Palmer House Hotel, Chicago, IL [Review]

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Chicago Skyline

Labor Day Weekend found me running as far north as possible to avoid the oppressive heat and humidity of Houston. I wound up in Chicago, Illinois, one of my favorite cities in the US, with a group of high school friends. While the heat managed to follow me (it still topped 90!), the visit was altogether a great experience. This was, in part, due to the awesome package my friends and I managed to secure through Southwest Airlines, which included two nights at the centrally located, historic Hilton Palmer House Hotel.

A little bit of history…

According to the omniscient Wikipedia, the original Palmer House was built as a wedding present in 1871 from Potter Palmer to his bride. Unfortunately, Palmer was no match for the lethal combination of cows and candles, and it burned down just 13 days after it was built, in the Great Chicago Fire. It was rebuilt and has since been in operation since 1875, save a few years here and there when it was shut down for renovations and expansions. In the 40s, the Hilton family bought the Palmer House and since then it has been a part of the Hilton armada of hotels.

Added bonus: evidently the Palmer House Hotel is where the chocolate brownie was invented. Who knew!

What I liked…

This is a beautiful hotel. The ceiling of the lobby has a gorgeous fresco, the interior architecture is amazing, and it retains its 19th century charm quite nicely. There’s a lot to look at, and a lot to enjoy.

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This ceiling fresco is gorgeous, honoring the French background of Bertha Palmer and painted shortly after she met Claude Monet

Despite this, the rooms themselves are modern and comfortable, albeit slightly small. The room came with a plasma tv, phone, wired and wireless internet (for a fee), a desk and the standard clock-radio. One of my friends had a room with a king bed, and it had two chairs for guests to sit in. There’s also an empty minifridge in one of the cabinets (oddly enough the minifridge was in my room, but not my friend’s larger room).

Small, but cozy, with comfortable mattresses and pillows.
Small, but cozy, with comfortable mattresses and pillows.

The obligatory hotel bar/restaurant partially spills out into the lobby. The bar itself is nice and clean, with a modern feel. Reservations are required to sit in the area of the lobby set aside for the restaurant, and it was pretty hopping whenever it was open. We never ate there, but business certainly wasn’t lacking.

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There’s also an event room, which I was not able to get into due to a rather large wedding that was taking place. Based on the general excitement within, though, I don’t think anyone had issue with their surroundings.

The hotel also boasts a spa, workout facilities, and a swimming pool, as well as several ‘executive floors that are off-limits to mere mortals like me.

Most importantly, perhaps, the rates are pretty reasonable. Considering that this hotel is walking distance to several attractions (Millenium Park, Michigan Ave, the Willis Tower), and right on the red line of the L, the location can’t really be beat. We ventured to the Navy Pier, the Museum Campus, up north to see comedy group Second City, and generally trod all around the city without any transportation issues. That, plus the general swank factor, makes the $100 – $150 a night price seem fairly reasonable.

What I didn’t like…

Alright, the overall price might be reasonable, but this is still a pretty classy hotel, which means they’re going to nickel and dime you wherever they can. Need proof? Take a look at the room service menu:

IMG_20130902_075354_283If you can’t read that well, it prices a sliced banana at $4.00, and that’s easily the cheapest thing on the menu! I like my potassium, but I’m not shelling out a fiver for it.

Similarly, there are no coffee pots in the room. If you want your morning brew you have to either call to room service or purchase it from the Starbucks located on the main floor. This may not be an issue for most people, but for a caffeine-addict like me the 8am Starbucks line was a bit torturous.

Patrons who do not carry an elite HHonors status are also forbidden from the gym, unless they pay a fee. For some reason the swimming pool does not have this restriction, but if you are looking forward to a jog on the treadmill you’re going to have to pay up.

 

The toilets were another oddity. For some reason, the designers of the bathrooms seemed to assume that they would be attracting fairly acrobatic patrons. The toilet paper holder is almost directly behind the toilet, so that it is impossible to reach unless you turn your body almost completely around. It is, to say the least, a little awkward. Not to mention the toilet paper is so close to the shower that I worried it would get soaked.

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On the topic of the bathroom, there is one other awkward feature. None of the rooms I went in were outfitted with fans. This not only means that the mirrors will steam up during a shower, but it also means that anyone using the bathroom for reasons that are, well, a bit noisier and a bit stinkier is going to be heard by all. Awwwkward.

My final complaint is one that is common of ritzier hotel venues. They offer wifi, for $20 a day. Certian HHonors members are given free wifi, but I didn’t qualify, so that left me trying to ooze what service I could out of my cell phone. Usually this isn’t a problem, but the day we flew into the city a giant storm knocked out three different Verizon towers and so I had NO service. This made quite a few things difficult. Major bummer.

Overall Ranking: 7/10

I’m a budget traveler, so I’m knocking it for the extra fees. If you don’t mind coughing up a few extra dollars, it’s definitely a great place. I’d stay there again, so long as I secured a sweet deal.

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