Traveler: Chicago’s Sports-Themed Hotels

Time for a Cubs game? These hotels steeped in sports nostalgia will win you over.

The broken-in sneakers on the wall? An athlete once laced those up. The bleacher seating in the lobby? Stomped by fans in Chicago gymnasiums for decades. The wooden tennis rackets rainbowing across the cafe, the vintage bowling-alley booth, the clocks with round caged faces? All salvaged. The nostalgic sports
installations at FieldHouse Jones ($195 per night) aren’t replicas. They’re the real deals, and co-owner Mike Downing, who has an antiques background, drew up a bunch of different plays for using these found icons of leisure creatively throughout the boutique hotel.

Chicago’s parks system once contained a network of fieldhouses that served as nerve centers for community recreation year-round. Teddy Roosevelt called them “the most notable civic achievement in any American city.” Downing and partner Robert Baum wanted to pay homage to that bygone era. They started with a former Borden Dairy Depot, stout as ever with three floors of brick construction in what is now an area near River North and Old Town. The layout follows the current hyper-local model for boutique hotels: cafe up front, unobtrusive check-in desk in the back. The lower level is a game room, dominated by a custom-made slot-car track. Rooms have bunks along with queen beds, open lockers instead of closets, and industrial-style washrooms. One suite even has a triple-decker bunk. Bingo cards and dartboards are displayed as decoration. Downing puzzled together a collage of old leather equipment and game boards for a massive art piece. The one thing he couldn’t pull off? Laying a cinder track surface in the hallways. You win some, you lose some.

A sister property, The Wheelhouse Hotel ($300 per night), is located a block from Wrigley Field. This hotel ups the sophistication quotient with more luxurious appointments and makes liberal use of baseball bats in the decor. For a Cubs-weekend getaway, either place hits a grand slam.

Fernandez began writing for Indianapolis Monthly in 1995 while studying journalism at Indiana University. One of her freelance assignments required her to join a women's full-tackle football team for a season. She joined the staff in 2005 to edit IM's ancillary publications, including Indianapolis Monthly Home. In 2011, she became a senior editor responsible for the Circle City section as well as coverage of shopping, homes, and design-related topics. Now the director of editorial operations, she lives in Garfield Park.