Thanks to a hurricane in the southeast and a friend whose firm has hotel discounts in Chicago, my group of college girlfriends and I found ourselves with an impromptu stay in the Windy City at the lovely James hotel. I wanted to do a quick review of the hotel, in case you've got plans putting you in Chicago in the near future! :)
The Location: The first thing I do when looking for a hotel is go to the map. Where is it located in relation to everything else I might want to do? Is their public transport nearby? Etc... Well, the James is in a near-perfect location for exploring downtown Chicago. It's a block off of Michigan Ave, home to the Magnificent Mile & all of its shops, and only a few blocks south of the sort of "northern" end of the mile - the Hancock Tower and Chicago Ave. In the other direction, it's a few minutes walk down to the river, and then just a few minutes farther to Millennium Park. There is apparently a stop for the red line of the "El" (Chicago's subway system) nearby, but we either walked or cabbed everywhere we went, so that was less of a major factor for us. The one thing this hotel does not offer is any sort of direct access or view onto either the river or the lake, if that is important to you. Otherwise, there were shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars all within seconds of the hotel, and all the "touristy" things you may be looking for were also close by, making it extremely convenient. (The picture above on the right was taken just a block away looking up Michigan Ave., for reference.)
The Rooms & Style: The next aspect of a hotel that I check is the overall style of the place, and if it matches what I'm looking for. This hotel (perhaps partly because of its name?) does have a bit more of a masculine feel overall. The decor is all very modern - clean lines, lots of white, plus neutrals and natural elements. The rooms were comfortable and functional (good plug access, light switches where you need them), but sometimes a little funky. Our room had a strange little nook that was sort of pointless, but one of our friends' rooms was perfectly spacious with a lovely bench sofa - and it was not a suite. Just the fact that it's not a normal "box" hotel with all rooms exactly the same is something appealing to me, but also something to be aware of if room size is important to you. I loved the beds, but note that the two-bedded rooms featured double beds - not queens - so two full-sized adults sharing one of them was cozy. :) They were able to add a roll-away bed (for a fee) that was fine to one room that featured a king bed. The bathrooms were nice, if a touch dark for my taste, with plenty of storage/places to put things - and we were three girls sharing it! Some of us did not appreciate the functionality of the modern, square sinks, but can I say that I loved the roomy shower??? All hotels should have rounded shower curtain rods! The views out of the rooms DID vary quite a bit from room to room, as we had a bit of a skyline view (from the 10th floor), but one of our other rooms looked at a brick wall. So be sure to request a nice view if that's something important to you. The lobby was also surprisingly comfortable, with low slung orange sofas that drew us in each time we were waiting on others in our group.
(Apologies- our room wasn't "clean" when I took the pics below - but you should get the idea! Click to advance to the next picture...)
Service & Amenities: Here is where the hotel really shined. By the time I arrived, which was later on our first evening, the front desk staff pretty much knew that we were a group of friends and always recognized us upon our return (and was able to remember that we were together). They were great with leaving keys, printing new keys, and generally just being a friendly, welcoming presence. (Maybe one staff member liked us slightly too much, but it was all in good fun.) We even had a special delivery from some husbands that the staff executed flawlessly! It was marathon weekend and the hotel clearly had a large group of runners from some South American country in house. That just meant that the lobby was sometimes quite busy, but the staff was able to stay calm and help everyone with a minimum of waiting for anyone. The elevators (there were just two smallish-ones) were sometimes a bit packed due to all of the activity, but not too bad. The hotel has a full compliment of amenities too - a quiet & comfortable bar next to the lobby, a spa and gym in the basement, and a concierge desk to help with any arrangements you may want. Each room also had a closet with a safe of course, and then a fun & cool mini bar. Not all were the same, but our's looked like an old-school traveling chest, complete with a hidden fridge and lots of tasty snacks, which we didn't touch, but were tempted! One little touch that I really appreciated was that they had a glass bottle filled with water for us that they would refill whenever we needed it. We each had a glass to ourselves (we didn't have to ask for three or anything, they knew there were three in the room), and therefore always had some fresh water to sip. SO much nicer than plastic bottles of water than you don't know if you have to pay for or not!
Towel Check: One final note that, to me, really distinguishes a great hotel stay from a good one is the bathroom towels. These were FANTASTIC. HUGE and soft, without being so soft that they don't actually dry you. If I could have purchased their bath towels for my own home, I would have! :)
So- to conclude, if you're looking for a better than average, comfortably cool hotel to explore downtown Chicago, you could definitely do worse. It was not trying to be a 5* ultra luxury hotel, by any means, but it was a perfect choice for us.