Imagine disembarking from a Virgin America flight and checking in at Hotel Meh. Now imagine extending the vibe at a Virgin Hotel. It’s like business travel surround-sound. Or at least that’s what Virgin Hotels is betting on.
The Virgin Hotel Chicago celebrated its grand opening April 16 (after the industry practice of a soft opening January 15). Richard Branson added an extra dose of fun to the event, which I attended with great curiosity, courtesy of Virgin America.
The four-star property is not necessarily posh, but if you’re looking for a spicy place to stay, Virgin will certainly fit the bill while still being business-friendly and well-located at the corner of Wabash and Lake. The hotel offers 250 guest rooms, including 38 one-bedroom suites and two penthouse suites; rooms run about $210 and up. Rates vary based on demand, but in May, we found them in the $250-$350 per night range.
Here are six cheeky features to check out at the Virgin Hotel Chicago:
Your room flirts with you. This is a hotel that does not take itself too seriously. From red ear plugs offered on your pillow (with a note: If you didn’t have one “L” of a sleep, put a plug in it) to a little rubber lamb that looks over your shampoo in the shower, there’s plenty to smile at. The bed’s “playpen” design is patent-pending: white leather upholstery wraps the headboard and just one corner of the foot, inviting hangouts (or whatever).
The minibar will make you smile. When in the history of travel has that ever happened? A bright-red, retro SMEG fridge is adorable, but the real thrill is that the fare is reasonably priced. Just $1 for M&Ms? Shocking! The same can be said of in-room dining.
Old and new play together. The 1930s Art Deco building was formerly the Old Dearborn Bank and operated as an office building until Virgin swept it off its feet. Original gilded features of the building sit with confidence next to irreverent pop décor. Case in point, the front desk is a 1920s cigar bar, topped with cheeky checkin screens. Red, red, red dominates.
Even tech is sassy here. Lucy, the hotel’s app (iOS and Android), will assist you, from controlling the thermostat to ordering room service. All done humorously. Wi-Fi is blazingly fast, free and no login required, and no paying extra for a faster connection (bless ’em!). Need to run an errand? The house car is a stunning black Tesla.
You’re granted instant access to a swanky club. The entire second floor of the hotel is dominated by a series of spaces that add up to what Virgin calls the Commons Club, where happy hour is hosted nightly. My favorite space within was the round Shag Room, right out of Austin Powers.
Virgin knows how to thumb its nose at The Man. The hotel ran into a roadblock with development of Miss Ricky’s, its street-level diner. The restaurant was intended to be 24/7, until the City of Chicago reminded Virgin that 24-hour establishments are a no-no. We’ll show you, said Virgin: The restaurant is open 23 hours a day.
The grand opening was a colorful splash, true to Virgin form. At noon, Wabash Ave. was closed off as a crowd of passersby, guests and celebrities curiously awaited what they only were told to expect as #BransonsDayOff.
Sure enough, the parade scene of Ferris Bueller fame was recreated, complete with Richard Branson emerging from a circle of buxom German fräuleins to sing Twist and Shout. That evening, the entire hotel was overtaken by a rockin’ multi-floor party, and the next morning guests could receive an IV drip treatment from The IV Doc, fluids laced with vitamins to heal a hangover or jet lag. I settled for a B12 injection. (Yes, I let a total stranger—a pretty nurse dressed in black, no less—give me an injection in the Shag Room.)
Before the trip I wondered if I might be a tad too old for the hotel’s brand of humor aimed at millennials. But I felt quite comfortable even at, er, 39. If your loyalty program isn’t the biggest factor in your hotel selection, you’ll find Virgin an appealing choice for a trip to Chicago. Next up is a property on Nashville’s Music Row (2016), then New York in hot NoMad (2017), both new builds.
Rumors swirl of a possible Virgin Hotel in San Francisco, but for now they remain just rumors.
Have you experienced the Virgin Hotel in Chicago? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.
Disclosure: Nancy Branka was a guest of Virgin America at this event.
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