x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Modern take on good old American hospitality

I am greeted by Brittany at the front desk who, despite the lobby being thronged with guests (I have hit Chicago at the height of convention season), is calm, polite and charming.

The Wit not only offers excellent service but also one of Chicago’s  best locations.
The Wit not only offers excellent service but also one of Chicago’s best locations.

The welcome

I am greeted by Brittany at the front desk who, despite the lobby being thronged with guests (I have hit Chicago at the height of convention season), is calm, polite and charming. She shifts me to a room on a higher floor, gives me a VIP pass for the hippest joint in town - the hotel's ROOF bar with its live music and fire pits - and a warm "welcome cookie" in a paper bag. All this was done in less than 10 minutes.

The neighbourhood

The Wit is downtown on the corner of State Street and Lake Street, undoubtedly the best-located hotel in Chicago. Back in the 1920s, this was known as the busiest intersection in the world and it was a favourite place for courting couples to meet. Saying "Meet you at 8, at State and Lake" was considered to be only one or two breaths away from "Will you marry me?" This is the edge of the city's theatre district and one block from the Chicago River and the forest of graceful skyscrapers that make up part of Chicago's world-renowned architecture collection.

The service

The check-in was a delight, the porters were quick and friendly, the concierge was fast and accurate and I realised within an hour of arriving that the Wit has reinvented old-fashioned American hotel hospitality and efficiency to match the rapid-paced world. I needed to change my pillow, get hold of a map, make jazz club reservations and work out how to use the hi-tech phone computer in my room. All issues were solved perfectly in less than 30 minutes. As Brittany told me: "We like to say that WIT stands for 'Whatever It Takes'."

The room

I asked for a high-floor room with a good view and I got a higher-floor room with a spectacular view of downtown and Lake Michigan. The room was decorated in subtle browns and creams with white and silver modernist lamps that would not look out of place at the One. The look is more executive than romantic, designed for sophisticated international travellers in town to catch some jazz or get an architecture fix, and who want well-designed, understated and chintz-free hotel rooms. Some rooms have useful kitchenettes and there's a clever extra - the speakers in the hallways play birdsong recorded in some faraway wood, which is remarkably soothing.

The food

The Wit's excellence extends to the cuisine. My steak-and-egg breakfast at State and Lake, the ground floor diner-style bistro, was delicious and enough to keep any pavement-pounding tourist satisfied until evening. The real diamond, however, was supper at the hotel's Italian restaurant Cibo Matto where the roasted Lake Superior whitefish, pasta filled with butternut squash and grilled tuna with cranberry beans all looked and smelled fabulous. I had the saffron risotto and the braised short rib of beef and instantly placed the experience in my top three hotel restaurant meals of the year.

The scene

Voted one of the top business hotels in North America by Fortune magazine, the rooms sell like hot cakes, Cibo Matto is packed most nights and ROOF is one of the most popular nightspots in town. Guests get free VIP access to ROOF and soon after the place opened some were selling their room keys on eBay for hundreds of dollars to people desperate to get to the bar to be seen. Hotel guests include veteran travellers and corporate executives who know every inch of the Marriots and the Sheratons and want something slicker, more individual and altogether cooler - that's the Wit.

Loved

The divine food and fluid service at Cibo Matto, the guests-only gym, the 30 in-room channels of music, the small library on the lobby's mezzanine, the corridor birdsong and the overall clockwork "with-a-smile" efficiency of the place.

Hated

Chicago's elevated railway (known as the L) makes a lot of noise. It runs right by the lower floors on the south side and I could even hear it faintly from up on the 29th floor. The L is more than 100 years old and part of Chicago's urban fabric and history but despite the cultural references, ask for a higher floor room and bring some earplugs.

The verdict

A terrific addition to this great city; a hotel with brains and beauty and well worth the price tag. It has great service, great food, a great atmosphere, a to-die-for location and everything works first time. Chicago is going to have difficulty topping the Wit.

The bottom line

Double rooms from US$207 (Dh760) per night, including taxes. The Wit Hotel, 201 North State Street, Chicago, Illinois, 60601, USA (www.thewithotel.com; 001 312 467 0200).