Find comfort, style, friendliness and history all in the same place in the Kimpton Gray Chicago – the world’s first skyscraper.
If you were asked what is Chicago famous for, what would you say? It’s a city that’s done so much. But perhaps its most enduring contribution to modern life (as well as Ferris – the wheel and Beuller) is the skyscraper.
In 1871, Chicago saw the worst fire it’s ever suffered. But from the ashes of the city, engineer William Le Baron Jenney built the New York Life Building in 1894 on La Salle and Monroe Streets.
At 141ft (47m), this 12-storey building dwarfed its tallest rival by 31m and seven floors.
Fast forward 125 years or so and the New York Life Building still stands proudly on its corner. It’s by no means the city’s tallest building anymore – in fact its title was taken the year after its completion by another of Jenney’s designs: the Home Insurance Building a couple of streets away.
It’s also no longer insurance offices.
In place of meeting rooms and cubicles, the Kimpton Gray Hotel Chicago has brought back the splendour of yesteryear with a lively, friendly, chic vibe that makes you want to stay far longer than your booking.
Check out our walkthrough video of the Kimpton Gray Hotel here:
Where to stay in Chicago – the Kimpton Gray Hotel
Right in the heart of Chicago’s Financial District – a part of Chicago the city’s worked hard to activate in recent years – the Kimpton Gray Hotel is the ideal location for visitors wanting to be right in the middle of it all.
This hotel is so suited to the Loop – a district hugged by the main and southern branches of the Chicago River – and it’s full of great places to eat, drink, shop and be entertained.
From beautiful parks, the river and of course Lake Michigan to art galleries, museums and another iconic tall building – the Willis Tower – are all on your doorstep at the Kimpton Gray… that is if you ever feel the need to go outside!
The foyer and reception
There are two entrances to this beautiful hotel – either on Monroe Street, where concierge will help you in or La Salle, through one of Chicagoans’ favourite things: a revolving door!
Both entrances greet you with striking balustraded staircases that lead up to reception, and of course both have elevators.
The reception is tucked away off one of the most beautiful corridors you’ll find in a hotel. Shimmering mosaic tiled floors, marble walls and art deco lighting leads you down to the check-in desk.
We found service to be incredibly personable and go-out-of-your-way helpful. There’s even a little bowl of water for your thirsty pet – Kimpton hotels pride themselves on being pet friendly.
Although there’s no porter service (unless you ask for help), there are bellboys who help with the multitude of lifts that take you up to your room.
Next door to reception is the lounge, where you can relax and enjoy the remarkably quick and reliable free wifi. Here the hotel hosts a nightly happy hour for guests – though the hotel calls it ‘Social Hour’ – where you can grab a free drink between 5-6pm.
Each Kimpton hotel has a slightly different take on their Social Hour; the Kimpton Gray serves a choice of Chardonnay or gin and tonic.
Mornings see this area turn into the complimentary coffee and tea station.
Kimpton hotels are known for their attention to detail, and finding ways of making your stay memorable and different. And the rooms are a fine example of that.
Playing on the refined 1920s feel of the hotel, delicate art deco touches are everywhere. From the black metal accents on the bathroom mirrors to the border on the bedspread, nothing here is ‘standard’.
Light fixtures and lamps are that perfect blend of function and form with a touch of ‘20s glam of course. The minibar is full of stuff I’d actually eat and there’s even a yoga mat in the brightly papered wardrobe.
As far as details go, not much has been overlooked. bedside cabinets and tables are equipped with power and USB sockets, there’s luxe Atelier Bloem amenities in the bathroom and the TV’s smart enough for Netflix. There’s even a tie and cufflink set provided by The Tie Bar next door you can buy if you have a need.
Check out is generously at midday, which is just as well; our bed is superbly comfortable. However, if you are planning on sleeping in past 9am, remember to put the do not disturb tag on the door. Housekeeping here is a whirlwind force of nature!
Above the 14th floor (which was added in 1896 by the way) is the rooftop restaurant Boleo with its South American influence and glass roof.
It’s often booked for private events on weekends, as it was when we were here, but you can see the virtual tour on the Kimpton’s website here.
Down at street level, the hotel bistro Steadfast is definitely worth checking out. A modern American restaurant, Steadfast is ‘chef-lead’, which means the seasonal ingredients, methods of cooking and the menus are a true reflection of the people who make the food happen.
Dinner is usually the busiest service and the food is excellent.
We order the mussels to start with, though they’re not the best. Though coming from Sydney, we’re probably quite spoilt.
Our mains, however, really are delicious. Christina’s salmon almandine – ora king salmon with delicata squash almond and brown butter – looks and smells amazing – I’m not allowed to taste any, which is a good sign!
Our friend Ann orders the pork shank, which she thinks is going to be relatively small. It is in fact enormous – a huge cut of meat that looks more like a whole leg than just a shank. Her dish comes with polenta and sugo – a hearty dish indeed.
I choose the steak bordelaise, a rich dish with incredible depth of flavour from the sticky reduced red wine sauce. The steak – a wonderful piece of wagyu bavette or flank – is cooked rare to order yet with a thick char on the outside and all the fat rendered inside.
I don’t know how they do that but my mind wanders back to barbecue feast we’ve just left behind in Kansas City, MO. My dish comes with roasted purple carrots and a smooth purée.
Steadfast is good enough that locals come here without realising it’s a hotel restaurant, which is always difficult but a sign of its quality.
By the end of the meal, we’re too full for dessert, but it all comes highly recommended.
On the same floor as reception but in its own secluded nook, Vol. 39 is the kind of speakeasy you’d hope for in Capone territory. Sleek, chic and elegantly lit, this bar has personality and it’s not afraid to use it.
Book-laden shelves, comfy seats, stunning glassware and highly trained cocktail staff make this a bar everyone should experience. The drinks menu takes inspiration from the 1893 World’s Fair that swept Chicago into modernity and notoriety the year before this building was finished.
And while you’re sipping on your pristine martini or rigorous old fashioned, you can peer down at La Salle Street below and watch the world go by.
This cocktail-chic hotel has so many wonderfully luxe modern touches but manages to stay grounded enough to let its guests join in the fun rather than exclude them. It’s a comfortable, grand, sophisticated space that makes sense of so much about Chicago.