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Uncovering Chicago's Sleekest Hotel Lounges

Some of Chicago's most sleek and sophisticated cocktail lounges can be found in hotels. Here are six places to soak up the scene while remaining mere paces away from a good night's sleep.

Gone are the days when travellers had to settle for dreary bars at their hotels. The setup was always the same: a bar stocked with basic booze, background music more appropriate for the elevator and – if they were lucky – a tiny bowl or two filled with stale peanuts or pretzels.

Save for a few holdouts, that situation is pretty much a thing of the past in Chicago. The majority of hotels go out of their way to entice visitors (and locals, too) with sleek cocktail lounges that have easily become destinations in their own right. From Prohibition-era pubs to Polynesian-themed places to soak up the scene, there’s a host of fantastic spots to check out.

Coq d’Or (The Drake Hotel)

This Drake Hotel hot spot opened the day after Prohibition was repealed. The beautiful bar remains as influential and busy after all these years, and its setting takes you back to the effortlessly glam Roaring Twenties. Much of the original woodwork, fixtures and other design details are intact, and the bartenders have been there long enough to know how to make a proper martini. Visitors should get in the moment and order the bookbinder soup; it’s made with red snapper and has been served at Coq d’Or since Day One. There is live piano music on weekends.

140 E. Walton Pl., 312-787-2200

Courtesy The Broken Shaker

The tiki-inspired decor of The Broken Shaker is kitschy fun without being tacky.

The Broken Shaker (at the Freehand Hotel)

The Broken Shaker always seems to be open, and that’s a good thing when one is in the mood for something a little fancy and footloose earlier in the day. Located in the back of the lobby level of the Freehand Hotel, it’s a faux-tropical paradise that manages to be kitschy without being cheesy. There are images of pineapples stencilled on wallpaper and a laid-back nautical theme throughout the space. There is a cocktail and punch of the day, based on whatever the bartenders feel like shaking up, plus a number of seasonal sippers (think banana rum Manhattan, sherry cobbler) and local craft beer on draft. The menu runs the fanciness gamut, from devilled eggs and beef jerky all the way up to pan-roasted quail with potato confit. If in doubt, try the juicy burger featuring two griddled wagyu patties.  

19 E. Ohio St., 312-940-3699

J. Parker (Hotel Lincoln)

Hotel Lincoln is a sweet treat for Lincoln Park and its cherry on top is this rooftop lounge on the 13th floor. J. Parker is as slick as the rest of the modern boutique property. Its décor consists of svelte high-top tables mixed with low-slung sofas on the terrace, and cozier lounge furniture in the inside bar. With the recent addition of a retractable glass rooftop, J. Parker is now open year-round and makes a gorgeous venue for all sorts of seasonal celebrations. It boasts 360-degree views of the city, including the lake and the skyscrapers of downtown, and the food and drink menus are brimming with farm-to-table ingredients. That includes selections of Midwestern cheeses, salumi, and of course cocktails, such as the “feelin’ good,” made with bourbon, house-made apricot liqueur, rooibos tea and lemon. Weekends occasionally feature DJs spinning popular music.

1816 N. Clark St., 312-254-4747

Cherry Circle Room at The Chicago Athletic Association

Cherry Circle Room (Chicago Athletic Association Hotel)

Locals cannot stop talking about the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, which offers multiple drinking options on multiple levels. It’s hard to choose just one, but if you’re forced to do so, the Cherry Circle Room is undoubtedly the most sophisticated out of the bunch. The pre-Prohibition-era restaurant and cocktail lounge is ideal for date night and its appeal is apparent upon arrival. The booths in buttery-soft crimson leather entice guests to stay awhile as they settle in with dishes and drinks that are relatively antique but have been reinvented for modern times. For example, the steamed mussels are based on an 1890s recipe, and arrive topped with lobster broth, red curry and coconut. The cocktail menu is heavy on the classics, and there is also the option for tableside drink service so you can watch the skilled preparation of Manhattans, martinis and old fashioneds up close.

12 S. Michigan Ave., 844-312-2221

NoMi Kitchen (Park Hyatt)

It’s no exaggeration to say pretty much everyone has stayed at the Park Hyatt, from Sting and U2 to Jimmy Buffett. Eventually some of the stars make their way down to the bar, and hardly anyone ever leaves after just one drink. The sleek room overlooks the Magnificent Mile, and the lounge is always filled with shoppers with bags from Chanel, Gucci and Neiman Marcus. Guests may order the full menu of more formal plates or opt for sushi, oysters, or small plates of beef tartare, grilled flatbread or burrata with tomato jam. NoMi offers a cocktail list (diverse and contemporary). However, in-the-know imbibers come for its well-curated whisky and brandy selection and a long, robust wine list. Thanks to all of the above, NoMi has managed to stay atop Chicago’s hot list for a decade and counting.

800 N. Michigan Ave., 312-239-4030

The Pump Room (Hotel Public)

Speaking of high-profile stars, The Pump Room has played host to rock royalty, Hollywood elite, presidents, socialites, and other A-listers for more than 70 years. From Sinatra to Spike Lee, stars have booked “booth number one” to see and be seen. For everyone else, seats in the posh lounge or library are sufficient; the spaces have been modernized to attract fashionable, clubby types who make this their first stop before a late night out on the town. There are updated signature cocktails, such as a sour cherry old fashioned, as well as Pump Room classics (and classics you don’t see everyday, such as the Brazilian caipirinha, and the vesper, invented for James Bond by his creator, Ian Fleming). Light nosh options include whole wheat flatbreads with toppings like three cheeses, lobster and sweet corn, or black truffle and fontina cheese.

1301 N. State Pkwy., 312-229-6740

1. Coq D'Or; 2. Broken Shaker Chicago; 3. The J. Parker; 4. Cherry Circle Room; 5. NoMi Kitchen; 6. The Pump Room

Published Monday, October 26th 2015

Header image credit: Courtesy J. Parker



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