Even before the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel Chicago was known as the Playboy Towers (Hugh Hefner owned the hotel in the 1970s), the rumor was that when prohibition reigned, Al Capone’s brother operated a casino and speak-easy on the Penthouse (14th) Floor of this 1927 Chicago landmark. Today, the hotel—a member of the Historic Hotels of America and part of the worldwide Millennium Hotel and Resorts group–seems fairly quiet and perhaps even a little tired compared to those undoubtedly crazy and frantic days.
Then again, there’s also no need to go to its 14th floor for alcohol anymore either. A beautiful horseshoe-shaped Martini Bar (50 variations of the cocktail) is one of the focal points when you step inside the classic old hotel lobby here—along with a gorgeous piano (there’s music on certain nights).
Its unassuming check-in desk is off to the lobby’s other side (you’ll see the concierge desk before you’ll see where check-in takes place) and seems almost like an afterthought—or at worst, a coat-check space.
But staff is friendly and more small-town helpful than I expected in a big city hotel. As I was having a martini in the lobby bar, the manager walked through and wondered if everything was okay—a nice touch (asking other guests too). In fact, the midweek night was so quiet, that later when my companion and I were asking at the bar about the history of the hotel, the head bartender who had worked there more than a decade took us on a quick tour (we saw the 14th floor, plus the iconic Crystal Ballroom–with one of the largest lighted dance floors in the city).
Still, it’s obvious the hotel’s location– a half a block from Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, 360 CHICAGO (formerly known as the John Hancock Observatory), and steps from Lake Michigan– keeps it busy and still remains its biggest draw. It’s in the heart of the city’s best shopping, dining and nightlife.
Like many historic properties, the elevators are smaller and the hallways more narrow and dark. There are 306 rooms and suites; my room (a Superior Double) was simply furnished and decorated—in a rather dated harvest gold color scheme—with a few pops of royal maroon accent color. I loved the hot pink upholstered chair (two would have been even nicer) though– even if it seemed out of place. Two comfortable beds had luxe Frette linens, and there was a 40” flatscreen television (a refrigerator and coffeemaker in the credenza below) and desk against another wall. My room was clean, good for sleeping, but rather dark and drab– not exactly a room you’d want to hang out for long in. The fact that wi-fi cost $10.95 a day (it was complementary in the lobby) made it even less attractive to spend time in.
The updated all granite bathroom was lovely and bright, however, and cozy bathrobes were provided, along with thick towels. There was plenty of sink counter space and a great rainfall showerhead with tub.
The NIX is the restaurant onsite, with a bright, welcoming vibe—serving up good food, and great coffee. For a really sweet treat, step outside and almost next door is Hendrickx Belgian Bakery—where you can not only indulge on freshly made pastries and croissants, but you can watch them being made.
Room rates start at $169 for a Standard King, which is a great price—considering hotel’s fantastic location in downtown Chicago. For more information, check the website. You can also check rates on Travelocity, Expedia and Priceline.
Review and photos by Donna Tabbert Long