800 S. Michigan Ave.
Chicago Illinois 60605United States
Midwest Living Recommends
A 2011 renovation has given a chic veneer to this affordable, historic property known for its stunning indoor pool and rooftop patio.
From Essex Inn, travelers can walk to Chicago's museum campus, Soldier Field, Buckingham Fountain and Millennium Park -- plus see all of that postcard-perfect scenery, as well as glittering Lake Michigan, from their rooms. The 254-room, 15-story hotel is one block south of the storied Palmer House Hilton but comes with cheaper rates, fresh styling -- and what might possibly be the smallest bathrooms we've seen this side of the Atlantic. Our 10th-floor king room included new steel desk lamps with square shades and tiny reading lamps attached to the headboard. The bed itself was not as soft as we'd expect after a renovation, but we loved the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lakefront. And while you had to straddle the toilet to open and close the bathroom door, the counter was marble-look granite. The star amenity here is the glass-enclosed indoor pool and adjacent rooftop patio on the fourth floor. The lounge chairs have overstuffed cushions and roomy tables, and you can find more of the same on the beautifully landscaped rooftop patio. A towering glass ceiling encloses the pool for a sophisticated feel. Peak season room rates start at $139, plus $37 a night to valet park, which is actually a bit cheaper than you'll pay at most of Chicago's downtown hotels. Basic Wi-Fi is free; fast Wi-Fi is $8.95 a night. The hotel's new restaurant, Tribute, opened in July 2011 and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. We stopped in for breakfast and found absolutely outstanding service that accompanied a overpriced typical hotel breakfast. We tried the challah French toast, which was served on top of a banana puree that tasted fine, but we couldn't bring ourselves to each much of it since it was a funky brown-gray color and had a baby-food-like texture. The side of bacon was thick-cut, and the restaurant serves Chicago's Intelligentsia coffee, which was excellent. For this, plus a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice and a bowl of fresh fruit, we paid $34 with tip. Whoa. We'd stay at Essex Inn again, but would skip breakfast in favor of Eleven City Diner three blocks south.