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From Prohibition to Playmates: Blackstone Hotel showcases Chicago's past

Posted by Melanie Nayer  December 12, 2011 06:37 AM

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RENBLACK-CAPONE.JPGImagine walking the same halls as Betty Davis, Marilyn Monroe and Katherine Hepburn. Imagine standing in the same ballroom where The Beatles once played an impromptu set during a late-night event. Imagine sitting in the same spot Warren G. Harding sat and smoked a cigar with his staff when he learned he just became the 29th president of the United States, and the phrase "smoke-filled room" was coined. Imaging looking out the same window, at the same view, from your hotel room that John F. Kennedy looked at when he got the call about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Imagine being in a room with no windows, but feeling like you're being watched because you know it's where Al Capone held his secret meetings while getting a hair cut and shave in Chicago. Imagine staying in a hotel so steeped in history that you almost forget what year you're living in.

Located slightly off the traditional tourist track in Chicago, the Renaissance Blackstone Chicago Hotel lays claim to events that transcend generations. With over a century of stories to chronicle, the hotel is one-part museum and one-part social meeting space. Presidents, heads of state, musicians, actors and mobsters have called The Blackstone home. It was here that scenes from "The Untouchables" were filmed; where Al Capone held 'meetings'; and where, in 1931, the first unofficial crime convention -a gathering of high-power mafia from around the nation- was held. It was in these rooms that Betty Davis painted her lips the perfect shade of red, and where Marilyn Monroe laced up her lingerie before sneaking out for a sultry night on the town. It was here that John Lennon walked the halls with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles spiritual guru (and one-time owner of The Blackstone), contemplating life and imagining what's possible for the future.

RENBLACK-BEATLES.JPGThe Blackstone Hotel showcases the works of local artists in the hotel's gallery. During this trip, a photography showcase of all the Blackstone's celebrity guests hung on the walls.

Located at 636 South Michigan Avenue, the Renaissance Blackstone is walking distance from the Chicago Institute of Art, across the street from the Grant Park, and only a $5 cab ride from Navy Pier. The rooms still have that old-school feel, some with only one window and oozing a dark past, but all adorned with pieces of Blackstone's history. After a $130 million renovation and restoration in 2006, the hotel reopened with one restaurant - celebrity Chef Jose Garces' tapas joint, Mercat a la Planxa - and a dressed up lobby complete with a gold sofa, working fireplaces, and crystal and brass chandeliers. The bar area is small and not conducive to large parties, but the restaurant plays host to tables of all sizes and the lobby area of the hotel serves as a meeting spot before a night out in the city. The hidden gem: a small cafe called Bodega No.5, located on the street level of The Blackstone, which offers breakfast and lunch options for $5 or less (and one of the best cups of coffee in Chicago).

RENBLACK-entrance.JPGThe lobby of the Renaissance Blackstone Hotel Chicago. Animal print chairs, gold sofas, gothic candelabras and orante brass detailing are intertwined with pieces of the original Blackstone Hotel, like the etched ceiling and handmade chandeliers.

Where to eat in Chicago:

The foodie city is packed with artisan bistros, famous pizzerias, celebrity chefs and five-star dining rooms. Forbes recently announced their five- and four-star restaurants, including 10 in the Chicago area including: Alinea, Charlie Trotter’s, L2O, Everest, Graham Elliot, Les Nomades, Ria, Seasons, Sixteen, and Tru. (See all the Forbes 2012 star winners.)

burger.JPG For something off the beaten path, try brunch at 2 Sparrows. A quick $10 cab ride from The Blackstone will land you in Lincoln Park, Chicago's trendy-turned-yuppie district flanked with small boutiques, cafes, galleries and one of the neighborhood's hidden gems, 2 Sparrows. The breakfast, lunch and brunch eatery formed by two childhood friends features full-on comfort food with an eclectic twist (foie gras Pop-tarts and bacon beignets are just the beginning) and a contemporary beverage program that makes the Bloody Mary self-conscious. The seasonally-driven menu is created by chef and partner Gregory Ellis, while general manager and partner Steven Fladung oversees the beverage program. The 60-seat space is constantly packed with people so plan ahead and get there early. On the weekends, the wait can be as long as 90 minutes. While you're here, don't miss the burger, pork belly sandwich, biscuits and gravy, and noodle bowl.

Chicago hotel packages:
Thanks to direct flights from Boston, a weekend getaway in Chicago is easy. Add in some hotel deals, and you've got an affordable escape.

Renaissance Blackstone Chicago Hotel is celebrating its gangster heritage with a "Good to be a Gangster" package starting at $189 a night. The package includes overnight accommodations, two tickets to the gangster tour, a copy of "Get Capone," signed by author Jonathan Eig, a copy of Ken Burns' Prohibition on DVD; and a complimentary prohibition cocktail in the hotel's restaurant.

The InterContinental Magnificent Mile is offering a a sports package to coincide with the recent opening of its new restaurant, Michael Jordan's Steak House. The Be Like Mike Package starts at $529/night and includes an overnight stay, dinner for two at the restaurant and a limited edition Michael Jordan Steak House gift basket with custom steak knives and Michael Jordan’s signature sauce.

Hotel 71's shopping package is for those who want to spend the holidays in style. Located along the Chicago River between River North and the Loop, Hotel 71's Ribbons & Bows Holiday Shopping Package includes a $50 Visa gift card redeemable at one of the many stores along Michigan Avenue or State Street. The package, which starts at $209/night, includes a two night stay in a luxury guestroom or suite, gourmet hot chocolate bar for two and complimentary gift wrapping for all holiday purchases.

Readers: Where are your favorite spots in Chicago?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Melanie Nayer is a travel writer who spent many years in the newsroom before jetting off to see the world. Her goal is to bring readers the best insider information More »

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