Sir Richard Branson is busy making his mark on the hospitality industry. The founder of Virgin Group owns Necker Island, a private-island resort in the British Virgin Islands, and just opened the world's first Virgin Hotel in downtown Chicago (others are being planned for New York City and Nashville). Decked out in the brand’s signature cherry-red hue, the 250-room, 26-floor hotel is an entertainment mecca. We checked in for this report.
What’s Hot: The extensive list of entertainment and culinary options, including a spa, a restaurant, two bars (including one on the roof), a speakeasy, a wine and coffee bar, and an entertainment space for comedy, live music, and burlesque shows.
Best Feature: The Commons Club, a cozy second-floor space, that hosts all guests during a nightly hour of drinks beginning at 7 p.m. We love it for its bookshelves lined with quirky knickknacks, a private room with ‘70s-style sectionals, and innovative cocktails. Need more personal service? Just use LUCY -- the hotel’s own mobile app -- to do things like book dinner reservations, chat with the concierge, or control your room’s temperature.
The Rooms: Here, rooms are dubbed "chambers," where sleeping and dressing areas -- fully equipped with a vanity and slipper chair -- can be sectioned off using pocket doors. Goods in the mini bar are on the affordable side, including $1 for a can of Coca-Cola and $3 for a can of Chicago’s own Goose Island beer. Next to the bed is a pour-over coffee brewer, and the java is from Bow Truss Coffee Roasters. WiFi is free.
The Food: There are two dining options on site, both at street level. Miss Ricky’s bridges British fare with classic Chicago-diner cuisine (think: hot crab and shrimp dip as a starter or chicken and broccoli casserole), but there is also all-day breakfast and decent wine. In Two Zero Three, find coffee, espresso drinks, and decadent pastries. Good to know: Pastries are half-off after 3 p.m., and $10 wine flights are available at happy hour.
Who Will Like It: Solo travelers craving human contact will enjoy all of the hotel’s social and common areas. Spa-loving gals on a girlfriend getaway or culture-seeking travelers (as both the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago are within a mile) can be very happy here. It's a pet-friendly property, too, so guests with pups won't have to worry about leaving Fido home.
Who Might Not: The hotel tends to attract adults, so families with young children may want to look elsewhere.
Nearby: Just two blocks south of the Chicago River, the hotel is a 10-minute walk from the Art Institute of Chicago and Millennium Park. The Chicago Cultural Center (where you can see free art exhibits and cultural performances) is three blocks away, while River North -- the city's hottest dining neighborhood -- is directly north, across the river.
Rates, Deals, and Special Offers: We found rates from $235 to $279 for weekends in April and from $261 for weeknights in May. This is an affordable option when compared to neighboring luxury boutique hotels like Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago and The Gwen, a Luxury Collection Hotel, where nightly rates are from $340 to $400.
Connect: Follow the hotel on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Getting There: Fly into either Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport or Midway International Airport and hop a taxi for $30 to $40 one way. The CTA’s ‘L’ train also services both airports (Blue Line from O’Hare and Orange Line from Midway) and downtown Chicago.