Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Drake Hotel Chicago Review and Photoblog (or Finding a Place to Stay in Chicago)

Chicago is one of the most beautiful and culturally vibrant cities to visit in the United States, but making the most of your stay requires picking a hotel with the right ambiance, amenities, guest services, and the ideal prime location (especially if the duration of your stay is limited).  For the most memorable and grand experience of staying in Chicago, we'll always come back to The Drake Hotel.  On this blog feature, we'll go over a brief history of what makes The Drake so special and how to make the most of your stay here.

For anyone not familiar with The Drake Hotel, it is a historic hotel rich in history, character, old-school glamour and a warm welcoming ambiance of top-notch service.   The Drake Hotel has a legendary status and reputation in the city of Chicago.

Built in the early 20th century, The Drake Hotel was designed to be the first urban luxury resort by self-trained architect Benjamin Marshall, who in 1917 decided that the near North Side would be Chicago’s most desirable part of the city with its unobstructed grand views of Lake Michigan.  The hotel was originally designed to provide guests with resort access to an exclusive park, beach, sun-bathing deck, grand ballrooms, and horse-riding trails.  The Drake’s original Palm Court area had a pond that featured ducks and baby alligators, and Benjamin Marshall even once brought in an elephant to the space for the Fountain Court Charity Ball.

The Palm Court - famous for their delicious afternoon teas by the fountain with live harp music.  It's believed that tossing coins into the fountain, of which the money goes to charity will shower the recipients with good luck.
The grand lobby of The Drake during the holidays - warm and festive!
The Drake Hotel has also made its way into pop culture with its beautiful grand architecture.  In the 1980’s, movies such as Time and Again, The Blues Brothers, Continental Divide, and Risky Business were all filmed at the Drake.   
Many famous figures in history have all stayed at The Drake, residents have included Walt Disney, Amelia Earhart, Sinclair Lewis, Charles Lindberg, Kathryn Hepburn, Duke of Windsor, President Herbert Hoover, and George Gershwin.  In 1959, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip stayed at the Sapphire Suite, which is now known as the Princess Diana Suite.

The Cape Cod seafood restaurant where Joe DeMaggio and Marilyn Monroe carved their initials onto the wooden bar, you can still find their inscriptions here today!
This hallway at The Drake even has a piano bar.  The decor and feel throughout the property is classic, grand, and elegant!
The grand history and the glamour of The Drake Hotel can be felt throughout the premise, from the lobby to their renowned opulent ballrooms.  Constructed of smooth limestone, The Drake Hotel’s architecture is inspired by ornate details found in Italian palaces of High Renaissance Rome and Florence.

The Gold Coast ballroom of The Drake Hotel - about 124 events are held here every year, many of which are weddings
At the Drake, we stayed at the executive suites (pictured below), which had a full living room space, work space, bedroom area, and a beautiful view of Lake Michigan, giving us the experience of how it’s like living in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood!   Like many historic hotels, all the rooms at The Drake are extra spacious, and come with high ceilings.

This is one of the executive suite rooms at The Drake;at more than twice the size of most urban hotel rooms, this room has a large marble bathroom and a full sized living room
Rooms at The Drake either have a view of Lake Michigan or downtown Chicago, our executive suite came with this gorgeous view of the lake and the Gold Coast of Chicago
This is the new LED light signage of The Drake, it lights up at night and is part of the Chicago skyline
Not to be missed - afternoon tea at The Drake, where you get to sit besides the water fountain.  The selections are delicious, and it even comes with gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options.
A close-up of desserts - here we have raspberry macaron, cream puff, and pumpkin mousse cookies
The Drake Hotel also has one of Chicago’s ideal locations; not only is it on the main shopping district of Magnificent Mile, but it’s also located right between the trendy North Side neighborhoods and Millennium Park.  At The Drake, you can enjoy the finest afternoon teas (with live harp music) and modern amenities like high-speed internet and a state of the art fitness center.  A stay at The Drake Hotel feels special, warm, and charming in a way that makes you feel extra welcomed on your trip to the Windy City.

To make the most out of your stay at The Drake, be sure to have afternoon tea at Palm Court, enjoy seafood at one of Chicago's first and finest seafood restaurant the Cape Cod and have drinks at Coq D'Or, one of the first bars to open after the end of the Prohibition.  In addition to the touristy Magnificent Mile, also do check out the unique boutique shops on Oak Street and be adventurous - explore the nearby uptown area of Lakeview and Lincoln Park where you'll find some of Chicago's best music (jazz and rock and blues), theater, improv comedy, and food scene.

The spacious and warm living room area of the executive suite we stayed in is beautifully decorated with ornate window drapes and classic american furniture
The rooms come with classic ornate decor that gives it a warm inviting feel, such as Roman window drapes, wall moldings, and gold-gilded floor and table lamps
The view of the bedroom from the living room couch
Large marble bathroom with tub
Bathrooms come with Peter Thomas Roth products
Furnishings at The Drake come with details that speak to the craftsmanship of a bygone era
Plush comfortable beds with smooth soft luxurious linens for a perfect night of sleep after a day of exploring the city
This private executive lounge is open to guests of the executive suites, perfect for conducting business in a more private quiet setting
The hallway of the floor we stayed in, we love how wide, pretty and brightly lit it is, this speaks to great attention to detail given to every aspect of your stay!
Every floor has a central elevator waiting area with beautiful chandeliers, wall sconce lamps, and wall moldings
The Drake may be a historical hotel, but it has a modern gym that is bigger and brighter than most hotel gyms in the surrounding area
A hearty and delicious vegetarian frittata at The Drake Brothers restaurant in the hotel
The Grand ballroom space at The Drake sets the right impression for any special occasion!  This was originally built for the Charleston craze in the 1920's
To make reservations for a stay at The Drake visit their website here or contact them using the information below:
140 East Walton Place 
Chicago, IL 60611 
Phone 312.787.2200 
Fax 312.787.1431 
Toll-free Reservations 800.553.7253

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Kimber Modern Hotel Review and Photoblog, January 2015 (Or Finding a Place to Stay in Austin)

The Kimber Modern is a hip modern luxury boutique hotel located in the South Congress, Travis Hill area of downtown Austin. This vibrant area is known for many gourmet restaurants, vintage, and indie shops.  This is also where you would find the Continental Club and other live music venues outside of the touristy 6th street area.  Gourmet joints like Torchy’s Tacos, the Odd Duck, Lick Ice Cream, Elizabeth Street are all located in this area.

As we spoke about in our last blog post, finding a place to stay in downtown Austin can be a challenge.  Many mega-chain hotels downtown offer the standard hotel experience at high prices since they cater to conference go-ers, but for a unique boutique hotel experience, we decided to stay at the Kimber Modern.

What sets this place apart from other boutique hotels are their unique modern architectural designs and stellar all-inclusive perks (there is no extra charge for all the gourmet beverages and snacks you can enjoy here).
The Kimber Modern is modern in every sense of this word.  You enter the hotel by keying in your code to the door; then you walk up a flight of stairs into an outdoor open courtyard where you are brought to a beautifully landscaped modern outdoor space. 
All the rooms at the Kimber Modern are arranged to surround a private common outdoor courtyard perfect for lounging; if you'd like to lie down under the sun there are a few hammocks to relax on
Our room, the White Suite came with a private bamboo garden and plenty of outdoor furniture for holding a small private gathering
The low rise modern exterior of the Kimber Modern, be surprised for so much that lies behind this modest facade!
After keying in your code to get through the front door, this staircase takes you up to the secluded unique design world of the Kimber Modern
The private courtyard of the Kimber Modern with lots of comfortable couches and mini fireplace flames that light up at night.  Just grab some wine (included as part of your stay) in the commons area and hang out in this private lounge without the crowds!
The rooms are futuristic and luxurious in every way.  Each room comes with custom built modern furnishings & decor, paintings by local artists, bathrooms enclosed in frosted glass walls (inquire to find out which rooms have this), slanted angular ceilings and asymmetrical room layouts, and brightly lit rooms.  Every room also has a different unique look and feel and you find yourself exploring all the fine design details when you enter the room.  The room shown here is the white suite.

We like how even their smallest room is much more spacious than many boutique hotel rooms in the downtown area. 

The staff here gives great attention to detail to the needs of their guests.  Bathrooms all have Malin and Goetz shampoos, body wash and lotions, shaving razors, makeup remover, Q-tips, toothpaste, and aromatic bath salts in rooms with a tub.  Every room has a fridge with wine, beer, and filtered water.  Larger rooms also come with a private backyard with comfortable lounge chairs surrounded by landscaped bamboos.  If you need to get work done in, the desk all have Italian Flos lamps and Eames chairs.  If you’d like to turn on some music, just plug your ipad or iphone into the in-room speaker.
Spacious high ceiling bathrooms with an extra large tub; the frosted glass walls bring in more light into the bathroom from the adjacent rooms
Our room, the White Suite came with an ultra comfortable plush queen bed and paintings by local independent artists
The workspace in each room comes equipped with a minibar and midcentury furniture; our room had an Eames chair and an Italian modern lamp
Contents of the mini-bar : filtered water, local beer, and fine French wine; all this is included in the price of your stay so feel free to enjoy everything in your mini-bar fridge!
The Kimber Modern is an all inclusive (adult only) hotel, so that means all bookings with the Kimber Modern include refreshments.  The price of your stay drinks in your hotel mini-bar, a late afternoon happy hour in their lounge, coffee/lattes/cappuccinos, sodas made with Sonoma soda syrups, snacks in their lounge (yogurt, organic teas, fruits, etc), and breakfast served with pound-cake, fresh squeezed OJ, eggs (with many different flavored salts and peppers to season with), freshly chopped variety of fruits.

All stays come with a delicious self serve breakfast in the common living room area
Hard boiled eggs for breakfast came with a variety of flavored gourmet salts and peppers you can use as flavoring; here we used smoked pepper and Bolivian Rose salt - we couldn't believe how easy it was to make hard-boiled eggs so tasty, this has become an everyday breakfast item for us now
If you had all these seasonings laid out at home like they do at the Kimber Modern breakfast, you'd have perfect tasty hard boiled eggs every - day!
While modern and technologically advanced, the hotel has a very homey intimate setting.  Cassie, the hotel manager is very welcoming and can give you many great tips about different areas of Austin to explore.  With only seven units surrounding a common courtyard, you can enjoy everything from their courtyard hammocks to their living room lounge computer without too many people around you; at times you feel like you do have much of the space to yourself.

One a nice day, the courtyard of the Kimber Modern is the perfect place for lounging.  It features a modern waterfall, outdoor fireplaces, and comfortable lounge chairs.  And it’s located right next to their lounge where you can help yourself to everything from artisanal sodas to fine French wine.

The lounge of the Kimber Modern has many amenities such as an Apple Computer for using the web and printing, modern lounge chairs, dining tables, a fridge with many refreshments and a Miele coffee drink maker.  The lounge also has a selection of design books and books about Texas and Austin so you can plan for places to go in either downtown Austin or the Texas wine country (which is a a short 30 minute drive west of downtown Austin).

We’ve taken some photos to share with you about our neat experience of staying at the Kimber Modern; we were only there for two days, but wish we’d stayed longer.  Every room at the Kimber Modern looks different so you can be sure that there’s something new to experience in every stay! 

The communal kitchen in the Kimber Modern living room lounge, here you can find all sorts of drinks and snacks to enjoy during your stay
We love the Miele coffee - cappuccino - latte maker!  Organic non-caffeinated teas are also available
This is the Vivreau water cooler - it dispenses flat filtered water one one side and filtered carbonate water on the other side.  There are also artisanal flavored soda syrups you can use to make your own flavored sodas!  We especially love the cherry cola and lemon ginger flavored syrups, and they are all natural.
Not only is the Kimber Modern located at a safe and prime location (this area is known to locals as Soco, short for South Congress Avenue), but this is where you would stay to enjoy the finest in Austin’s modern, luxury architectural living.

The waterfall in the courtyard gives off a nice soothing sound of nature, coupled with the lush green landscaping, it's hard to believe you are in an urban metropolis.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Lone Star Court Hotel Review and Photoblog - Winter 2014 (or Finding a Place to Stay in Austin)

December is one of the best times of the year to visit Austin, the weather is at a mild 50-60 degrees and it’s not a festival month so you can be assured that you won’t have to deal with crowded hotels, attractions and dining venues.  Austin is the capitol of Texas, it is a growing urban metropolis and many attractions are centered towards downtown, where you can find their famous live music scene on 6th street and hip vintage shops in the South Congress / Travis Height area.

Booking airline tickets is the easy part of planning a trip to Austin, finding a great place to stay can be a challenge.  Many hotels closer to downtown are expensive as they are typically chain hotels (think Hilton, Marriott, Embassy Suites) that cater to the conference crowd.  The rooms are decent, but nothing particularly unique as they are a chain but you will find the type of room and service you come to expect from these brands.  If you’d like to stay downtown, we recommend the Kimber Modern, see our blog post about them here!

When it comes to finding more affordable hotels on the outskirt of downtown, they are mostly chains, however we found a great gem of a boutique hotel called the Lone Star Court that exceeded our expectations in every way. 

Not only is it affordable (and a great option if you just don’t have time to search for something on Airbnb), but the rooms are spacious & beds super comfortable, the d├ęcor are as quirky as Austin can be, and the experience just pure fun.  The rooms at the Lone Star Court were about $129 per night plus taxes during December 2014.

Rooms at the Lone Star Court Hotel are spacious with a colorful and creative touch; we love the color block walls and super comfortable plush bedding
 Large bright bathrooms in every guest room comes with lots of towels, mason jar cups, and Lather bath and hair products
Admire the creative colorful and quirky decor in every room - we love the comfortable chaise lounge couch, and the orange warm and fuzzy felt fabric light shade
Artisan decorative touches can be found throughout the room - here we have custom leather coasters
This hotel has a courtyard that reflects the Austin lifestyle; outdoor fire places, bar-b-que grills, pool with sun bathing lounge chairs, grassy knolls with southwestern plants and flora landscaping, and of course live music in the hotel restaurant (they even have the schedules of the performers listed on the blackboard in the bar area).  And there are two permanent food trucks next to the hotel as well!

By night time, the hotel lights up the bonfire for guests to relax outdoors
Private central courtyard with beautiful desert landscaping
Outdoor hang-out space - grab some food truck treats nearby and enjoy them at the picnic tables in the central court yard
If you do check in and stay for the evening, we recommend grabbing a beer at the bar, enjoying the live music at the hotel, and lingering by the outdoor fireplaces they have in their courtyard.

Sit and relax by the outdoor fireplaces at night
Or rock on these chairs located right outside every hotel room
The Lone Star Court Hotel is located in an area on the outskirts of downtown called the Domain ‘Village’; it is about a 15 to 20 minute drive from downtown depending on traffic.  The Domain area features an upscale mall (with shops like Neiman Marcus) and modern, trendy low-rise apartment buildings that are mixed in with the mall area – this is the ultimate shoppers dream, living in a mall village where your apartment is right on top of the shops.  But unless you are inclined to shop, we recommend just staying within the Lone Star Court Hotel area if you’re in the Domain; there’s plenty here to keep you occupied if you’re looking for a break from your standard suburban experience. 

In Room snacks are placed in a decorative wine bottle box; an ode to the Texas Wine Country area nearby
All rooms come with a vintage Smeg refrigerator - comes with many local Texas beer brews to choose from - this is a big mini-bar!
If you can’t resist exploring the Domain, we do suggest that you venture out briefly into the urban planning experiment that is the Domain ‘Village’ just to see how the food truck experience can be like if you were to place them on super spotless-clean well manicured grassy knoll lawns right in the middle of a mall village.  Artificially utopian or a movie-set paradise – you decide.

Enjoy the Austin Food truck scene right in back of the hotel; great alternative for eating out-doors!
After our first night of staying at the Lone Star CourtHotel, we headed down to their restaurant for their delicious southern breakfast buffet, which also included in the cost of your stay!  This is not your typically continental breakfast.  We were treated to a healthy spread of fresh orange and grapefruit juice, vegetable scramble eggs, fresh biscuits with gravy, sausage, bacon, coffee, organic herbal teas and an abundant spread of fresh fruits (pineapple, watermelon, canteloupes, etc).  

A delicious gourmet southern breakfast is offered in their main dining room; while we were there we had the veggie scrambled eggs, fresh biscuits with gravy, and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
We enjoyed our stay at the Lone Star CourtHotel so much we stayed here again on our last night at Austin, it was a perfect way to round up our trip in Texas!

The Lone Start Court Hotel is run by the Valencia Group, which also operates boutique hotels in San Antonio, San Jose; check them out if you’re in those areas and seeking an alternative from standard mega-chain hotels.

We love hanging out in their holiday themed lobby area, you know you're in Texas when you see these cowboy boot stockings!