x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The Four Seasons Hotel, Chicago: tradition touched with a view to modern

This newly-renovated luxury hotel in downtown Chicago doesn't sacrifice atmosphere for comfort.

The Four Seasons Chicago is a finely balanced mix of old world and new. Peter Peirce / Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
The Four Seasons Chicago is a finely balanced mix of old world and new. Peter Peirce / Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

The welcome

After a sweaty 45-minute taxi ride from the airport, it's a relief when my car finally glides through the refined streets of the Magnificent Mile district of downtown Chicago. "Welcome to the Four Seasons" is always music to a traveller's ears, and after the 14-hour flight from Abu Dhabi plus an hour-long queue at immigration it's particularly welcoming. I love the ornate, dimly lit entrance hall situated behind three brass-clad sets of revolving doors - from there it's an old-fashioned lift ride up to reception. Yet it isn't fusty - the whole hotel has just has just been subjected to a three-year renovation, and the spacious lobby areas are smartly traditional, with fresh flowers, works of art and neutral shades. I'm checked into my suite on the 37th floor: it has a great view of Lake Michigan, the John Hancock Center opposite and the other tantalisingly close skyscrapers.

The neighbourhood

The hotel is situated on East Delaware place, just off Michigan Avenue, in the heart of the city's smartest and best shopping area. It's a delight to walk around. It's a five-minute walk to the Museum of Contemporary Art and the lakeside, and there is upmarket shopping on its doorstep. Underneath the hotel is 900 Michigan Avenue, a six-floor shopping mall featuring Bloomingdale's, Coach, Lalique, Montblanc, Kaehler TravelWorks, J. Crew and Teuscher Chocolates of Switzerland; there are also several cafes and restaurants. Outside, the streets immediately surrounding the hotel have good vintage clothes and furniture shops and there are several other large shopping centres. The Art Institute of Chicago and Millennium Park are a 10-minute drive away. It is also very close to the affluent Gold Coast Historic District, which is filled with Art Deco, Italianate and Queen Anne mansions and apartment blocks.

The scene

Despite the slightly 1920s feel of the interiors, the building only dates from 1989, so the hotel is smart without being excessively old fashioned. It's also recently been "remodelled", so carpets, walls, bedding and artworks are all fresh. The hotel's 345 rooms are used equally by business and leisure travellers; leisure-wise, it's mainly holidaymakers from other parts of the US, primarily the Chicago area, New York and Los Angeles. In the mornings, the power breakfasts.

The service

Sober and deliberate, though ever-so-slightly fusty at times. Perhaps I'd been reading too much about the gangster era, but some of the staff, including the man who brought my room-service meal and the breakfast staff, had that seen-it-all-before look and seemed to belong to a different era. Younger staff were on hand at reception and in the bar: the friendliest members of staff were the woman who brought me my food there one evening and the man who, on checkout, took my bags from reception to a waiting taxi. Fortunately, they were firm too: the building also contains apartments whose occupants are entitled to use the fitness facilities, and when a woman complained that one of the residents was allowing his children to use remote control boats in the swimming pool the offending parent was pleasantly put in his place.

The room

My room is a deluxe executive suite, with a good-size sitting room and separate bedroom. Its best feature is the fabulous views over the city to Lake Michigan: I'm so high up that even with all the lights on and the curtains open I don't feel that I'm being overlooked. It's cosy, too, with a comfy sofa positioned near the large flat-screen television, minibar and selection of goodies that have been left out for me - Chicago mints, two types of popcorn, some salted nuts and a Chicago Cubs baseball cap. I loved watching a storm break across the lake from the comfort of my padded window seat.

The food

Unusually for America or any hotel these days, there was no buffet at breakfast. Instead there was a choice of three breakfast combos: "light and easy", "eggs and more" and "Japanese". The first day I went for option one, choosing oatmeal, toast, fresh orange juice and coffee, which was generously portioned and good value at $22 (Dh80). The second day, from "eggs and more", I tried blueberry pancakes and a bagel with cream cheese. The six delicious pancakes were more than I could get through, but I was given the bagel in a takeaway box (with juice and coffee, $29; Dh106). I didn't eat at the Seasons Restaurant, the hotel's Michelin starred fine dining establishment, as it looked overly formal. Instead I went to the atmospheric, wood-panelled Seasons Bar. The chef's homemade all-beef hot dog came in a bun with mustard, relish, pickles, tomato and fries with celery salt and homemade salsas, and was moist and delicious (with a drink it cost just $12; Dh44). I also tried the Aphrodisiac sour, a non-alcoholic cocktail made from passion fruit, blood orange, pineapple and lime juices - it came in a martini glass so $9 (Dh33) worth did not last long.

Loved

Watching the storm from my room, the hot dog, the swimming pool and steam room.

Hated

The antisocial behaviour of the family using the swimming pool, who treated it as their property.

The verdict

An excellent, if old-world, hotel in a fantastic Chicago location.

The bottom line

Double rooms cost from $455.83 (Dh1,675) per night including tax and excluding breakfast (www.fourseasons.com/chicagofs, 001 312 280 8800).