The Ritz-Carlton Chicago
Towering over Michigan Avenue, the Ritz-Carlton Chicago offers mesmerizing views paired with world-class service and amenities
by Thomas Philips | 27 October 2010
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As a child, people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Decades later, I still don’t have a definitive answer to that question. If anything, it’s that I never wanted to be one of any thing. Don’t get me wrong – I’m exceptionally passionate about life and its various facets. I love writing. I love photography. I love being a husband. I love being a father. Honestly, I could go on all day about things that I love. But to define myself with a single title, I simply can’t do it. How many times have you met someone, only to be asked what it is you do? My answer to that queston: as much as I can.
Attempting to define the Ritz-Carlton Chicago is, in many ways, much the same. It’s a hotel, to be sure, but to classify it with a single sentiment is a simply impossible task. It’s everything you could wish for in a hotel, but there are so many more things the Ritz-Carlton Chicago does incredibly well that calling it just a hotel simply isn’t good enough. If anything, it really should be described as a destination unto itself. The rooms are gorgeous, the service is completely and utterly world-class, the dining is absolutely superb, the spa is an utter haven of serenity, and the view… the view is one that needs to be immortalized in a painting (if it hasn’t been already). Putting it simply, the Ritz-Carlton Chicago is quite literally so good, that it’s worth a visit to Chicago, just to experience it.
Situated just steps off North Michigan Avenue, the Ritz-Carlton Chicago is within walking distance of many of Chicago’s key attractions, ranging from the Museum of Contemporary Art (5 minutes) to Navy Pier (15 minutes) to shopping on the Magnificent Mile (just out you door). The John Hancock Center is your next door neighbor, should you wish to take in the beautiful Chicago view from a higher vantage point, and there’s an abundance of the city’s best dining experiences again all within walking distance. It’s an ideal location for virtually any reason you’re in Chicago, whether business or leisure, and in event you have a young daughter, it may very well be the best location in the world. The hotel itself is located atop Water Tower Place, which houses 125 of the city’s best shopping venues. Most importantly, it’s also home to American Girl Place – the holy grail of destinations for young girls. Each day, kids can enjoy an afternoon tea or dining at the Cafe, they can pose for the cover of American Girl magazine at the photo studio, they can take their American Girl for a new hair style at the salon, and of course, they can shop. Putting it simply, it will instantly earn you the title of “world’s greatest dad”, if you haven’t earned it already. Even without kids, however,the Ritz Chicago’s location is superb – everything is close, accessible and simple to get to.
Entering the Ritz-Carlton Chicago from street level, you pass through a small lobby more reminiscent of a private residence than a hotel, and ascend twelve floors to the hotel’s main lobby. Upon exiting the eleveator, you’re greeted to an incredibly light and open space that serves as the central hub of the Ritz-Carlton. Directly in front of you is a gorgeously designed fountain framed by a soaring skylight above and a wall of windows behind, allowing copious amounts of sunlight to fill the space. To your right is the check-in desk and concierge, to your left is the newly opened deca restaurant, and directly ahead, past the fountain, is the intimate deca bar and seating area with a splendid view of the city. The Ritz-Carlton Chicago isn’t a new hotel – it’s been a staple in the city since the ’70’s – and the lobby reflects a certain character and warmth lacking in many new properties. Thanks to a newly completed $25 million renovation, however, it doesn’t feel old or outdated, but rather it exudes a classically elegant feel, with a just a hint of modernity. It’s a lobby perfectly befitting of the city – beautiful, relaxed and welcoming.
Guest rooms in the Ritz-Carlton Chicago occupy the 15th through the 30th floors of Water Tower Place, offering a variety of perspectives to take in the gorgeous city. Moderate guest rooms start at 370 sq. feet, while Executive Suites begin at 560 sq. feet and offer separate bedroom and seating areas. From there, rooms at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago transcend any others found in city, with a variety of suites ranging in size from 800 to 1,405 sq. feet, each of which offer utterly spectacular views of Chicago and/or Lake Michigan. And for the truly fortunate, on floors 25 and 26 lies the Presidential Suite – an immaculate, newly-completed two-story suite offering 2,900 sq. feet of living space and an unparalleled view of the lake and Navy Pier. It’s this abundance and diversity of suites that makes staying at the Ritz-Carlton so enjoyable, as the Ritz-Carlton staff has the rare ability to match you with the specific attributes you’re looking for in a room.
During the three-nights I spent with my wife and infant son at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago, I had the great pleasure of residing in the Premier One-Bedroom Suite, a 1,000 sq. foot corner suite on the 30th floor that was, quite literally, jaw-dropping. Entering the room, a small hallway greets you, giving little indication of what lies in store. To your right is the bedroom and bathroom area, subsequently followed by the living / dining / work area. While initially I had no idea what the room or the view would look like, entering the living area for the first time was a nearly surreal experience. The room is simply beautiful – there’s a dining area with seating for four; a living area with a sofa, two chairs and a large flat screen television; and an office area with a desk the standard business amenities. The decor is all new, and it exudes a relaxed sophistication more reminiscent of a luxurious private apartment than a hotel suite. But as beautiful as the room is, it’s not the decor that captivates you upon entering, it’s the absolutely spectacular view of Lake Michigan that takes your breath away. Overlooking the lake and Navy Pier, the view from the Ritz-Carlton Chicago has to rank among the best I’ve ever seen – not in Chicago, but in the world. It’s really that amazing. The entire space is tremendously bright and open, and the numerous windows around you allow you to witness in the lake, the Hancock Center, and Lake Shore drive from a variety of different angles.
After taking in the gorgeous views, I made my way to the bedroom and bathroom area, and as was the case with the living area, it feels as though you’re entering the bedroom of a gorgeous private apartment. The bedroom is exceptionally spacious, with a relaxed, elegant decor that mimics that of the rest of the suite. It too makes use of the incredible view at its disposal, with another large set of windows that frame perfectly the lake and Navy Pier. There’s ample closet space, should you be staying for an extended period of time; the bed is the most comfortable of any I’ve slept in; and there’s another large plasma television for your bedroom entertainment. With the immaculate view, however, you’ll likely be consumed with looking outside, as opposed to the tv. Following my tour of the bedroom, I made my way to the bathroom, which offers a unique split design. Upon entering lies a vanity with dual sinks, framed by beautiful wall frames and patterned wallpaper inlays. Separated by a pair of doors lies the rest of the bathroom conveniences, including a marble shower and separate soaking tub, and of course, all amenities indicative of a world-class hotel are present as well.
Looking past its ideal location, gorgeous rooms and sensational views, what may be the Ritz-Carlton Chicago’s most endearing feature is the exemplary level of service offered by every member of its staff. I’ll be completely honest – I’ve never experienced service better than that found at the Ritz Chicago. It is simply perfect. The staff has an almost otherworldly sense of making sure every element of your stay is as wonderful as possible, to the point they may employ some form of mind-reading techniques to actually know what you want before you even ask for it.
Case and point: when making my reservations with the Ritz, I noted only that I’d be traveling with my wife and son, with no special instructions given. As we travel extensively as a family, we’ve learned to bring our own assortment of baby gear – pack and play, baby wash, etc. – as hotels’ children’s amenities tend to vary quite considerably in terms of safety and quality from one location to another. So at arrival, we had our usual array of baby gear ready to go. Upon being greeted by the courteous staff and checking in, our son was delighted to find that the concierge had procured a red wagon full of toys for his enjoyment. After a round of deliberation, he settled on the tyrannosaurus rex, and we made our way to the room, still fully expecting to engage in our usual round of baby gear deployment. However, upon entering the room, it was immediately evident that any of the baby items we brought were completely unnecessary. This was the most child-friendly room I’ve ever witnessed. In the bedroom, a safe, comfortable crib with fresh linens; a diaper genie, and a baby monitor were all neatly placed. In the living room, more baby monitors connected you to your sleeping child. In the bathroom, all baby amenities (baby wash, baby powder, etc.) were present, as was a baby bathtub. Other than diapers, there wasn’t a single item we needed to bring for our son, all because the Ritz-Carlton staff took the time to assess our specific needs, without us even having to ask.
It’s this immense hospitality and foresight that extended to our entire stay. While approaching an elevator at one point that was about to close, one of the staff quite literally sprinted to catch the door for my wife. During another trip on the elevator, we talked briefly with another member of the Ritz-Carlton staff, who upon exiting the elevator, procured a Ritz-Carlton teddy bear for my son that, to this day, he still sleeps with. While heading out in the morning, another member of the staff offered my wife and I a coffee to go, and subsequently detailed to us the origins of the coffee and why they selected it. And on another day, a member of the staff informed us there was rain in the forecast and provided us with umbrellas. Two hours into our day out, it started to rain. I could go on all day about all the intricacies of the staff and how adept they are at making sure your time there is as fantastic as possible, but the truth is, you really have to experience it for yourself to believe it. If there’s a flaw in the Ritz-Carlton Chicago’s service, I couldn’t find it – their service is, without question, the best you’ll experience, anywhere.
Dining at deca restaurant + bar
New to the Ritz-Carlton Chicago is the deca restaurant + bar, a brilliant offering from Executive Chef Mark Payne that blends a contemporary, brasserie-inspired cuisine with a beautiful, art deco setting. Situated directly on the main level of the hotel (floor twelve), deca restaurant + bar encapsulates beautifully the Ritz-Carlton Chicago as a whole. On the surface, it’s gorgeous, but as you experience it, there’s an underlying warmth and genuineness that makes you feel at home. If anything, it feels like your favorite neighborhood restaurant – one in which you recognize everything on the menu – but one that’s masterminded by a genius that’s figured out how to take traditional items and infuse them with his own incredible blend of flavors. Everything simply exudes freshness and flavor.
I started the meal with a Caipiroska, a fantastic blend of Grey Goose, agave nectar, fresh lime and pineapple puree, whereas my wife opted for the Bellini (Prosecco, Lamarca, peach puree and fresh rasberries). Both were priced at $14; both were delicious. For the hors d’oeuvres, we settled on two options: the steamed mussels in white wine and saffron paired with french fries ($15), and a salad of mixed baby greens with a cabernet sauvignon vinaigrette ($9). The mussels were enough for two – perfectly prepared, with just the right amount of saffron – while the french fries offered copious amounts of flavor and matched the mussels perfectly. The salad was what all salads should be: fresh, light, and an ideal blend of sweetness and acidity. As for our main entrees, my wife opted for grilled lamb cutlets with heirloom tomatoes and summer beans in a tarragon jus ($23); whereas I opted for the fresh seafood and shellfish tower comprised of poached shrimp, oysters, crab legs, scallop ceviche, manila clams, steamed mussels, periwinkles and lobster, all served with mignonette, cocktail sauce, tarragon rémoulade and Aïoli ($32 / person). As one of the main entrees pictured featured on the deca website, I had to try the seafood tower, and it was, for all intensive purposes, a seafood feast, but for the first time that night, I regretted my decision. Not because there was anything wrong with the seafood – it was a fresh, delicious blend of mollusks and shellfish. Instead, I regretted the fact I didn’t get to partake in another of Chef Payne’s fantastic creations. I sampled my wife’s perfectly grilled lamb and the gorgeous tarragon jus, and the cold seafood just couldn’t compete with the beauty of her dish. Further sealing my remorse for what I had ordered, our incredibly affable waiter was kind enough to bring us a sampling of pan seared sea scallops that were on special for the night, and after tasting one bite of the beautifully caramelized scallop that quite literally melted in my mouth, I realized that to truly appreciate deca, you have to experience Chef Payne’s more complex dishes. He is simply a master of his craft. Completing the night, the ten layer chocolate deca-dent cake and a French Apple Tart with puff pastry and caramel ice cream were our final two selections ($7 each). Both were wondrous finishes to an incredible dining experience, and well worth the few extra calories they contained.
Was I impressed with deca restaurant + bar? Absolutely. The next night, I visited Fronterra Grill – the critically acclaimed Mexican restaurant of chef Rick Bayless – and I can say with definitive certainty that I greatly preferred my meal at deca. And this is coming from someone that adores Mexican food, on a night when Bayless was in the kitchen. The fact is, deca is a perfect marriage of beautiful flavors and incredibly fresh ingredients, and the fact it’s so affordable is simply icing on the cake. It’s the perfect compliment to the Ritz-Carlton Chicago, and a dining experience that you absolutely must experience – both for those residing at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago and Chicago natives alike.
Completing their incredible offering of services and amenities for guests, The Carlton Club in the Ritz-Carlton Chicago offers a tremendous assortment of services aimed at restoring your natural vitality and well-being. As with every other facet of the Ritz-Carlton Chicago, the spa services are utterly world class. If you’re in the mood for a massage, there’s a total of nine options, including healing stone therapy, Punta Mita, herbal infusion, deep tissue and their signature aromatherapy offerings. Once you’ve had your stresses kneaded out of you, it’s only logical to pamper yourself with a facial. There’s a total of six different facial treatments including the Gold Coast rose quartz treatment, the Carlton Club signature treatment, the perfect radiance treatment and the men’s executive treatment, all of which will leave you cleansed, refreshed and glowing. And then there’s the body treatments and envelopments. Select services include the Four Seasons in One Signature Treatment, which includes a cooling scrub, a floral wrap, a medley of massages and a scalp treatment; the aroma flow body envelopment, which is a body wrap aimed at increasing circulation and leaving you energized; and the aroma tonic body envelopment, which features a rich cream mask full of hydrating, firming and anti-wrinkle agents that leave your skin smooth and toned.
For even more indulgence, you can also opt for one of three treatment packages, starting with the Four Seasons deluxe pamper. It begins with a 25-minute firming body polish to soften and tone your skin, followed by a 55-minute Swedish or deep tissue massage, and concludes with a 25-minute foot massage. The second treatment package is the warming heart journey, and starts with a 90-minute ultimate rose manicure and pedicure with pure essential oils of Moroccan rose and patchouli. Next, an 85-minute Gold Coast rose quartz facial follows, with active anti-ageing ingredients stimulating the skin and regenerating your cells, giving you a refined and glowing appearance. And finally, you can also opt for the perfect balance collection treatment package, which features a relaxing 85-minute herbal infusion massage designed to stimulate circulation and restore the body’s well-being; a 25-minute mini-facial; and a 30-minute classic relaxing manicure.
In addition to the aforementioned services, there’s also a variety of services for teens, specialized treatments for your hands and feet, and a selection of in-room offerings. In all probability, if there’s a specific treatment you’re seeking, you’ll find it at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago Spa. Their services are incredibly diverse, and every one that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing have been fantastic.
I truly can’t say enough good things about the Ritz-Carlton Chicago – it’s one of those rare places where everything comes together perfectly to create a destination that is absolutely remarkable. I’ve had the pleasure of residing in Chicago more times than I can count, but my time at the Ritz-Carlton gave me a perspective of the city that until then I had never had the opportunity to experience. It’s an incredible destination that simply does everything well. Whether you’re visiting with your family, for business or for leisure, all I can say is that if you choose the Ritz-Carlton Chicago, you won’t for a second regret it. It is, in a single word, amazing.
If you go, here are a few of the complimentary amenities included during your stay:
- The Carlton Club’s Fitness Center offers guests state-of-the-art equipment for a variety of exercise needs along with a selection of weekday fitness classes including yoga, Pilates, aerobics and water aerobics
- A sauna, a steam room and a whirlpool are all available in the fitness center
- The hotel’s pool (part of The Carlton Club) is an indoor temperature-controlled, four-lane lap pool; and a nearby sun deck offers guests lake and city views
- Daily at 4:00 pm, children aged 5 to 12 can join the Ritz-Carlton’s Pastry Team for an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the kitchen followed by a cookie-making session (must be accompanied by adult)
- A huge assortment of children’s amenities are available; simply note your child’s age when making the reservation
- Wireless internet access is included with all guest rooms
- All meals for children age 5 and under are complimentary