Monday, August 17, 2015

Hangin’ at the Blackstone

Our quick trip to Chicago was a blast! The Cirque show (Kurios) was definitely one of the best we’ve seen, with a great steampunk vibe. Lots of yummy hors d’oeuvres and plenty of champagne, and our VIP experience was very enjoyable.

Something we tried for the first time was Uber, and we are both sold. We were able to find rides almost immediately, rather than waiting forever to try to flag down a cab.

Our one-night home was the Blackstone Hotel, now formally called the Renaissance Blackstone (a Marriott property™), right on Michigan Avenue (AKA the Magnificent Mile). We loved the location, breezing right in off of Lake Shore Drive and finding it immediately. (Our exit on Sunday was equally as painless. No traffic jams, even with the Chicago Air and Water Show going on!) Upon our check-in, I was commenting to the desk clerk what a beautiful hotel it was. He gave me a little information on its history and I was absolutely fascinated! I had to look it up to learn more.

It was constructed in 1908-1910 and is an amalgam of Beaux-Art and Second Empire architecture styles. It has played host to numerous presidents, including the acronyms FDR and JFK. It experienced its ups and downs over the years, especially during the Depression, and one of the owners was the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi—yes, the guy who the Beatles became enamored of! He hoped to convert the building to luxury condos, but was unable to secure financing and eventually sold the property. Hey, I guess even the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment takes a back seat when you’re trying to make a buck!

The Blackstone lays claim to the origin of the phrase “smoke-filled room” when a journalist covering the nomination process of the Republican party to choose Warren G. Harding as its nominee used it to describe the room where the decision was made. The phrase survives to indicate clandestine political machinations.

The hotel closed in 2000 after it failed to pass an OSHA inspection, and it remained closed for several years before Marriott bought the property. The years of neglect took their toll, with the interior and exterior in extreme disrepair. Vandals broke in and removed many of the original fixtures and furnishings. An extensive renovation, including the terra cotta exterior, to the tune of $128 million was undertaken. Many of the original fixtures were found and purchased on eBay (!!) and there are very few modern fixtures in the lobby.

Two guest rooms were preserved during the renovation: the 9th-floor “smoke-filled room” and the 10th-floor presidential suite. Next time we go, I hope I can ask to see those rooms!

The Renaissance Blackstone is both a Chicago Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.

On a personal note, I can tell you that we had a wonderful stay. I tweeted about our check-in at this historical hotel, and the hotel liked it and retweeted. The next day, the hotel tweeted that they hoped we had a wonderful time at the Cirque show the previous night. Well, I’m going to assume it was the clerk who checked us in that was doing the tweeting...I would hope that the Blackstone hasn’t become a sentient being! (Shades of The Overlook!) Our room on the 20th floor gave us a great view of Lake Michigan and Buckingham Fountain. It was a lovely sight on a beautiful weekend, and we had plenty of looks as the Blue Angels buzzed over the lake and around the shore area. Our late lunch in the hotel restaurant was also very nice (mmm, that sangria flight was so good!), and the staff couldn’t have been more friendly.

It’s not an inexpensive place to stay, but it really was a great experience and considering my love of historic buildings, it was very special to me to learn of its historic status. We’ve decided that we now have two go-to hotels: the Majestic for anything near Wrigleyville and the Blackstone for pretty much anything else.

Thank you, Blackstone, for such a wonderful stay! It was a pleasure to stay in such a historic place and to learn more about this beautiful building. We’ll be back!

(Interior photo: me. Exterior photos via Wikipedia. Click to embiggenate.)


  1. i had to go to a convention there when tony and i were dating. we stayed in gary and took the train in. i snuck him in so we could eat the bountiful breakfast buffet together and then i went to seminars and he expolored the city. it really is a neat place.


  2. ...I will have to fabricate a reason to get KT to come to visit so we can check out the hotel... and more than likely visit some friends in Indiana..!

  3. It was a great weekend get-a-way!


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