My First ‘Design Hotel’: Chicago’s The Robey in the Trendy Bucktown/Wicker Park Neighborhood

My wife and I spent our first night together alone since our daughter was born. We escaped to Chicago and made plans to revisit Kyoten, an absolute favorite restaurant of ours and certainly one of the most acclaimed openings in Chicago over the past year.

Kyoten is also the undisputed best sushi in the city. It’s not an inexpensive meal by any stretch ($220 per person inclusive of tax and tip but without drinks) but if you’re in Chicago and love an omakase sushi meal you must go.

This is Chef Otto Phan’s new effort. His Kyōten Sushiko was my favorite restaurant in Austin for two years. He moved to Chicago completely and upped his game to new levels. Fortunately he’s re-opening his Austin location with a new chef that his been training under him. It won’t be the same, but at a lower price point and in all likelihood still better than any other sushi we get in Austin. Austinites, he re-opens in Mueller in early May.

The restaurant in Logan Square and I decided to stay at The Robey, a Design Hotel in the Wicker Park-Bucktown area about a mile away. We didn’t have a need to be downtown in the Loop area, this is an interesting trendy neighborhood, and it would be my first Design Hotel. What’s more I could use Marriott points because of the relationship launched in 2015 with Starwood. No meaningful elite benefits to speak of, but earn and burn and elite credit.

The property is a 1929 Art Deco ‘Northwest Tower’ office building. Built in a triangular flatiron shape it’s at the intersection of Milwaukee and North Avenues. Conveniently it’s right on the Blue Line at the Damen El station, an easy shot to and from O’Hare.

Check-in is a room to the right when you walk in the front entrance. They have cookies there in the late afternoon and complimentary coffee starting at 5 a.m.

The elevator lobby retains its old school office building charm, and key fobs are necessary to reach guest floors.

Our room on the 6th floor (606) was small, but well laid out with a sitting area and long bathroom.

Toiletries are Le Labo:

The highlight was magnificent views of the Chicago skyline.

There’s an even better – panoramic – view from the hotel’s rooftop lounge.

The hotel has an $18 facilities fee. They described it as applying on award stays ‘because we’re not actually part of Marriott’ though in fact Marriott too passes along such fees on redemption nights.

Here’s what’s included — notably drinks and snacks from the minibar are complimentary.

The hotel also arranges discounts with some local establishments:

We’re right above the El, though, so you do hear the train at night. I rather enjoy city noise when I’m in New York or Chicago, but there are ear plugs in the room and there’s also a sound machine with a variety of noise options from two different white noises to the ocean, falling rain, and more. I went to sleep to the sound of falling rain.

The hotel’s neighborhood is sufficiently hipster that the Walgreens across the street carries Dom Perignon and Perrier Jouet.

There are any number of restaurants and bars nearby, although this one struck me out of place in Chicago. Mork and Mindy was a spin-off of Happy Days so maybe Milwaukee would work but the show took place in Boulder, Colorado. In any case naming a barbecue restaurant for a late 1970s sit com about a man from outer space just strikes me as odd, even if Pork and Mork do rhyme.

I did not try the barbecue though because I had much better plans – and Chef Otto Pham was absolutely at the top of his game.

I’d absolutely stay here again, as much as I hate resort fees on principle. I didn’t have breakfast at the well-regarded Cafe Robey (no elite benefits…). Right across the street from a Starbucks, though, if that’s your thing. And it offers a different taste of Chicago, that’s especially convenient as a ‘nice’ hotel near the lodging-barren Bryant Park neighborhood of my sushi destination.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. This is VERY interesting to me, as I have often wondered if/when hotels will start to move to the more hipster/trendy parts of cities. As a leisure traveler I love being in more residential parts of cities, with a broader array of places to eat/drink that generally are higher quality than those available in the downtown- because they have a tougher audience that is less transitory. Love being in areas like this- outside the city core but a 10 minute train ride to the center so you can mix different types of activities and sites.

    Also, why go to that Starbucks when there is a La Colombe 3 storefronts away, and Wormhole Coffee a mere 2 blocks further?

  2. I stayed at The Robey about a year and a half ago. My room was smaller than yours (no sofa/sitting area). They did not have the free drinks / snacks (nor the resort fee as I recall) at that time. You didn’t miss much at breakfast (way overcooked the eggs for my wife’s eggs Benedict two mornings in a row). Interestingly, you couldn’t order food at the rooftop lounge, but you could order downstairs to go and bring it upstairs.

    On a related note, I wish there were a decent points option in Logan Square. We visit friends there a couple of times a year and usually stay with them, but with babies for both us and them now, a decent points option in Logan Square would be nice. Still, The Robey is a decentish option (especially for an annual free night cert).

  3. I love it. The hotel says they aren’t part of Marriott, but take Marriott points for booking, use the Marriott TV system and Marriott remote control, award points on cash stays and other, granted limited, benefits under Bonvoy elite status. I guess you can really have your cake and eat it too.

  4. @DCJoe – Chicago has a few good options along these lines. Hotel Zachary in my old neighborhood immediately comes to mind as another example.

  5. Great location and great local amenities!
    Nice to see a “facilities/resort fee” is actually worth something a guest would use.

  6. @tda- thanks good to know. Within the last year a new hotel opened up in Adams Morgan in DC, called “The LINE Hotel”. Pretty similar type of neighborhood, and they have included a couple of very highly regarded restaurants in the hotel as well. But it’s not a part of any points system as far as I can tell, so has less utility for this crowd. They must be doing pretty well though- charging $220+taxes/fees even for off weekends in November.

  7. The LINE Hotel is beautiful, but I always got the sense there wasn’t much business going on there. It’s far from the downtown (lobbyist, conference) crowd. The restaurants within the hotel are fantastic.

    I love the Design Hotel collection and similar “hipster” hotels (Ace Hotel is a great chain). It’s a nice change from staying in stale mainstream hotels although you’re generally “losing out” on a lot of bennies.

  8. Never had a chance to explore Chicago before but I did make it to O’hare airport en route to Santa Barbara, California back in 2006.

  9. I stayed there a couple of weeks ago and loved it. Mostly because it wasn’t far from where we were going in Logan Square, Wicker Park used to by my old stomping grounds 20yrs ago and it’s easy to find free overnight street parking maybe a five minute walk away.

  10. I wish more hotels would provide coffee service (Grab’n’Go) in the lobby. It’s a minimal cost and would lessen the need to have those abysmal capsule machines in each room ( or, worse still, the Mr Coffee things, probably not cleaned once in their whole life).
    $220 per head for sushi? Is it rare koi? I prefer Sushi Express, where it comes around on a conveyor belt and you choose what you want. $20 max.

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