Site Visit: Renaissance Chicago Downtown

By Kelsey Ogletree, June 24, 2015

At the newly renovated Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel, located on Wacker Drive along the Chicago River, it’s all about creating new discoveries for guests, including attendees of the American Association for the History of Medicine and Association for Continuing Legal Education conferences. The $27 million lobby transformation, completed in April, is the first step toward achieving that goal, says General Manager Hassan El-Neklawy. “It completely changed the feel of the hotel,” says El-Neklawy. “A lot of people going through think they are in a different building.”

The lobby is now better than ever, giving guests a true sense of place with Chicago-inspired decor like a mural of a taxicab in the lobby, a graffiti bookcase by a local artist, CTA-inspired pillars and a ceiling inscribed with names of famous Chicagoans, including architects Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan and Daniel Burnham. The vibe is laid-back and modern. “It basically is one big bar,” says El-Neklawy.

The food and beverage at the new bar is “street food with a twist,” he says. Focused on Chicago favorites, its offerings include the city’s famous hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches, as well as local brews. (Bonus: It also serves as a coffee bar in the mornings.) A display kitchen off the lobby allows guests to watch chefs prepare their meals. But if your group would rather experience Windy City cuisine off the actual street, the hotel concierge can certainly help with arrangements. For one group wanting a quick lunch outside the hotel, the on-site event management team rented bicycle rickshaws to transport the attendees to Portillo’s. “They were all from out of town, and we gave them a great Chicago experience,” says El-Neklawy.

While the 560-room hotel has 34,900 square feet of meeting space (soon to increase when another ballroom is added to the third floor next year), one planner who recently held an event there wanted something different. So the event team completely transformed the hotel’s boiler room—of all places—into a speakeasy bar, complete with game tables, staff dressed in era clothing and gangster-themed decor. “We are known for doing things really unique like that,” El-Neklawy notes.

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