Site Visit: Chicago Athletic Association Hotel

By Kelsey Ogletree, May 24, 2015

With an abundance of boutique properties in the Windy City, it can be tough for hotels to differentiate themselves. The new Chicago Athletic Association Hotel relies on its rich history to do the talking.

“It’s nothing like anyone has ever seen,” says Vicki Poplin, director of sales and marketing. Built in 1893 to dazzle visitors coming to town for the World’s Fair, the building served as headquarters for the CAA, a private men’s club. While the club shuttered in 2007, the building welcomed the public for the first time after extensive renovations this summer, when the 241-room hotel opened for business. Poplin says more than 1,000 local artisans were involved in putting the place back together.

“They’ve gone through a lot of effort to restore as much of the original hotel as they could,” she notes. “Some restorations just cover up the old with something new, but we’ve done the opposite.” For example, in one of the ballrooms, workers pulling up a thick layer of carpet and glue discovered a hidden gem underneath—beautiful Carrara marble. Though it cost three times as much to rebuff and restore the original marble than put in a new floor, says Poplin, they wanted it to be as authentic as possible.

The hotel has 17,000 square feet of meeting space, and its seven meeting rooms are anything but basic. The CAA’s former basketball court has been transformed into the 4,500-sq.-ft. Stagg Court, with original gym flooring and hoops. In the 3,600-sq.-ft. White City Ballroom, find floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Millennium Park, stained glass bearing MLB’s Chicago Cubs’ logo, three working fireplaces and more than 160 stunning stalactites handmade by a local artist.

Besides its historic value, the hotel also is a heavyweight in elevating the cool factor of downtown’s The Loop, making it a hip spot to hang out after work for both locals and business travelers. “Before now, The Loop was pretty much a 9-to-5 spot,” says Poplin. “This hotel and a couple of new restaurants have started to really revitalize this area.” Helping with that is the property’s exclusive Milk Room lounge, which got its moniker from the Prohibition era, when liquor was disguised and served in milk bottles. Guests can pick up lattes and pastries there in the morning, then belly up to the bar for Manhattans or Sazeracs after dark. Also on-site is a game room with bocce ball, billiards, foosball, shuffleboard and chess. “It’s the perfect social space for a competitive group of game-loving guests,” says Poplin.

Insider Tip
With Shake Shack as a tenant in the building, a reception with burgers, fries and milkshakes is a must—and can be coordinated by the hotel catering team.

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