Where to Rest Your Head in Millennium Park, Chicago

If you read my previous post, you already know i’ve spent a fair amount of time in Chicago. While that time is limited to the area surrounding Millennium Park, i’ve been there enough to have some strong opinions on where to stay as well as a couple of eating suggestions.

There are a lot of hotels in this area. I’ve stayed at the Hotel Monaco, the Hard Rock Hotel, the Fairmont and a few others that i can’t remember off the top of my head. The Fairmont, if you have access to a corporate rate, is hands down the best. The property is well maintained (read: clean, everything works), the beds are comfy and the linens are clean and crisp. The gym on-site is SPECTACULAR and the restaurant, Aria, is also rumored to be excellent and quite the spot for night life.

If you don’t have a corporate account, or prefer a boutique hotel, the Hotel Monaco is terrific. Again, the rooms are clean, the beds are extremely comfy and the linens are generally in good condition. The staff is always unbelievably helpful, like they have actually been trained in customer service. South Water Kitchen, the hotel’s restaurant is great. It’s low-key compared to Aria but you can never go wrong with this place if you need a solid location for a meeting. My only compliant is they don’t have a fitness center.

I’ve stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel on three occasions and have to say, i will never stay here again. I’m old enough to remember when HRC was synonymous with quality and fun. I get the brand is about bringing the ‘rock star persona’ to life but every time i’m here, it falls so incredibly short on just basic stuff. On this occasion, my bathroom smelled like bleach, the shower was in serious need of a sand blast, the walls had scratches and the furniture had clearly seen better days.

This shower has clearly seen better (and cleaner) days
This shower has clearly seen better (and cleaner) days

Generally, i’m not a complainer especially if i’m traveling at the request of a client. After three stays, i just cannot recommend this hotel to anyone visiting Chicago. IMO, i think this hotel is still in business because guests are staying as part of a conference package, getting a discount. There is just no other reason to stay here.

I did not mention the above complaints upon check in. I figured it was no big deal. However, after complaining about the state of the room for the third time to my S.O., i realized how upset i was. When i checked out, the staff was indifferent to the concerns i shared. Ultimately, this is why i can not recommend this hotel to anyone. If the best the staff can muster is, “oh”, i’ll take my business and my recommendations elsewhere.

This damaged furniture is another example why my stay at the HRH was a total bummer. Shoddy all around
This damaged furniture is another example why my stay at the HRH was a total bummer. Shoddy all around

On a more positive note, if you are in the Millennium Park area, i suggest heading to Pastoral Artisan for a salad or sandwich. The vibe at this place is great and the sandwiches are delicious.

Pastoral Artisan, a fave causal lunch place in Chicago
Pastoral Artisan, a fave causal lunch place in Chicago

If you get there before the lunch crowd, there are a few tables in the restaurant. Another place i always find myself at is The Gage. This is a popular destination for happy hour and can get loud. Don’t let that deter you, it’s great for dinner. I’ve taken clients, co-workers or eaten at the bar myself and never been disappointed. My most recent dinner was Mussels Vindaloo with a Pinot Nero. Delicious!

Out (and sort of about) in the Windy City

Throughout my professional career (and at this point, it’s longer than i want to admit), i’ve traveled to Chicago for work. Every visit has been fantastic. On various trips i have been fortunate enough to visit Navy Pier, shop the “Mag Mile” and West Loop areas, and attend cooking school.

But over the years, i found my trips were limited to the same 10 block radius and realized i had never actually done much outside of my formal meeting schedule. If you travel for work you know how backwards this is. You fly in, meet, work, meet, check email, and fly out. If it’s an overnight trip you fly in, meet, work, meet, check email, meet for dinner, entertain, crash from exhaustion, get up, exercise, rinse and repeat.

I was back in Chicago last week for a conference. Since a 2013 goal of mine was to get out and see more when i travel for work, i was determined to break the typical cycle.

With that in mind, there are two things I have always wanted to do in Chicago. 1: Walk through Millennium Park. It has bothered the hell out of me that i was here on a regular basis for four years, working right across the street from this park, and never once walked through it.

After my meetings ended on Tuesday, i took a leisurely stroll through the park. It’s quick, takes 10-15 minutes at a brisk pace (making it even more pathetic that i never did this before). What i loved most about my walk was finally getting to see “the bean.”

"The Bean" in Millennium Park Chicago
“The Bean” in Millennium Park Chicago

It’s just a bean in the park, but it’s cool. It’s also symbolic of Chicago (to me at least) because there are all kinds of sculpture art around the city. I know other cities (NYC, Minneapolis even Washington DC) do stuff like this. It just stands out more in Chicago.

The bean looks a littler funkier from underneath
The bean looks a littler funkier from underneath

The second thing i’ve always wanted to do is go to the Sears/Hancock/Willis tower sky deck and stand on the glass balcony overlooking Chicago. Yeah, this is total tourist stuff. But i have a deep rooted, irrational fear of falling. I love views but the fear of falling has bordered on near paralysis at times. I wanted to do this to push myself waaaaay out of my comfort zone and see if i can start overcoming this fear.

Mother Nature, could have cared less, and sent the biggest, baddest storm to Chicago. There was hail, thunder, lightening and rumor has it the Causeway was closed as well as some schools. Total bummer.

This image does not even begin to capture the rain and how fast it came down. But hopefully you get the idea
This image does not even begin to capture the rain and how fast it came down. But hopefully you get the idea

While i fell short on my wish list, i think i get an A for effort. When i’m back in Chicago what should be on my to-do list?