For a truly Chicago experience, spend a few days at the Palmer House. There are such rich stories with 24-karet gold Louis Comfort Tiffany chandeliers and Tiffany’s “Winged Angels” leading up to the Empire ballroom, I couldn’t help but gasp in awe.
The hotel is a historic landmark and has a bit of a tragic history. It was first built in 1871 as a wedding gift from business tycoon Potter Palmer to his young wife, Bertha. However, 13 days later the Great Chicago Fire burned the building to the ground. Palmer was not to be deterred and rebuilt the world’s first fireproof hotel across the street, opening in 1873. The Palmer House is also the first hotel with an elevator or electric lights. One hundred and forty years later, the nation’s longest continually operating hotel is still going strong, and one of the largest in Chicago with 1,639 guest rooms.
My stay here was quite comfortable and the staff was so friendly, making the enormous hotel feel like home. The Palmer House gets the little details right, from Peter Thomas Roth toiletries in the bathroom to conveniently located outlets at the base of the bedside lamps.
Just off the lobby, Potter’s Lounge is a great place to grab a drink and gab with girlfriends. You can’t go wrong with a classic Manhattan or Dark and Stormy at this 1920’s club-style bar, but I preferred the Cool as a Cucumber gin cocktail with lemon and cucumber, or a Pineapple Coconut Mojito. Just be careful, the food here is pretty good too. If you order the truffle chips, you’ll probably end up eating them all, like we did.
Like most great hotels, the Palmer House boasts an excellent full-service spa.
What’s most striking about Balance Spa is there is no traditional locker room set up where you change into a robe and slippers. Instead, each treatment room is its own private suite, which makes for a more luxurious and intimate experience. There’s even a tote bag provided to put all of your belongings, which your masseuse or esthetician will graciously tote around for you, so you don’t leave anything behind. An express soak takes place in a fancy bathtub that looks like a contraption from an alien spaceship. The soothing jet stream was noisy, but after a few minutes almost lulled me to sleep. Just be careful getting up 25 minutes later – I was a bit dizzy from the heat. Afterwards, a lemongrass body scrub under a vichy shower left my skin soft and smelling fresh. Each suite is impeccably organized and the stark white almost seems sterile, but when the lights dim and the rainforest sounds are piped into the room, I couldn’t help but close my eyes and drift away. With an array of treatments from massages and facials to manicures, pedicures and a small hair salon, it would be easy to spend an entire afternoon here. I felt like a million bucks after all the pampering.