Chicago Athletic Association Hotel: a great escape in the heart of Chicago

Chicago, January 5, 2018. Is cabin fever getting the best of you? Are you tired of putting on layers over layers of clothes just to run to the store to get more comfort food? Have you already broken your New Year’s resolution to exercise more and eat less?

This is the year I decided to embrace winter. Little did I know what I would be embracing when I made this decision. One week into the new year and the actual temperature hasn’t even reached the double digits while ‘real’ feel temperatures are flirting with minus 50. Even my dog looks at me like I’m crazy when I try to take her for a walk.

But I’m not giving up. I still believe it is possible to enjoy winter. Since I don’t have the time or disposable income to go to Hawaii. I am planning a staycation right in the heart of Chicago. You might want to consider the same.

Chicago’s long list of hotels from luxury to comfortable makes it easy. The good news is that in the winter there are numerous deals and specials.

Last September on a record breaking hot weekend when I had a full two days and nights of events I needed to attend for Chicago Gourmet, I secured a room at Chicago Athletic Association Hotel (CAA), right across the street from Millennium Park–the epicenter of the action for Chicago Gourmet.

From there, I could easily go to the park, enjoy the food, drink and seminars, then head back to the room, shower, cool off and return to the park for another round of eating and drinking. Plus I could bring the dog. The hotel is dog-friendly and accepts dogs of all sizes unlike some hotels who have weight limits. So your big guy is welcome here.

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The CAA at 12 S. Michigan is within  a couple of blocks of the Chicago Symphony Center, the Art Institute and the Private Bank Theatre where Hamilton rules (tickets which will probably cost more than your room at CAA).

For over 100 years from 1893 through 2007 the CAA was a private men’s club for Chicago’s Who’s Who. The rest of the world could only wonder what was inside.

One of the founders on display with other founders in the first floor founders hall.
One of the founders on display with other founders in the first floor founders hall.

When the club closed, a decade ago, its fate was uncertain.

In 2012, a group of people including John Pritzker and Chicago-based Agman Partners, made the decision to renovate. And renovate they did…in a BIG way.

Now the spectacular building is open for all as the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel.

The hotel consists of  241 elegantly outfitted rooms with rates normally starting at $385 a night but this weekend and other dates throughout the winter you can secure a room for as low as $149 a night–some deals even include parking which normally would set you back another $69.

Fairgrounds gourmet coffee and tea.
Fairgrounds gourmet coffee and tea.

The location and the ambience are hard to beat and better yet, is the exciting mix of bars and restaurants throughout the building from the casual Shake Shack and Fairgrounds on the entry level to the upscale Cindy’s, named after Pritzker’s mother Cindy, on the rooftop.

Then there’s the elegant drawing room, library and game room on the second floor where you can bask in luxurious surroundings without spending a lot.

Sit by the fireplace (one of many) in the library/drawing room area and order an appetizer and a drink or a full meat. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer
Sit by the fireplace (one of many) in the library/drawing room area and order an appetizer and a drink or a full meat. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

If money is no object there’s ‘The Milk Room,” a hidden eight-seat microbar, where you will spend a lot for unique cocktails made with vintage, rare, aka, expensive ingredients and the upscale dining destination ‘The Cherry Circle Room’ set in a secluded area at the back of the second level.

You could easily spend your entire time in the hotel and have a wonderful staycation.

But the idea here is to ’embrace’ winter.

The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel makes this easy to do. After all, it’s right across the street from Millennium Park where one of the best ice rinks in the city is waiting. Skate rental is available and hot chocolate is in big supply.

Or head across the bridge from Millennium Park to Maggie Daley Park and skate on the delightful skating ribbon that winds its way through the park.

If skating isn’t your thing, head south to Northerly Island for some snowshoeing (rentals available). On your return trip, stop by the Art Institute of Chicago (111 S. Michigan) to see some of the world’s best art and to warmup. Or check out the calendar of events at the Chicago Symphony Center (220 S. Michigan) to see what free and paid events may be happening while you’re in town.

You’ll also want to check out the Chicago Architecture Foundation (224 S. Michigan) that offers a variety of outdoor and indoor tours of the city along with a unique gift shop.

Another, not to be missed attraction, is the architecturally magnificent Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington, corner of Washington and Michigan) which is currently hosting the Chicago Architecture Biennial (through this weekend) and offers an impressive lineup of exhibitions, events and activities.

Staircase inside the Chicago Cultural Center. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer
Staircase inside the Chicago Cultural Center. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Of course, these spots are only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ (pun intended) when it comes to fun in the Windy City. So quit complaining about the wind chill, dress warm and get out and enjoy winter in Chicago.

Come July, you’ll be glad you did.