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Inside the Radisson Blu Aqua Chicago, the First Radisson Blu in the United States

Go To The Hotel's Web 
  Site Where: 221 North Columbus Drive [map], Chicago, IL, United States, 60601
November 2, 2011 at 4:58 PM | by | ()

Guess what? The United States finally has a Radisson Blu hotel, and it's in Chicago in an architecturally striking building named the Aqua Tower. This very first Radisson Blu on US soil only opened to paying guests last night—November 1—and since we just happened to be in Chicago enjoying the fall foliage, we also spent the night to enjoy some of that "new hotel smell."

Booking directly on the hotel website we paid $287 total for the lowest category room, a "City View" with a king bed. So what did we think of room 720?

For photos and video of the Radisson Blu Aqua Chicago, keep reading!

Now here's what we liked and didn't like:

Amenities. This place is amenity heaven, from the French toiletries in the room to the ginormous fitness center and—gasp—movie theater with free Tuesday night screenings (it was "Unknown" last night, with "Marley and Me" next week). More on the amenities outside the rooms coming tomorrow.
Staff smiles. Everyone we encountered was beyond nice. Our late checkout request was granted no problem, we were allowed to sneak back into the pool area after checking out (we forgot to see it before), and all our tiny questions were answered with surprising knowledge for a hotel so newly debuted.
Free WiFi. Need we say more?
Lobby design and art gallery. Wow. Just wow. Gorgeous. A wall made of intricate, interlocking gold metal discs—itself slit with a massively long fireplace—gives the entire space a definite warmth. The design nerd in us instantly recognized the white floor lamps as from the Paper collection of Moooi (a Dutch design studio headed by Marcel Wanders) and we nearly squealed with delight after discovering (on Foursquare!) that the hotel has its own gallery just up from the lobby. Also worth noting: the brick columns fitted with glowing light squares; it feels almost like a hot hotel in Soho with these.
Balconies. Chicago may be the Windy City, but private outdoor space is much appreciated. Even with this lowest category room, we could see both the Wrigley Building and Navy Pier.
Trendy factor. This hotel will be hot. The rooms have accessories like mirrored pottery and slick wood headboards to compliment the teal carpeting. The restaurant is Italian, the bar is large and modern, and the seating is the sort where it's see-and-be-seen. Chicago is getting into this sort of stuff and fast; the Radisson Blu is just giving 'em what they want.
Location. You could say that the Radisson Blu has plopped itself in an area already saturated with hotels. But then you could also say that it's an area with many hotels for a reason, one which the hotel will surely exploit. We're namely talking about walking distance to the Loop, Millennium Park, the Chicago River and all the tourist sites, shopping and dining therein.

Lack of check-in staff. We understand it's the first day, but one receptionist to check in guests? We waited for a few minutes before being recognized, despite the minimal lobby activity.
Early hours. The lobby bar stopped serving alcohol at midnight and did not have cut limes or lemons for a simple glass of seltzer.
Internet issues. Although the WiFi is free, the connection dropped at 1:30am (we were up late working), and that practically forced us to give up and go to sleep. The connection had however returned in the morning.
Knock knock. Around 10am, we could hear sounds of continued construction, such as drilling in nearby rooms. This might be bothersome for those staying in these early days, and trying to work in their rooms. Then we requested a late check-out of 1pm, and were interrupted twice by housekeeping between 11am and 1pm.
Cell phone signal. We weren't on a high floor (7), and yet we could not get an AT&T 3G signal on our iPhone. Instead, it sat on the stupid slow Edge until we connected to the hotel's WiFi.
Casino chic. The entryway and bathroom flooring of the room is a black tile flecked with sparkles. It's dazzling, sure, but it reminds us more of the newer casino hotels in Vegas rather than a a chic hotel in a metropolis. There's also quite a bit of bright teal in the room, from the carpeting to the bed throw. It's soothing to the eyes at first, but some sunlight and use will likely turn that teal to a sickly green. Luckily there's still plenty of "new hotel smell" to enjoy before that happens.
Outlets. For once, a hotel gets it. There are outlets on the desk and at the bedside tables. Except on one side, the iHome needs to be unplugged. So you choose: charge your laptop or have an alarm clock?
Rigid furniture. The desk chair and "easy chair" are both so upright that if you want to work in greater comfort, you'll have to sit up in bed. Perhaps some wear will squishify the chairs, but as it is now, they're quite stiff.

We'll have more from the Radisson Blu Chicago over the next few days, including its restaurant, art gallery and —awesome of awesomes—the secret basketball court and billiards room!

[Photos: Cynthia Drescher for HotelChatter]

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