A Chicago tradition from presidents to gangsters

Part of a series of mini-reviews of Chicago-area hotels.

Chicago is home to many historic hotels, but few may be as storied as the Blackstone. Twelve presidents — from Taft to Carter — have stayed at the Blackstone, some at times of national crisis. John F. Kennedy learned of Cuba's nuclear capabilities while eating a bowl of chowder.

Now under the Marriott's Renaissance line after a $128 million renovation, the Blackstone has a facade to match its grand legacy. The two-story lobby combines much of the Blackstone's restored 19th century motif with modern accents, such as a video-art installation behind the front desk.

The lobby opens up to Mercat a la Planxa, a Catalonia-style grilled-to-order tapas restaurant manned by chef Jose Garces (of "Iron Chef America" fame).

Upstairs, the rooms (ranging from 300 to 600 square feet) offer modern accommodations, not to mention lots of artwork and literature detailing Chicago's history. Be sure to book a lake-view room facing east; the view of Grant Park may blow away anything you learn about Al Capone being a regular barbershop customer at the hotel.

The Renaissance Blackstone Hotel

Neighborhood: South Loop

636 S. Michigan Ave.

Chicago, IL 60605


theblackstonehotel.com renaissancehotels.com

Getting there

Cross streets: Michigan and Balbo

Public transportation: CTA bus: Michigan Avenue routes; Red Line "L" stop Harrison; Blue Line stop LaSalle

Parking: self and valet

Wheelchair access

The basics

Prices start at $215 a night, excluding taxes

Floors: 17

Rooms: 332

Hotel amenities: Ballrooms (1), meeting rooms (9), restaurant and bars/lounges (3), 24-hour business center, 24-hour fitness center

Room amenities: Flat-screen TV, work desk, coffee maker, in-room safe

Features: room service, turndown service, pets allowed, Wi-Fi $12.95 a day, shopping nearby

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