Traveler: Virgin Hotels Debuts in Chicago

Richard Branson’s new hotel spin-off opened today.
A boozy tea party, cheap mini-bars—Richard Branson has apparently thought of everything. His new Loop-sited Virgin Hotel in Chicago (from $205/night; 203 N. Wabash Ave., 312-940-4400) is the megabrand’s first, and with it, the British visionary aims to restyle guest accommodations by creating the kind of place where he’d want to stay.

While the Old Dearborn Bank Building’s original bronze elevators and Art Deco finishes remain, other features have been repurposed as something entirely modern. Visitors check in (via iPad) at an oversized cigar case, and the reception area’s light fixture is made of trumpets. The 250 guestrooms (sorry, “chambers”) strive for a pied-a-terre feel, with big sliding doors dividing the dressing area and bath from the sleeping quarters. Thoughtful details include rainfall showerheads, beds that double as lounge seating with ergonomic headboards and footboards, and bargain mini-bars in retro-style iceboxes. The Commons Club houses a futuristic suspended bar and hosts the Upside Down Tea Party on weekends, serving tipsy drinks in teacup-topped stemware. There’s also a spa, a diner, a rooftop lounge, and the cheeky “Shag Room,” which partitions off for meetings and concerts by Virgin Records artists (or what have you).

Also new in Chicago, Grant Achatz’s avant-garde restaurant Alinea (1723 N. Halsted St., 312-867-0110) has freshened up its look just in time for its 10th anniversary. And local institution Pops for Champagne is expanding into Wicker Park with Spanish-style Bom Bolla (1501 N. Milwaukee Ave., 312-266-7677), boasting the country’s largest cava selection.


Drive Time: 3 hours

Browse: With 200 sellers, the June 6–7 Printers Row Lit Fest is billed as the Midwest’s largest free outdoor book festival.

Indulge: Ralph Lauren’s daughter launched the newest Dylan’s Candy Bar on the Mag Mile in May.

Peep: The World Naked Bike Ride flashes through the West Loop on June 13.