A look at Langham Hotels’ sweet new home in the Windy City
It’s no easy feat to imbed a new hotel into a landmark structure and expect the property to be more memorable for its services than setting. But the US$280-million Langham, Chicago, which officially opened its doors in September, skillfully rises to the challenge. Occupying 13 floors of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s last project, and one that the German-American architect never lived to see completed, the Langham is as polished and precise as Mies’s parting masterpiece.
The former IBM Building, now called AMA Plaza, is an austere 52-story skyscraper on the Chicago River, and its new tenant has been careful to respect the tower’s place on the National Register of Historic Places. Conceived by Mies’s grandson, Chicago architect Dirk Lohan, the street-level lobby provides a stately sense of arrival, with walls clad in the building’s original travertine and a reception desk based on one at Mies’s iconic Farnsworth House. But there are also contemporary concessions, like the flashy gold bead curtains that add a touch of faux-ritz glam, and a two-meter alabaster head by Jaume Plensa, the Catalan artist also responsible for Crown Fountain in nearby Millennium Park.
Designed by London firm Richmond International, the 316 guest rooms are remarkable for their size; the smallest start at 48 square meters. I certainly appreciated the luxury of studying the skyline, street life, river traffic, and the sheen of Lake Michigan from the disparate settings—sofa, bed, work desk, a recliner—that a standard, cramped city room wouldn’t permit. All accommodations champion the mantra of Midcentury modern (sensuous chaises, boxy armoires) and have creamy color schemes that do a fine job of not competing with the floor-to-ceiling views; bathrooms feature Italian marble and double sinks hewn from Alaskan white granite. Clearly, a considerable amount of care and expense went into the fixtures and furnishings, though I was just as impressed with the little nibbles left in my room each day, like macarons and financiers presented atop an edible chocolate display at teatime.
More substantial dining takes place at Travelle, crafted by go-to restaurant designer David Rockwell and bubbling with the energy and noise that attest to its following. The L-shaped space has a glass-enclosed show kitchen producing subtle Mediterranean-inflected dishes (and satisfyingly hefty Calabrian spiced potatoes at breakfast), a wine room with two giant walls of reds and whites, and a lounge that draws post-work Chicago execs as much for the cocktails as for its views of the scalloped Marina City towers. Another beautiful space is the 13th-floor Langham Club, which delivers magazine-spread-worthy river and lake views, rows of comfortable, angular armchairs and sofas, and a quirky writer’s corner kitted out with an old typewriter.
It’s almost as relaxing as the spa, where, as befits a Hong Kong–based hotel group, Chinese influences stretch from the moon gate entryway to traditional treatments such as moxibustion and acupuncture. I happily stewed in the Himalayan salt sauna, and later dozed off in one of the sensory chairs—retro-futurist-looking loungers that stimulate the senses through light, music, spritzes of scent, and vibration.
My fondest memories, though, are of the irrepressibly buoyant staff: polite, professional, yet refreshingly low-key, with no hovering or staged sternness. They evince looseness—not in the sense of being lax, but in terms of approachability—as well as depth; stand-up guys and gals as willing to discuss the Impressionist collection at the Art Institute of Chicago as the city’s best hole-in-the-wall taqueria. They add layers of comfort and connection to Langham’s formidable hardware and, in a city that has no shortage of fine hotels, help this newcomer raise the bar by a notch or three.
330 N. Wabash Ave., Chicago, Illinois; 1-312/923-9988; The Langham, Chicago; doubles from US$395.
This article originally appeared in the December 2013/January 2014 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Checking In: Chicago”)