Overall Score: B
Amenities: Unable to grade
Overall Impression: The Palmer House Hilton is a beautiful historic hotel with an amazing lobby. Expect high prices in restaurants and bars. Go to tour the hotel and lobby, but skip staying here. You can get nicer rooms (with bigger beds and larger bathrooms) for the money elsewhere.
During this past holiday season, my family and I spent one night in the historic Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago. This historic hotel is actually the third edition of the original building constructed. Thirteen days after opening, the original hotel from 1871 burned down in the great Chicago fire. The hotel was rebuilt and opened in 1875, only to be replaced by a larger hotel, the current building, in the 1920’s. Learn more about the hotel’s history here.
Listed as America’s longest operating hotel, the Palmer House Hilton is a Chicago treasure. Just recently, the hotel completed a $215 million dollar renovation. With plenty of meeting space, four ballrooms, spa, and a business center, the hotel caters to both business and leisure travelers. Because we stayed here only one short night, I can’t review the hotel completely. However, I decided to share with you what I can, despite not seeing the hotel in its entirety.
In my opinion, the lobby is the most stunning part of this hotel. I still remember the first time I saw this grand room as a teenager; its beauty took my breath away. Bathed in soft lighting, the ceiling of the Palmer House Hilton has a stunning painted mural. According to Ric Garrido of loyaltytraveler.boardingarea.com:
“Bertha Palmer (wife of Potter Palmer, the owner) commissioned French-muralist Louis Pierre Rigal who painted the 21 individual paintings on the ceiling in 1926. In 1996, for the hotel’s 125th anniversary, acclaimed art restorer Lido Lippi restored the Palmer House ceiling art. He was known as a lead restorer of the Sistine Chapel paintings.”
The rest of the two-story lobby features a large seating area, a bar, and registration. Stairs off the lobby floor lead up to the Empire Room, the historic grand dining room that featured A-list entertainment for decades. Two fine dining establishments are featured within the Palmer House Hilton – Lockwood Restaurant and Potter’s, both of which are located on the lobby level. While I was there, fruit infused water as well as decorated holiday cookies were offered just off the main lobby area.
As it was a weekend before the holidays, the lobby was fairly busy when we were here. It was hard to find any available seating and service at the bar was slow.
The Palmer House Hilton has 23 guest floors, with over 1,600 rooms, including executive rooms and suites. I was pleasantly surprised at the speed of the multiple elevators, definitely a plus for guests. Our regular guest room was located on a corner on the 22nd floor. Considering it was a corner room, it was quite spacious, with ample room for luggage and storage. I’m uncertain if other rooms (not on a corner) are as spacious as ours was.
Within the room, there is a small minibar with beverages and snacks available for purchase. Being that the drinks and snacks are available in your room, they are quite expensive. The room had two double beds which surprised me. Considering the spaciousness of the room, I thought that we would have queen sized beds. Even for two average sized (and married!) adults, sleeping on a double bed isn’t the most comfortable.
Rooms have been upgraded with modern conveniences, including wifi (for a fee). There is also a safe, HDTV with access to cable and pay-per-view movies, as well as an adjustable wall thermostat. There are also two small closets in the room.
The rooms were clean, the bedding was comfortable (although a bit too soft for me!), and all of the available space to move around made the room quite pleasing for my family of four.
As expected, the bathroom of the hotel room was small, considering the age of the building. However, the bathroom was nicely decorated with modern accents. I was disappointed that we were given only 2 bath towels for the family.
I was also a bit disappointed because the bathroom wasn’t as clean as I expected it to be. Also, there was evidence of water damage on the ceiling and walls that had not been repaired. If my memory serves me, the bathroom did not have a fan, thus allowing for ample condensation after hot showers.
Unfortunately, do to our time constraints, I didn’t visit any of the hotel’s restaurants, spa, pool, or fitness center. There is a Starbucks on the lower level (street level) of the hotel that has plenty of seating. Self parking is close by at the East Monroe Parking Garage for $45. Valet parking is offered at the hotel for $75. At the Palmer House Hilton, pets under 75 pounds are allowed, but there is a $50 non-refundable deposit. Other conveniences include an ATM, luggage storage, concierge, currency exchange, gift shop, and room service.
The Palmer House Hilton is in an excellent location for tourists. The hotel is within walking distance of many Chicago attractions, including Millennium Park, Grant Park, State Street and Michigan Avenue shopping, the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as the shores of Lake Michigan.
If you are an admirer of historic hotels, then I recommend staying here while in town. Otherwise, I’d recommend coming to the Palmer House Hilton for a walk around the lobby or perhaps a drink at the bar, to soak up the elegant ambiance and glamour of the past. For the money, I’d stay in a newer hotel, even though the Palmer House has been renovated. Part of the appeal (and the price) of staying at the Palmer House is the nostalgia and old glamour. You don’t get that in your room, so why pay for it? Anyone can walk off the street and admire the hotel. You don’t need to pay for a room here to appreciate that.
Where do you stay when visiting Chicago? Let me know in the comments.