I must admit that I made my reservation at the new Chicago Athletic Association Hotel with slight misgivings. More than one major travel publication has heralded it as “Chicago’s hottest new hotel,” but after my stay in the city’s beautifully designed but self-satisfied Soho House, which competes for the same demographic, I had doubts that the service would match the remarkable architecture.
I have long admired the Venetian Gothic building, which wouldn’t look out of place along the Grand Canal if it were a few stories shorter. Architect Henry Ives Cobb, who also designed the city’s Romanesque Newberry Library, completed the Chicago Athletic Association’s headquarters in 1893, the year of the Columbian Exposition. Inside, all-male members enjoyed access to Turkish baths, a swimming pool, various ornate lounges ideal for networking and a tucked-away restaurant, complete with a secret entrance for members’ mistresses and some soundproof phone booths for calling one’s wife at home.
The association folded in 2007, and for a time, it appeared as though this extraordinary building might be partially dismantled. Fortunately, John Pritzker, son of the founder of Hyatt Hotels and a Chicago preservationist, stepped in. His deep-pocketed company, Geolo Capital, spent an undisclosed (but unquestionably vast) sum of money restoring the interior starting in 2012, and the 241-room hotel opened to the public in May 2015.