Check-in: As we are never one to miss out on those sweet few pre-dinner hours spent getting settled in a hotel, we checked in right at the earliest allowed time of 2pm.
Sure the "James" name references all the famous Jameses of the past (James Dean, anyone?), but there also seems to be quite a bit of male staff around. Several times we found ourselves riding the elevator with attractive men, and they weren't from the vocational conference next door.
Interestingly, 2pm is both the check in and check out time at the James, and so we were surprised to be speedily ushered up to our ready Loft room on the 5th floor.
Room Reaction: We opened the door and directly in front of us was a gigantic and immaculately white king bed. To the right was a large, stocked wet bar and to the left is the closet. This could easily be a bachelor pad, with a layout practically urging you to pouring yourself a drink, slip into something more comfortable and jump into bed.
Turns out our room is wheelchair-accessible, so the bathroom overcompensated in space and the shower drained directly into the middle of the floor. We even noticed, during a visit to the James' lounge nightclub Jbar, that the same white leather poufs are used in both the club and in the bathrooms of the rooms.
Because our room was a little nicer than typical, it included 2 flatscreen TVS, one directly in front of the bed and the other off in the TV room, where a long white couch and red cube tabe reigned over a brown shag rug. Only about 40 channels came in, but we found that watching a Family Guy marathon did the trick.
Lounging: Indulging the side of us that wishes we had a private home theater was the media alcove, boasting not only a projector for DVDs but a lounge bed for enjoying them in proper, big wig style. This area actually became our makeshift office as it offered semi-isolation from the distraction of the other TVs and the tempting wetbar.
A small dining nook replete with Bertoia chairs completes the room, even as it is really the most insignificant yet problematic space; it has no direct lighting. Our attempt at eating Giordanos and reading TimeOut Chicago had to be moved to the "living room" where the lighting was such we could actually see what we were doing.
Amenity Madness: Sure, the bathroom is stocked with 2.2oz toiletries from Kiehl's, but the real star is the minibar. Full-size Cosmo mixers, Johnny Walker Black Label and a whole basket of goodies make up a substantial wet bar. Of course there is the now-standard mini sex kit, placed right alongside some local goodies like Vosges chocolate and Poppie's cookies.
Should you want to enjoy the projection TV but didn't take your DVD library on vacation, the concierge has a list of about 40 titles you may borrow. Sadly, our choice of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" was taken, and this is how we came to watch a Mandy Moore/ Diane Keaton movie.
Internet Connect: Free WiFi!
Anti-View: If you enjoy being trapped in a cement cell with only an occasional shaft of sunlight, then our view is for you. Being on the inside of the U-shaped building and only on the fifth floor means we were at the bottom of a huge gray cavern outside the window.
What we liked: The James is a grown up boutique hotel; it is like the wiser, older brother of the Thompson chain, who maybe studied abroad in Japan and gained a respect for quality and minimalism. Give us a microwave and we'd totally be set to live here
What we didn't like: The James offers the option of booking a non-smoking or smoking room, and even though we had no issue with our non-smoking room, the hallways and elevator did constantly reek of cigarette smoke. And don't plan to get any work done, as the dining nook/desk desperately needs more lighting.
Bottom Line: Since we're used to New York's $400-a-night prices, The James seems an unbelievable bargain starting at $149 for one of Chicago's best hotels. The male staff is hot, design is refined and cool, and the high comfort level makes this hotel surprisingly easy to adapt to; it quickly becomes an ideal home away from home, if only we could live so successfully minimalist.