Located at 720 South Michigan Avenue, The Chicago Hilton, which was originally the Stevens Hotel, is a historic property that that has continually evolved over the past few years from an all right hotel to an outstanding hotel. One gets the sense that Hilton has stepped up their game to make this a show piece property in every way possible.
The Stevens Hotel opened in 1927 and was built by the father of former United States Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. The Stevens cost over $30 million to build and opened with 3,000 guest rooms, a bowling alley, a barber shop, a rooftop mini-golf course called the High-Ho Club, a movie theater, an ice cream shop, and a drug store. Of course The Great Depression got the the best of the Hotel, which eventually found the United States as the new owner. In 1942 the United States Army moved in the building and used The Stevens as housing and classrooms for soldiers, and then in 1944 local businessman Stephen Healy purchased The Stevens for over $4 million.
In 1945 Conrad Hilton purchased the building and named the Hotel After himself — The Conrad Hilton Hotel. In April 1951, crowds gathered in the Great Hall to hear a speech by General Douglas MacArthur defend his conduct in the Korean War. In 1968 The Conrad Hilton was the scene of the Democratic Primary Protests, which erupted into violence. In 1984 the hotel was closed, renovated, and reopened as the Chicago Hilton Towers.
I stayed here in 2006 and didn’t find too much in the way to be impressed about. As a matter of fact the view was lousy and the room service was worse.
But during my last stay, May 22nd-23rd, I could not have been more pleased. Let me start with the only negative of the hotel — there’s a valet who has the manner of a former Teutonic military regime and the personality of that old fart in front of you in line who can’t seem to bag their own groceries and takes 13 and a half hours to gather up the exact change without the slightest care of who’s behind him.
That said, the woman who checked me in was quick and gave me an upgrade, only after she handed me a free umbrella to keep as rain was predicted that morning. The bell hop followed me upstair with my luggage, showed me how to use the new desktop computer that showed area events, restaurants and other hot-spots. The room was cool and not stuffy, I had a great view of Lake Michigan, the bathroom was large and the beds firm enough with four fat pillows. The staff on the Executive floor lounge were also courteous, accommodating and made a mean coffee. I talked to one of the workers who had worked a double shift. She talked to me about how long she had lived in the city and told me some of her favorite places to go.
But what is most amazing about the place is the interior. You walk back in time to when first impressions were important, and here your entrance sets you up for true luxury. Every room in the hotel is spacious and gilded in gold and crystal. You get all this for a reasonable price. This is one of those places that makes everyone feel like an important guest. You definitely can’t go wrong staying here.
UPDATE: May 16, 2013—Stayed at The Chicago Hilton again. They have modernized much of the hotel including the lobby which is a bit more upscale now. The food is pretty good at 720 South Bar and Grill, and the addition of SNAX, a quick grab-and-go snack shop, makes jumping into and out of the lobby easy.