Before leaving town the gal had, for old times’ sake, to head north along Chicago’s Michigan Avenue – the Mag Mile – to Lake Michigan. You pass the characterless Westin on your right, and, also on the east side of Michigan, the gorgeous Drake, where the chandeliered upper lobby was filled with fully-suited gents and well-coiffured ladies in saris or red-carpet gowns even at 5.15 p.m. Under the underpass to the lakeside track, the beach scene, above, is as it always was. But there is something new in the last couple of years. Real estate tycoon Laurence Geller has turned his offices on Erie into a 21-floor business-luxury hotel, Conrad Chicago. There, up on the rooftop, is another early-evening outdoor space for Chicago people.
Chicago connoisseurs also have an absolutely outstanding dinner venue at their disposal. Baptiste+Bottle, leading off the lobby on the 290-room hotel’s 20th floor, is an absolute delight and I could eat there every night – all right, to be realistic, as for example with Prime 7 onboard any Regent Seven Seas cruise, a table there twice a week would be ideal. Why does B+B work so well? Laurence Geller turned to consultant Richard Sandoval, whom I first came across at Fairmont Mayakoba, for a bit of advice. Sandoval produces restaurants that work. I looked at the leather-covered A5-size menu and quickly chose a burrata and eggplant salad, with caponata, harissa and preserved lemon. This was to be followed by a 12-ounce triple-seared prime New York strip, with heirloom carrots and wild mushroom. I chose a glass of Pinot Noir Banshee Sonoma 2015.
Chef James Lintelmann, from Arizona, is so personable, so friendly, and he can COOK. See both my dishes – he explained how indeed my meat had three searing sessions, with marinades in between (next time I will try with free-range bison, with broccoli rabe, roasted lemon and garlic). Next time, too, I should do justice to the ‘Bourbon’ side of the restaurant’s menu. Specialty cocktails include a #Macallanrare Journey, at $95. There are tasting flights of Bourbon, three x one-ounce pours, the signature Conrad Suite, at $150, consisting of 25 years Highland Park and Macallan, and a 21-year Bruichladdich. The range of single Bourbons goes up to Michter’s Bourbon KY 91-proof, $18 a tot; Canadian rises to Crown Royal Black, Ontario, 80-proof, $15: top Irish is Jameson 18-year, 80-proof, $32; top Japanese whisky is Hibihi 21-year from Kyoto, $85 a tot (or $935 a bottle); most expensive Rye is Michter’s ten-year, 82-proof, $59, and for Scotland, it is Highland Park 25-year, 92-proof, $70.
“Whisky is liquid sunshine”, G.B. Shaw, says the drinks menu. At breakfast – try a Baptiste Bloody Mary, Reya vodka, $12 – the homily is “Opportunities are like sunrises, if you wait too long you can miss them”, William Arthur Ward. Laurence Geller, a renowned foodie who started his own phenomenally successful career learning how to cook in a London hotel kitchen, also has a considerable literary bent. And as a serial marathoner himself, he has of course put in a splendid fitness centre – 24/7, LifeFitness and TRX – at this new-look convenient-luxury hotel. I wonder, as I leave for the airport, if he has plans for any more of his office blocks?NOW SEE VIDEOS OF LAKE MICHIGAN BEACH, AND ROOM 1226