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I was a longtime New Yorker and am now a Miamian, but on my most recent visit to Chicago this summer I rediscovered that despite its cold winters, there are some things that the Windy City does better than either of them. And now, since Halloween 2011, Chi-town’s also the first city in North America to boast an outpost of the Radisson Blu brand (formerly Radisson SAS), which is run by a company called Rezidor and has taken Europe (and especially Scandinavia) by storm since it was introduced in 1994; by now it has hundreds of properties, also mostly in Europe.
Now if you know anything about Radisson, you’re thinking – yo, that’s from Minnesota, fer cryin’ out loud. True enough, but what ethnicity is big in the North Star State? Swedish and Norwegian. And in fact, on my recent swing through several of Norway’s coastal cities and towns, I did in fact spot a Radisson Blu everywhere I turned. But while some, like the four in Oslo, were in fact snazzy and stylish, others in some of the smaller cities and towns I found fairly mundane.
But I (sort of) digress. Downtown Chicago’s new 334-room Radisson Blu Aqua is indeed snazzy and stylish – in fact, I’d say it’s one of the coolest hotels I’ve had the pleasure to experience in a good long while. It takes up the first 18 floors of an 81-story building on North Columbus Drive a block south of the Chicago River and another hop and a skip north of Grant Park. And in a city known for the stolid blockiness and angularity of its modern high-rises, this one – the tallest commercial building ever designed by an architectural firm headed by a woman, by the way – is a kinda groovy departure, with a wavy façade suggestive of flowing water (aqua, get it?).
The innards are pretty awesome, too, yet don't come off as trying too hard (which I’ve found to be the case in more than a few “design” hotels). After entering the lobby through a translucent blue mini-tunnel, the sleek lobby is all about white and earthtones, with a polished cement floor and brick-lined lobby lounge (right). Off to one side is a handsome bar and Italian restaurant called Filini (below; pretty good Italian cuisine, even if it's true that I’ve had better), and in the back is a small but thoroughly interesting gallery space of works by Chicago artists. In fact, traditional Chicago materials and themes are interwoven throughout, including Filini’s marble-tile floors; the lobby’s industrial-looking staircases and beams; signage modeled after the city’s old-time printing industry; skyline murals on guestroom floor hallways; even a map of Chicago on the lobby carpeting.
Other amenities I particularly like include an 8,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art gym; an outdoor jogging track; an indoor basketball court; and not one but two pools - one indoors and the other outside. Add to all that rooms that are plenty stylish (love those white bathrooms), comfy (I wish I could buy that bed!) and innovative (you access room service menus via the TV monitor), and I'd have to say the Radisson Blu Aqua definitely deserves much of its hype (and by the way, it can also be surprisingly affordable; special package deals start at US$179 a night).
By the way, you might be wondering, where will we see the next U.S. Radisson Blu? Even if you’re not, I’m gonna tell you anyway: Right in Carlson’s backyard, Minnesota – and in a shopping mall, no less. Well, granted, it is the country’s premier destination mall, the Mall of America. So as of March 2013, you can shop in style and stay in style in Bloomington. So get the ol’charge card souped up.
For more details, log on to www.RadissonBlu.com/AquaHotel-Chicago.
Longtime travel writer and editor David Paul Appell is CEO of Tripatini and its parent company, EnLinea Media, dedicated to multilingual online content, marketing, and social-media management.
photos: Radisson Blu Aqua