Stretch limos, box seat concert tickets, and a never-ending parade of live music at clubs and bars ‘til 4 a.m.—far more than just another touristy destination, Chicago offers much for the rock star at heart. And after spending a few days pretending we were rock stars ourselves, we’re happy to show you the ins and outs of a musically themed trip to America’s Windy City.
If your clients are really into the all-night music scene, Chicago offers a ton of bars, clubs and holes-in-the-wall that are just famous enough to warrant at least one song (and one drink) before heading home. But before we get ahead of ourselves, we’d better recommend somewhere to stop for a bite to eat first (only the hardest partiers would start a night on an empty stomach). We recommend Untitled, a fabulous speakeasy-type restaurant and lounge that calls upon the prohibition of the 1920s. Note its location (at 111 West Kinzie), because in true speakeasy style, there is no sign above the door to call any attention to the free-flowing alcohol and jazz that awaits in this basement hideaway. After filling up there (they offer a delicious full dinner menu), point your clients to a show at the Chicago Theater or The Vic. The first, a staple for entertainment of all types, offers plush cozy seating in a historic setting, while The Vic is a standing room only-type venue, great for dancing during high-energy tunes and swaying for ballads.
Nightcaps call to Mother Hubbard’s (sports pub), Paris Club (nightclub), the Old Town Ale House (proud dive bar), and Mother’s (pub, dancing, karaoke and more), each famous in its own right, and each equally as likely to have your clients out ‘til dawn.
sleep it off
When you’re taking a rock ’n’ roll tour through Chicago, you’ve got only one option for accommodations. Say it with us: the Hard Rock Hotel Chicago. And if there’s anything that Hard Rock knows well, it’s how to provide an incredible music-based experience. The Hard Rock Hotel Chicago (from $299 per night) and its 381 guestrooms and suites reside quite comfortably within the historic 40-story Carbide and Carbon building. Built in the 1920s to be one of the city’s most lavish and extravagant structures of its time, the building’s exterior was done up in green-tinted terra cotta with gold accents, in a shape that looks strikingly like a bottle of champagne—pretty fitting for a Hard Rock property. Without a doubt, the Hard Rock brand is one that prides itself on its musical roots and superb ability to provide every guest with a “rock star” experience. And how do they do it? Blake Smith, global music and marketing manager for Hard Rock International, tells us it’s all about “service, service, pampering…and maybe some more service. Rock stars are mercurial creatures, and our teams offer superlative responsiveness to even the most creative of requests.” Adding to that, Smith jokes, “Please keep it legal, people.”
Of course, the hotel offers everything a music lover could crave. Each floor is themed after a different band or artist, with memorabilia displayed on the landing floor—pieces like a medieval-style coat worn by Elton John to Elvis Presley’s birthday party; vest, pants and scarves worn by Steven Tyler of Aerosmith; and a silver jumpsuit, platform shoes and black Yamaha guitar belonging to James Young of STYX. No drooling on the glass, please.
Yes, music is at the heart of the experience at this property, right down to the carpeting, which is rumored to mimic the visual design of musical sound waves. Downstairs near the lobby, antique-looking (but not sounding) Little Horn speakers decorate a sitting area where clients can gaze through floor-to-ceiling glass windows at the constant movement of the city outside, or they can head to Angels & Kings, an all-day and (nearly) all-night establishment serving everything from morning brunch to evening shots of tequila…or morning shots of tequila, if your clients are down for that. Guestrooms are modern, spacious and comfortable, each following along with the memorabilia theme of its floor with framed photos, lyrics etched into the mirror and guitars stitched into the pillowcases. Citrus-scented Rock Spa bath products had us swooning, and iPod docking stations and our flat-screen TV provided in-room entertainment.
One of the perks of staying in a historic building in the center of downtown is the view—our corner unit offered a northern view across the city’s skyscrapers plus a glance eastwards to Chicago Harbor and its yachts as they cruise up and down the coast. So yes, relaxing is indeed an option in this fast-paced “Second City.”
In fact, your clients can do it up right at Rock Spa, which features two private massage treatment rooms, or if they prefer, they can have a spa therapist come to their own guestroom for some in-room treatment. For a real workout, your clients can stop in at the 24-hour fitness center, Body Rock. And of course, retail therapy is also an option at Hard Rock Hotel Chicago’s Rock Shop.
touring the town
Speaking of shopping, Chicago’s Magnificent Mile is just a few steps from the property, and can surely provide an entire afternoon (or two) of great finds.
If your clients are fans of fun (and who isn’t?), Second City Comedy Club absolutely cannot be missed. Open since 1959, this comedy house has seen hundreds of comedic geniuses as they rose on their way to fame, with alumni including Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell.
Also around town are plenty of must-see sights outdoors. One of the most popular is Navy Pier—a shopping and entertainment complex offering an entire afternoon’s worth of family fun—followed closely by Millennium Park and its popular sculptures, which include the spouting faces and “Cloud Gate” (known as “The Bean”).
“Chicago is a great destination all year long,” says Lynn Farrell, president and owner of Windy City Travel and Foremost Travel, two agencies that call Chicago home. The city, she says, “offers all of the culture, dining and sightseeing opportunities that big cities like New York offer, but Chicago is a more manageable size with a great lakefront and friendlier people.”
Farrell recommends a few key essentials when visiting, including stopping by Willis Tower—formerly the Sears Tower—where clients can visit Skydeck Chicago, an attraction affording an incredible lookout, plus the option to step out onto glass-bottomed (and enclosed) ledges 110 stories high.
Also on her list of must-do’s are a boat tour, which often occur on double-decker boats that cruise along the lakefront or the river, showcasing the city’s architecture, and a good, hearty slice of Chicago pizza. We can attest—it is definitely as good as they say it is.
private jam sessions
After touring all night long, sometimes it’s best to take the morning easy. Sleep in, order room service, that kind of thing. Plus, at a Hard Rock Hotel, it’s the perfect time for party animals to let their inner rock star reign.
Hard Rock properties now offer an incredible program: Sound of Your Stay, a recently debuted complimentary offering, available to all guests, that really blows whatever competition the brand might have had out of the water. Says Smith, it’s a “multifaceted program that offers curated downloads, guitars and lessons, DJ mixers with customized instruction, and basically anything else anyone with even a slight interest would ask for.”
We’ll say it again—guests of Hard Rock properties can check out a Fender guitar or mixer. For free.
“The Sound of Your Stay,” Smith continues, “currently includes three components: tracks. picks. mix.”
Through tracks., guests choose a genre that they like best and can download a free playlist of 15 songs, theirs to keep forever. picks., meanwhile, allows guests to check out a Fender guitar anytime during their stay. Guests choose from a 20-piece guitar menu, call up room service, and before they know it the guitar is sitting front and center, complete with Ludacris headphones and a mini amplifier so they can jam to their heart’s content. That customized instruction that Smith mentions is helpful for those who have never picked up a guitar in their lives (like us)—it’s available in-room, on demand, via the 40-inch flat-screen TVs in each guestroom.
Meanwhile, mix. provides guests a professional DJ mixer—the perfect complement to the 15 songs guests download through tracks., which we imagine are just waiting to be mixed together. For now, mix. is only available at this property and Hard Rock Hotel San Diego, but the program will be rolled out to select additional properties throughout 2013.
red-eye? no thanks.
When private jets aren’t an option for your weekend rock stars, good news: Chicago is served by two airports, O’Hare International Airport (ORD) and Midway International Airport (MDW). Chicago O’Hare offers nonstop flights to about 140 domestic destinations, served by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, Spirit Airlines, United Airlines, U.S.Airways and Virgin America. Serving a slightly smaller range, Midway offers service to 60 nonstop domestic destinations on Delta, Frontier Airlines and Southwest Airlines.
We’ve covered all of the (legal) essentials of a music-central tour through the Windy City, but a rock star’s gotta eat, too.
- Hard Rock Cafe—Duh. The quintessential music-themed restaurant and its Rock Shop can’t be beat. Weekends ‘til 1 a.m.
- Rockit Bar & Grill—Edge and flair couldn’t be more apparent here, where menus are served on record sleeves and speakers pipe out favorites that everyone will want to sing along with. Even Conde Nast Traveler has recognized this restaurant as “one of the top concepts in the world.” Weekends ‘til 2 and 3 a.m.
- Hub 51—They do late-night, too, but Hub 51 is the couldn’t-be-more-perfect spot for brunch (no matter what time your clients drag themselves out of bed). Calling itself “a continual party,” Hub 51 promises discounts to those who show up in their pajamas, and bigger discounts if their pajamas are the same as last night’s outfit. Plus, they make a mean bloody mary. Weekends ‘til 2 and 3 a.m.
- Untitled—Previously mentioned, yes, but worth a second consideration. This speakeasy-themed restaurant offers an ambiance that just can’t be found anywhere else these days (thank goodness). Nondescript bouncer, dim lights, loud conversation and talented musicians—we adore it. Weekends ‘til 2 and 3 a.m.
- Chuck’s Manufacturing—Newly opened at Hard Rock Hotel Chicago, Chuck’s Manufacturing is best described as bright, busy and insanely delicious. Having a hard time deciding what to eat? Chuck’s lets you mix and match your meal. Weekends ‘til 1 a.m., with a live DJ or VJ on-hand six nights per week.
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Chicago: Nothing Second About This City(November 2010)