by Rebecca Holland
If I could live in hotels, I might. (Actually, I kind of do, but that’s beside the point). The beds are always nicer than mine, and the bathrooms much more spacious. There are plush towels and oversized bathrobes. There are individualized coffees which aren’t always great, but somehow taste better because they’re sipped in said bathrobe. Not to mention room service, gyms, pools, restaurants, TV channels I don’t pay for at home, and the fact that I don’t have to clean. Best of all, they remind me of vacation, even when I’m in my own city. This was never so true as last month at the Conrad, a new addition to Chicago’s hotel scene.
On a frigid Friday afternoon I checked into the Conrad and settled into a warm (in temperature and hue), modern room with views of the city, which didn’t look so miserable from inside. Before indulging in a bath and the mini bar I forced myself to go to the gym, which is huge for a hotel gym, and full of really nice equipment. Workout complete, I rewarded myself with wine while soaking in the tub and getting ready for dinner.
Baptiste & Bottle, the modern American restaurant with a focus on bourbon and provisions, sits on the 20th floor of the hotel, with views over Michigan Avenue. I can’t tell you what to order, because everything I had was incredible, but I’m sure everything else is as well. I can tell you that the spaetzle and duck confit, cheddar and chive biscuits, and crudo were favorites.
Our waiter was great, too. Cajoling enough to show you a good time and talk you into maybe one more glass of wine than needed, but never pushy. We started with sparkling, then moved on to cocktails, then red. The bourbon program looks pretty incredible, and I’m looking forward to going back for some of the tasting flights soon. If you get a cocktail, go for one of the ones made tableside on a bar cart. I felt like a kid in a science class watching the dry ice swirl around my glass, and I was that obnoxious person who couldn’t help taking videos (don’t kid yourself–you’ll want it on your Instastory too).
The best part of staycations? After eating and drinking too much you can take an elevator right up to your room and sink into a plush bed with perfectly tucked sheets.
Aside from using the hotel gym, restaurant, and other amenities to their fullest, another staycation rule is to try to see your city with fresh eyes. Whether you live in Chicago or are visiting, the Conrad makes it easy to explore with their 1/3/5 experiences. The curated one, three, and five hour itineraries show you the best of the city’s art, food, and culture from a local’s perspective. Well, I am a local, but I was excited to try them out all the same. Peter Jon Lindberg, Conrad’s Director of Inspiration (coolest title ever, right?), says the hotel came up with the 1/3/5 itineraries while thinking about how people today use hotels and concierge services.
“Time is the ultimate luxury. It’s the last scarce resource we really have. Whether you’re traveling for leisure or business or a bit of both, for today’s traveler, that’s the one thing you really can’t get enough of,” he says. “We wanted to speak to travelers in their language. People want to explore on their own, and they want to know what can fit into their time frame.”
So, say you have an hour and you’re really into art. You can sort by interest or time to find a gallery you might otherwise have missed. Whether you’re looking for boutique shopping between meetings or a place for cocktails with friends, there’s an itinerary that gives you a distinctly Chicago option, without feeling predictable or touristy. I learned about several local shops I’d never heard of before, and finally made it to the Office, the speakeasy underneath the Aviary.
The best part of these itineraries is that you can find them on the Conrad website anytime. You don’t have to stop and talk to the concierge (though if you want reservations or tickets, they’re still better at getting them than you), and you don’t even have to be a hotel guest to get inspiration for your next trip.
Lindberg worked as a full-time travel writer for years, and still contributes to CN Traveler, so he tackled itinerary creation for the 28 Conrad hotels around the world as he would any travel writing assignment.
“I go to a city and find out what makes it tick,” he says.
He tapped local tastemakers, chefs, food writers, city experts, boutique owners, fashion industry influencers, and hoteliers, and of course spent lots and lots of time in each city in order to be able to create itineraries that really do feel like insider tips. From biking on the lakefront to exploring Logan Square’s cocktail scene, the experiences are all things I would, or have, recommended to visitors who want to see Chicago from a local perspective.
To this end, it was refreshing to me that the itineraries didn’t include some of the more iconic Chicago sights. Not that they’re not worth visiting, because they are, but you don’t need yet another guide to tell you that. This omission was intentional.
“We didn’t want these to be exhaustive, comprehensive, definitive guides,” Lindberg says. “We’re leaving out a lot of major tourist sights because you’re going to go those places on your own. We were deliberately super selective, and if you want more, see the concierge.”
There are a few classic Chicago sights, like Wrigley Field, but the Conrad offers insider tips:
“Where to sit? We prefer the left-field side, so the sun isn’t glaring in our eyes. Just beyond third base is the Cubs’ bullpen, which isn’t even a proper pen but a strip of unenclosed grass and dirt right beside the stands. (You could reach out and grab one of John Lackey’s warm-up pitches. Don’t.) To eat? A Wrigley Field Smoky—smoked-beef sausage—garnished with tomato wedges, neon-green relish, and fiery-hot sports peppers. The peppers singe like a sunburn, but they’re obligatory. During the singalong, It’s “root, root, root for the Cuuuuub-bies,” not “home team.” And should you be in the outfield and lucky enough to catch a visiting-team home run, THROW THE BALL BACK. Your seatmates will be pleased.”
That’s great advice.
“I love all the cities where Conrad is, and to be able to talk directly to guests and share that with an excited audience is great,” Lindberg says. “I hope it’s inspiring people to both check out destinations they’re not familiar with, or rediscover destinations they already know.”
Checking out of the Conrad was bittersweet. I was sad to leave such a comfortable bed and inviting hotel, but reinvigorated to explore my city. Outside of Chicago, I have a lot of travel coming up in the next few months, and will definitely be checking out the 1/3/5 itineraries for cities across Asia and the Middle East. “Never just stay. Stay inspired,” the Conrad’s website reads. A motto any traveler can get behind.