Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel

Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel (Laurence Winram)

The first thing you notice when entering the new Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel is what you don't see: a check-in desk. It's there, but it's shoved far left of the blue-tinted revolving door, which means most guests experience the business end of their hotel stay only at arrival and departure.

For a hotel brand trying to distinguish itself with savory style, the disappearing desk is no accident. Instead, upon arrival, guests see a lobby of thick brown couches; dim, dangling lights; tall columns of handsome, weathered brick; a 50-foot-long fireplace; and a wall sheeted in ornate Egyptian brass. And that's just steps inside.

Traditionally ranked low in American customer-satisfaction surveys, Radisson is trying to reverse its fortunes in this country by importing Blu, a style-heavy brand already well regarded in much of the rest of the world. Chicago is the nation's first, with locations to follow in Philadelphia, Minneapolis and the Mall of America, plus St. Martin in the Caribbean.

"The design elements and details are what make this a Blu," said Pierre-Louis Giacotto, general manager of the Chicago property. "This is not a cookie-cutter hotel."

That's clearer nowhere more than on the exterior. Blu is housed in the bottom 18 floors of Aqua, a flowing, majestic skyscraper that has won rave reviews, including the 2009 Emporis Skyscraper Award.

Though not quite as snazzy as the lobby, the 334 guest rooms come in two memorable and distinct styles. "Naturally Cool" rooms are full of light color, sleek angles and blond wood, and "Mansion House" employs dark wood, black walls and aqua carpet.

The lobby also includes a stylish black-and-white tile bar and a sleek Italian-themed restaurant with an all-Italian wine list.

Beyond style, the Chicago Blu also features amenities fit for a condo building (which the rest of Aqua is): an 80,000-square-foot terrace with views of Millennium Park and Michigan Avenue; indoor and outdoor pools; a running track; and a screening room.

Rather than luxury, it all fits together to attain what Giacotto said the hotel strives for beyond all else: "a distinct experience."

Most rooms at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel (225 N. Columbus Drive, 312-565-5258, radissonblu.com) range from about $149 to $399 per night based on view and time of the year. Junior suites, suites and a presidential suite also are available.

jbnoel@tribune.com