If history is what you're looking for on your trip to Chicago, don't look any farther than the Drake - as the slogan goes, it's "Real Chicago."
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The Drake is a mainstay, not only of the outline of the Chicago skyline, but of the heart of the city itself. Growing up, I visited frequently as a tourist with my family and spent tons of time strolling the hotel's arcade and enjoying afternoon tea in its stunning Palm Court. But, of course I always dreamed of staying as a guest.
In recent years, with the purchase - and renovation- by Hilton, a stay at the historic Drake is more accessible than ever. Situated between the Gold Coast and the northern end of Michigan Avenue, you really can't ask for a better location, convenient to wherever you'll want to be in the windy city.
If you're interested in tasting a piece of Chicago history, give it a shot! It certainly keeps us coming back, year after year.
History of the Drake Hotel
Opening in 1920, The Drake originally stood nearly alone on the shores of Lake Michigan, just off of Michigan Avenue. The selection of the location was intended to bridge the gap between the residential Gold Coast to the north, and the increasingly commercial Michigan Avenue area, to the south.
A mainstay of Chicago high society from the 20's through the middle of the century, with its stylish Palm Court and cozy Cape Code Room (the first "themed" restaurant in the U.S., which has sadly now closed), famous guests included Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio, Winston Churchill, Princess Grace, Walt Disney, 4 U.S. presidents, and Charles Lindbergh.
The Drake was purchased by Hilton in the 1990s, leading to a needed restoration, as its old school glory had slightly faded by that point. Interestingly, this acquisition eventually brought The Drake under the same ownership as its longtime "rival," The Palmer House, the other great Chicago hotel, located on the southern end of the city. Another highlight of that decade was the stay of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1996. The Drake still offers her suite for rent.
The Drake has featured in a number of movies, perhaps most famously, at least for me, My Best Friends Wedding.
The Drake's Location
In my opinion, the Drake's location is one of its strongest attributes. Snuggly situated among The Gold Cost, Lake Michigan, and Michigan Avenue, you can easily get wherever you're going from the hotel.
Walking out the front doors of The Drake, you'll be almost directly across the street from Bloomingdales, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton, and the historic Chicago Water Tower, and its namesake shopping mall. If you're looking for high-end shopping, this is definitely the location for you, as you get the best of Michigan Avenue and easy access to the most elite shopping in Chicago in the Gold Coast - Hermes, Dior, etc. The Gold Coast also offers great dining options, such as the famous Gibson's and Tavern on Rush.
And, of course, the Lake! You can walk out the back door of The Drake directly to a quick under-the-street tunnel that takes you to a walking path along Lake Michigan. Can't do better than that! Personally, I find the location particularly relaxing in a very crowded city - being backed up to the Lake allows not only for great views, but also a bit of a respite from the daily grind.
That said, in recent years, as the international tourism industry has exploded and Chicago itself has grown increasingly tourist-centric, Michigan Avenue itself has expanded, and shifted south to meet the river. Perhaps one of the most notable examples of this is the Apple Store, which recently completed a massive, multi-million dollar storefront right on the Chicago River, moving from a location farther north on the Ave. Depending on where the majority of your activities will be based, you may find that The Drake is slightly farther north than you want to be. If you're looking for a similar, historic hotel, The Drake's former rival for early 20th century glamour, The Palmer House, is also now a Hilton.
The Drake's Guestrooms
Guest rooms at The Drake are fairly large, with all the "amenities" you'd be looking for - in-room coffee maker, large TV, closet, dresser, generally a sofa (or table - depends), desk, and, recently, an iPad on which you can order room service and make other communications with the hotel. The hotel has been making small updates over the years, while maintaining the historic elegance of the Chicago landmark.
I have to give a special shout-out to my Husband for reminding me to take these pictures before I started throwing my possessions all over the room - a close call!!
A few tips for picking the right room: with over 500 guest rooms, the hotel is extremely large. Huge. If you have difficulty walking, be sure to let the attendant know when you check-in.
That said, it's also an extremely old hotel, so do expect to hear a bit more noise in the hall/through the walls than in one of the more modern, and more soundproof hotels you may be used to. If this is a concern, be sure to ask for a room at the end of a hall, where there's generally less traffic.
The Drake's bathrooms have recently been fully updated, with new fixtures and modern wallpaper. This was a needed change, as they were getting a bit long in the tooth until this revamp a couple of years ago. The updated bathrooms aren't marble, etc., but they have all the basics, and nice lotion and soap, of which I now have quite a collection! I've only ever had the combined shower/bath tub set-up.
Eating and Drinking at The Drake, Chicago
The Drake is known for its unique dining and drinking options. The high tea at Palm Court is consistently voted one of the best teas in the city, and if you are looking to rest your tired feet after a day of shopping, I'd highly recommend it. Palm Court (pictured above) is a phenomenal, secluded lobby area, surrounding a gorgeous fountain/floral arrangement, and recently refreshed and updated with new furniture.
Sometimes, you are able to explore Palm Court under less formal circumstances, for a cocktail or just to have a look around. However, some wedding weekends it is used for private events.
If it's drinks and nibbles you're after, Coq d'Or is a vibrant bar, with a long history and an exciting clientele to keep you entertained all evening. A long-time mainstay with upper crust Chicagoans looking for a Manhattan, that's still the case today, though it's perhaps a bit more accessible for everyone else than it used to be. Even if you don't end up staying at The Drake, it's worth popping in for a drink to check out "Real Chicago."
The Drake's Arcade
For me, one of The Drake's most unique features is its "arcade" - it's interior shopping area on its lower level. If you enter from the main door (there are other entrances to the arcade, including through some of the shops which also have exterior store fronts), the first shop you'll see is Mangel Florist, one of the arcade's mainstays. Continuing through, you'll find a coffee shop, a hotel gift shop/convenience store, an art gallery, and a few high-end clothing and jewelry shops. Random tips - the hotel gift shop/convenience store does not allow you to charge items to you room, worth keeping in mind, depending on how you're paying or getting reimbursement if it's work trip, etc.
Don't delay - book your stay at The Drake today! Come back and tell us about your trip and any tips I may have missed! xx
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