Luxury Hotels

Decorated towers in culturally-aware Chicago

Tower outside the hotel…

Four Seasons Hotel Chicago has a decorated tower outside, on its East Delaware Place sidewalk. The gal remembers when painted cows first appeared, in Zurich, and now cows, and bears and even towers, have migrated to the world’s greatest cities.  It is a clever idea.  Sassy luxury hotels and others sponsor such works for the benefit of a charity, and the people of that city.  Four Seasons’ tower, part of 51 unique towers in the 2018 Lighthouses on The Mag Mile project, was decorated by a Disability and Human Development DHD research specialist, Kaitlin Stober. This is all the more appropriate as this year’s charity is The Chicago Lighthouse, working for access and inclusion for people with disabilities. artist Kaitlin Stober

Kaitlin Stober painted the surface of her tower with patches of dandelions growing against a multi-coloured brick façade. “My work, and the accompanying audio/written commentary, provokes consideration of disability inclusion and disability rights through metaphor. Dandelions, despite similarities to some commercially valued flowers, are widely regarded as weeds. They are often uprooted and discarded, left to grow through the cracks or on the margins of our manicured society. This is comparable to the historical segregation, institutionalization, and marginalization of persons with disabilities, many of whom are still excluded from considerations of mainstream society”, she says.

‘Concierge’ in ladies’ washroom

The 343-room Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, owned by JMB Urban Investment, has been involved with art since it opened in 1988.  Today there is a brilliant painting down at ground floor level – see it, above.  Called Bene come il sale(as good as the salt), it was painted 1989 by Frank Stella.  There are also amusing artworks.  The ladies’ washroom, for instance, has a real circular dial phone, red, on a stand. This is in effect an emergency ‘concierge’. Above the phone is a label that says ‘if only Lydia had known about the “need it now” phone she could have saved her tears.  By picking up the red phone, she could have asked for any last minute personal items she needed’.

Alium’s tuna tartare

I was back at the hotel for a quick lunch at Allium, and while enjoying a really tasty tuna tartare we discussed art – the Art Institute of Chicago has a John Singer Sargent exhibition – and culture generally.  Hamilton is on at CIBC Theater all this month, and, to celebrate the centenary of Leonard Bernstein, born 25 August 1918 in Lawrence MA, the Chicago Symphony plays two special concerts, on 18th and 19th August. Four Seasons Hotel Chicago is right in the thick of worthwhile offerings in this gorgeous Windy City, and no wonder it attracts a culture and luxury seeking clientele.


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Luxury Hotels

Back to the Windy City and a significant luxury hotel

Le Bar

The gal knew she was back in the Windy City as soon as she got into an elevator at the stunning architectural wonder that is Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile (the architect of the 32-foot vertical ‘spear’ is Jean-Paul Viguier, whose global portfolio ranges from La Défense’s Majunga Tower through to Morocco Telecom’s Rabat headquarters, via San Antonio’s McNay Museum of Art).  See the elevator cabin, above.  Sensibly, back in 2002, the developers of the 415-room luxury hotel put in a significant drinking-lounge on the ground floor, just by the main entrance, and that is, honestly, the heart of this lovely place.

Matthew Blackmore

In fact we, GM Matthew Blackmore and I, chose to dine in Le Bar rather than in the 96-seat Café des Architectes, which presumably comes into its own when the weather is bad and you cannot sit out on its terrace. Le Bar is fun, with communal high-up tables or low-down lounge seating, and stools next to the fire that, with no heat output, is perfect all year round.  Others like sitting up at the bar counter, either working their devices or watching sports-bar screens.  Matthew Blackmore is a life-time Fairmont guy, from outside Toronto, and it was fascinating to talk to him about this, his first Sofitel posting. Yet again I was convinced that Accor is managing the partnership of its extended range of brands much better than another big company.

Salmon tartare in Le Bar

But do not let GirlAhead veer into politics  Let us stay here, at Sofitel in the heart of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile area.  Obviously with its French heritage, Sofitel will have great food and Le Bar’s menu was superb – after a totally unmemorable Montreal ‘burger’ airside at Toronto airport a few hours ago, I wanted real food, and I got it in the form of salmon tartare, followed by truffle-poached halibut, with a welcome-to-USA glass of Cloudfall Pinot Noir from Monterey.  After a good night’s sleep, I also needed a good work out, and the gym, fortunately, is 24/7 (next time I will wear dark glasses as someone has chosen a geometric wallpaper in front of the running machines, a potentially migraine-inducing pattern).

Breakfast breads

Café des Architectes certainly knows how to do a good breakfast, French as well as international.  Yes, jams are Bonne Maman, and the croissants looked marvellously authentic, but I also loved the big selection of breads brought round in a sturdy wood box, and the multi-grain toast was far better than the norm in US hotels.  With plenty of outstanding coffee, I was ready to continue the day, and concierge Peter had kindly arranged my newspaper of choice.  There is certainly a French flair to this architectural hotel, and it is not surprising that, according to Matthew Blackmore, 30% of guests are repeats (I will certainly be back, hopefully for another casual evening in Le Bar). NOW SEE SUITE 2908

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Luxury Hotels

Toronto’s luxury mid-town hotel, the Shangri-La

War Memorial, City Hall

The gal took a walk through some of Toronto’s historic areas, past the Romanesque-style Old City Hall on Queen Street. Finished in 1899, it is built of sandstone from the Credit River valley, grey stone from Orangeville and brown stone from New Brunswick.  Apparently local councillors were so angry at the cost, over C$2.5 million, that they refused to allow a plaque to the architect, Edward James Lennox, but he got his own back by asking his stonemasons to write his name in corbels running around the upper floor eaves, namely ‘EJ LENNOX ARCHITECT AD 1898’. Sadly, a fashionable hotel was demolished to make way for this building. And so I reached the Shangri-La Hotel Toronto, by architect James Cheng, finished 2012 under the meticulous guidance of co-owner Ian Gillespie, a man of great taste.

Fazioli grand piano…

Go through glass doors into the double-height lobby and I feel instantly at home, thanks to Shangri-La’s company-wide fragrance (introduced in 2006, Essence of Shangri-La is correctly described, as if in oenological terms, as ‘fresh and clean, subtly Asian, serenity and calm (bottom notes vanilla, sandal and musk, with top notes of light bergamot and tea spiced with ginger’). In the lobby, I see a gas-fuelled, two-way fire.  Nearby is the Fazioli grand, played every day from tea time through to the early hours – Fazioli, the eponymous Venice-area factory started by mechanical engineer Paolo Fazioli, only makes an average of 125 grand pianos a year: they are used in such global competitions as the Chopin event in Warsaw. It was of course Ian Gillespie who chose the piano, and it is he who fills the six glass vitrines in the lobby with priceless couture gowns from his own historic collection.

.. and tuna salad

This is an owner who believes in partnering.  Momofuku leases two restaurants here, and, fortunately guests can sign. Behind the hotel, in a separate building, is Soho House Toronto, and recently arrived hotel GM Ron Pellerine is working on a package to allow guests of the 200-room to have temporary membership of Soho House Toronto, with signing privileges. Ron Pellerine, by the way, is delighted to be back home once again: he is an Ontario boy, who after years working outside North America came here after a contract in Boston.  We had a Canadian lunch, kicking off with sweet New Brunswick Caraquet Bay oysters – see the photo above.   They are delicate and dainty, I was correctly told, and an ideal way to eat them is actually to add a shucked plateful into a pint of beer.

Ron Pellerine and Rising

After a healthy green salad topped with tuna, I had to leave, but there was one last USP to this unforgettable hotel. Outside its main entrance, on University, is a gigantic stainless steel sculpture, Rising, designed by Zhang Huan, then 45, in 2010.  It wraps up and into the building – outside alone, it measures 21.98 by 19.8 metres, and a further 16.85 by 14.88 metres extends inside.  Ian Gillespie, the visionary owner of The Shangri-La Hotel Toronto, does not do anything by halves!

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