Midwestern Elegance


December 30, 2013 | BY Jon Braun

With the recent opening of The Langham, Chicago in a historic architectural structure, a new pinnacle of hotel service has been reached in one of the largest cities in the US

When people think of giant, sprawling metropolitan areas in the United States, two cities generally come to the forefront of the popular consciousness: New York conjures visions of Broadway and Fifth Avenue, while Los Angeles brings Hollywood glitz and glamour to mind. But between the two coasts lies a massive expanse of land comprising the so-called “Third Coast” – the Midwest.

With its roots in farming and industrial production, the Midwest is frequently sneered at as “flyover” territory in the minds of many urban dwellers. But Chicago, otherwise known as the Windy City, has long been a hidden gem for food, art, music and culture, and many are beginning to discover its multifarious charms.

Among the luminaries that arrived in Chicago to rebuild the city after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Widely considered one of the fathers of modern architecture, Mies developed a stark, skeletal “less is more” style of minimalism.

In the 31 years that Mies lived in Chicago, he designed a plethora of amazing structures. But the final design he completed in the US was at 330 North Wabash Avenue; Mies died in 1969 before construction began. The structure, completed in 1973, became the IBM Building, named for its largest tenant, and was redubbed the AMA Plaza this September. Located directly on the sparkling banks of the Chicago River, the 52-storey structure was listed on the US National Register of Historic Places in 2010, and has become a stunning project for Langham Hotels International under the umbrella of the Hong Kong-based Great Eagle Group.

Working directly with city authorities to preserve the building’s unique heritage, The Langham, Chicago opened in July and occupies the second through 13th floors, with the original Mies design elements and philosophy intact. Bob Schofield, managing director of The Langham, Chicago, explains, “The interesting thing is nobody knew we were building, because we were building within the exterior that’s always been here.”

Strolling into the sweeping ground floor lobby before heading up to check in at the second-floor reception, you’re immediately struck by the minimalist design elements, courtesy of architect Dirk Lohan, Mies’ grandson, who worked with the master on the original structureWherever you seem to end up in the 316-room hotel, natural light floods in via massive floor-to-ceiling windows. And from the moment you stroll into your suite, aside from the stunning views of the river as it flows in from Lake Michigan, you’re sure to be surrounded by modern yet understated elegance.

The 4,000 square foot Club Lounge on floor 12C is a wonderful place to start your journey, with private check-in facilities, all-day refreshments and shower facilities for international travellers with late departures. But what makes the Club Lounge truly rise above is the fact that it is staffed by trained butlers, who will make you feel as if you’re right at home among friends – and absolutely anything you need will be taken care of, whether it’s ironing, transportation arrangements, sightseeing recommendations or exclusive reservations.

You really can’t go wrong with any of the 316 room choices. At the top end is the two-bedroom Infinity Suite or Regent Suite, each measuring 2,700sqft. While the Regent Suite features a classical design with more traditional furnishings, the Infinity Suite is an Art Deco-inspired marvel, harkening to the bygone era of the 1940s.

Classic suites run from 960 square feet to 1,230 square feet, while the standard room is 516 square feet. The suites feature floor-to-ceiling windows, chaise lounges, a deep-soaking tub, separate rain shower and double sinks, among other amenities. Though the décor harkens to an earlier era, all the technological gadgets you might need are at the ready – high-speed in-room WiFi, 55-inch flatscreen TVs and Bose sound systems.

In Travelle, The Langham, Chicago’s restaurant, chef Tim Graham brings a contemporary approach to Mediterranean cuisines, featuring top-notch local ingredients and creative takes on classics from southern France to Turkey and beyond. Think flaming chicken saganaki and pita balloons, as well as some fantastic seafood-based dishes, eye-popping desserts and a 1,600-bottle wine list. In the words of Graham, “With Travelle, I want our diners to experience a culinary journey that offers exciting ports of calls.” Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the restaurant serves up excellent fare, while the 1960s-inspired bar and lounge features wonderful views of the skyline and the river. And don’t forget to drop in for the signature Tiffin at The Langham afternoon tea in the second-floor Pavilion Lounge – the first-such afternoon tea service available at a hotel of this calibre in the city.

After a long day of sightseeing, pamper yourself in the sprawling Chuan Spa, which takes up an entire floor and measures a jaw-dropping 16,000sqft, including sound-proofed treatment rooms, manicure and pedicure stations, fitness club, swimming pool and themed sauna rooms. Inspired by traditional Chinese medicine, the Chuan Spa treatments offer the ultimate in relaxation through aromatherapy, music and traditional massage techniques.

And what’s to see around the hotel? You could honestly spend days or weeks in the one-million-square-feet, 300,000-piece-strong Art Institute of Chicago. It’s a superlative among a number of stunning attractions in the area, including Navy Pier, Millennium Park, the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium. Want to know more about the historic architecture downtown? The Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises is a fantastic way to get your bearings. And in the Magnificent Mile, you’re just blocks away to shop ’til you drop on Michigan Avenue. That’s not to mention the amazing steakhouses and other food institutions in the Loop.

“We are trying to introduce a new concept – modern luxury,” says Schofield. “It’s been a while since the last luxury hotel was built. So I think it was time for another luxury property to come in and introduce a very modern, luxurious feel – not formal, not stuffy, sort of casual elegance, because that’s today’s world.” Even in the early stages of The Langham, Chicago, it’s clearly mission accomplished.