elegant (velvet upholstery) and rustic touches (beamed ceilings, fireplace and timber panelling). Wander into the gorgeous Salone Nico bar and enjoy the lush, succulent touch of its green living wall.
The Thompson is a stylish place to rest your stiletto-weary feet between outings, but aside from the Ren toiletries and complementary Intelligentsia coffee in the lobby, amenities are minimal. One big perk: free car service around downtown Chicago.
Eat in or eat out?
Eat in. Italian seafood restaurant Nico Osteria is on the bucket list of every serious eater in the city. It's one of Chicago's hottest reservations, so make sure you have one and order the Neapolitan-style ragu. Part of its allure: The chef is Paul Kahan (his 19,000-plus Twitter followers will give you an idea of his celebrity) and it's operated by One Off Hospitality Group, which is behind some of the city's buzziest rooms, including taco joint Big Star, cocktail lounge Violet Hour and Avec wine bar.
If I could change one thing
While the rooms are modern and fresh with views of Lake Michigan and the city, there is one kink the new property needs to work out. I barely slept for the first night (despite the deluxe Sferra Italian linens) thanks to the room's heating/AC unit, which clicked and clacked loudly. The hotel's staff hadn't heard the complaint before and repaired it the next day. On the third night, relocated to a new room after a flight cancellation, the clicking and clacking resumed.
Whom you'll meet
If there's a convention (the hotel has 12,225 square feet of meeting and function space), the lobby will be teaming with creative-class business types in designer suits and Louboutins. There's a steady stream of couples venturing back from the Magnificent Mile (she'll be toting a Louis Vuitton, he'll be tired). Come the weekend, Salone Nico fills with patrons waiting for a table at the hotel's Nico Osteria.
The writer was a guest of the hotel.