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A few weeks ago we stopped by Virgin Chicago to sample some food in their all-day dining outlet, Miss Ricky's and ended upstairs at the Commons Club to partake in an adult libation from the cheeky bar menu.
After bellying up to the bar, we had chance to bend the ear of the head bartender, Jon Harris about what the drinks we were sipping and his thoughts on the industry.
This Chicago native has spent some time mixing cocktails from DC to London and back to the Windy City. Shaking some of the hottest drinks in DC's first cocktail bar, The Gibson, Jon eventually landed the job at the Virgin and started putting together the back bar well before the hotel swung it's doors open to guests.
Keep reading for our Q&A with Jon Harris
Now that the Virgin Hotel Chicago has unveiled Miss Ricky's Diner and it's Two Zero Three coffee shop and wine bar, there are only a few more things left to take off--the hotel's killer rooftop spaces and the downstairs spa. Both of these should be unveiled next month at the Virgin's official grand opening party on April 16.
We were able to peek at the rooftop spaces during our first time with a Virgin in January and they will seriously impress you with their cool yet fun decor and their incredible city views. Remember, one of the rooftop spaces will be incredibly exclusive so fingers crossed your on the list.
As for the spa, it promises to be a "wellness lounge designed with beauty, comfort and mingling in mind."
While the rooftops and the spa will be unveiled on opening night, we hear they won't officially open to the public until the week after. Room rates for that next weekend, April 24-26, start at $249 a night for a chamber king before taxes. If you're a AAA member, rates start at just $224 a night. Whoopee!
[Photo: Virgin Hotels/Facebook
Last week, something happened in Chicago that made us crave diner food and now we can share how our appetite was whet the moment we stepped foot into Virgin Hotel's newest food outpost, Miss Ricky's. In true Virgin fashion the diner menu has been re-invented consisting of old stand-bys, with a cheeky twist and clever take on Branson's name.
When we originally stayed, the all-day dining restaurant off the lobby was still shrouded with paper as the menu and space was being finalized, but last Thursday, the diner welcomed it's first guests, tempting them with giant burgers, Reuben sandwiches and milkshakes.
With a menu that goes well beyond the normal flat grill of a truck-stop, the restaurant claims to be "a modern American diner for early morning noshes, late night bites and everything in between", and with hours starting at 6am to well after midnight on the weekends, you won't be disappointed.
Oh, a full cocktail menu will probably help with that too.
It's been over a month since we slept with the Virgin Chicago and a few things have already changed since we did it.
Opening next week is Miss Ricky's All American Diner a 23-hour spot serving "new classics" such as a Great Lakes Reuben, The Biggie Grilled Cheese, Short Rib Pie and decadent donuts and dessert. You can see Virgin CEO Raul Leal's recent tweet for confirmation of such decadence:
Dessert items in Ms. Ricky's at Virgin Hotel Chicago. pic.twitter.com/wvTHm6ViBg— Raul Leal (@VirginHotelier) February 25, 2015
The hotel has also rolled out a partnership with Tesla Motors, giving all Virgin guests the option to be ferried around town in a Model S P85D. It's color? Bright red of course. #howVirginsdoit
Now, these things are all fun to talk about, but it's time to see what real guests are saying about the hotel. And for that, we head to TripAdvisor. Even though everyone knows to take TripAdvisor with a grain of salt (seriously awful reviews can never be trusted, neither can the gushing ones) it's still a place all guests go to when thinking about booking a hotel.
Back in August, the yet-to-open Virgin Hotels began encouraging people to spread rumors about the hotel on social media. The person who had the best #VirginRumor would then win a two-night stay at the hotel during the opening party (which was held last weekend) along with airfare and transportation.
What we didn't know then was that Sir Richard Branson would actually act out one of the rumors for Lauren, the grand winner--tucking her and her fiancee in and reading them a bedtime story (Where The Wild Things are, one of the winner's and ours favorites.)
You can actually watch Branson reading part of the book here:
This is surreal. Perhaps Virgin should just make future recordings of Branson reading bedtime stories and make them available on the app or through the TV so that every guest can have this experience.
Next up for The Virgin Chicago is the opening of the Two Zero Three on February 14 (we hear some special V-day festivities are planned) as well as Miss Ricky's All-American Diner on March 2. Don't forget, Virgin plans to kick off Chicago's rooftop season in April with not one, but two rooftop spaces. And that's not a rumor.
READ ALL ABOUT SLEEPING WITH A VIRGIN (SANS BRANSON BEDTIME STORY) HERE!
Construction on the 240-room hotel is supposed to happen this spring and when it's all finished, the property will boast not just a super futuristic look from Atlanta-based BLUR Workshop, (as opposed to the historic bank building look in Chicago) but also a rooftop pool, restaurants, shops, 15 for-sale penthouse residences and, wait for it...a recording studio.
That was to be expected given that the Virgin company started out as a record shop, and this hotel is opening at the start of Music Row. But still, kind of awesome.
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While wining and dining the Virgin was great, as was experimenting with new
positions chambers, there was something that Doug Carillo, vice president of sales and marketing for Virgin Hotels, told us that has really stuck with us this past week. And that's Virgin Hotels commitment to free WiFi.
For us, itís always been that we feel WiFi is a right, and we need it to live. If we donít have it and its not working fast enough, then we are failing the guests.
Wow. It's only taken more than a decade but someone finally understands this.
Indeed, getting on the WiFi network at Virgin--whether a hotel guest or a visitor elsewhere on property--is effortless. Just find the Virgin Hotels network and hop on. It's that easy.
Because WiFi networks can be expensive to build and maintain, or rather, because hotels often use this as their excuse for charging for WiFi, we asked Carillo if maybe Virgin was bumping up the room rate to make up for the cost of offering unlimited free bandwidth to guests and pretty much anyone just passing through. Nope. Here's what he said:
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Over the weekend, we did IT. We finally slept with Virgin Hotels. It was not what we expected, since we didn't know what to expect, thanks to Virgin Hotels keeping their hotel product under wraps (lots of NDAs were signed, apparently), but despite entering uncharted territory, we can't wait to do it again.
So that your first time won't be a rocky time, here's our guide of what to expect when sleeping with a Virgin...Hotel.
(Not in the mood to read? Just look at the photos, you pervert you.)
APPROACHING THE VIRGIN: The Virgin Hotels Chicago is located at 203 N. Wabash, right on the corner of Wabash and Lake. Just up the block is the Hotel Monaco and two blocks past that is the Chicago Riverwalk (and one block past that are the Trump and Langham Hotels.) Getting to the hotel from the airport is incredibly easy. Just take the Blue Line on the CTA from O'Hare and you'll be dropped off at Clark/Lake, which is about three blocks from the hotel. We walked the walk while dragging a suitcase and it was totally fine. Luckily, the weather was "warm", around 30 degrees. When it's negative 30 degrees, you may just want to Uber from the CTA stop.
ADMIRING THE VIRGIN: As we got closer to the hotel, our heart skipped a beat when the bright red neon VIRGIN HOTELS sign came into view. Although Miss Ricky's All-American Diner and Two Zero Three coffee shop, the restaurants that bookend the entrance, are not opened yet, the well-lit property gave off a bustling vibe. We hardly noticed the historic architecture of the building, that is, until we stepped inside where amongst all the modern socializing spaces, it was clear this place had a long history before. (Look up at the ceiling and you'll see the original and ornate ceiling tiles, uncovered by Virgin.)
SAYING HELLO: The first person you will see before stepping inside the Virgin is a doorman, who will welcome you inside. Once you get inside, though, you will see an Ambassador, a lovely lady dressed in a bright red Virgin-colored, floor-length coat with a black faux fur hat. She will show you to either the red-carpeted stairwell, leading up to the second floor social spot, The Commons Club, or towards the check-in desk. She will also show you where your four-legged friend can wait--in a mod Union Jack pet pod at the bottom of the stairs--while you check-in.)
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That's right. Tonight we are going all the way with the Virgin Hotel Chicago and you're going to watch!
Here's a look inside a deluxe king room at the hotel. It is very true to the press photo that was released earlier today, although we have found a few unexpected surprises--like a cherry red SMEG mini-fridge which serves as the minibar, the Red Flower toiletries in the bath, the rug which pays homage to London, and the proprietary bed, which reminds a bit of Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic. Yes, this means we will probably go to sleep thinking about Sir Richard Branson. Which is really just like any other night. #amirite?
Now, we're about to head downstairs to the The Commons Club to observe the social scene and have a bite to eat. If we're not too
drunk full, we'll have more photos of the public spaces to show you later tonight. Otherwise, we'll have a grand tour for you tomorrow on Monday. And we'll let you know how this little Virgin performed. Wink, wink.
At long frickin' last, opening day for the first-ever Virgin Hotel Chicago is here...and this is what a guest rooms looks like, as shown in a press photo. Our initial reaction, OMG. OMG. OMG.
Raul Leal, CEO of Virgin Hotels told us nearly a year ago that Virgin Hotels would be catering to women, saying that Virgin would be especially in tune with women business travelers (also Virgin gave their mobile app a girl's name) but still, we had no idea how feminine this room would be.
Look at that soft grey vanity and matching chair! Look at those bubbled table legs! Hello lighted mirror! And look at the carpet! Check out the pink dress in the closet! Notice that stylish petite desk to work on!
Clearly, we have a lot to say here but we're reserving our thoughts until we actually step inside the Virgin later today. While the rooms and the Commons Club lobby lounge are open, a few of the other spaces including the restaurants are not quite ready. Still, we'll do our best to scope them all out. We promise to leave no Virgin unclothed, er, unturned.
Stay tuned on HotelChatter.com for more pics and observations. If you aren't already following us on social media, find us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (the latter is where we will be posting most of our snapshots during our stay.)
But who cares what we think? TELL US YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE ROOM IN COMMENTS BELOW
[Photo: Virgin Hotels]
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We're just days, really hours at this point, away from the grand opening of the long, long, long-awaited Virgin Hotel Chicago on Thursday, and while we are legit freaking out about seeing the inside of a Virgin guest room, Virgin has given us something to play with in the meantime--their new mobile app, called Lucy, available in the iTunes Store and on Google Play.
Lucy is not just a booking app or a hotel directory. The app also lets you check-in with your mobile phone, order room service; control the thermostat (given that it's winter in Chicago, turn that sucker up); order movies OnDemand; log into your account for The Know, Virgin Hotels' loyalty program; and even make some virtual friends in the guests-only chat forum.
Clearly, Lucy is meant to be wined and dined in the comfort of your Virgin Hotel room so us flipping through the app at our desk is not helpful but we will be meeting this lovely lady later this week. Stay tuned!
Virgin Chicago appears to be sold-out for opening weekend but next weekend rates are $207 a night.
It's that time of year again: the 2014 HotelChatter Awards! Today and tomorrow, we'll be showcasing the best (and worst) of hotels over the past year. But we couldn't do it without you! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, or shoot us an email. And the Award goes to...
The Virgin Hotel Chicago page was our most trafficked page of the year. This is crazy interesting because the Virgin Chicago hasn't even opened yet. But that just goes to show how much Virgin Hotels have been hyping their brand.
When the year started, we were no closer to learning more about Virgin Chicago, other than it would have 250 amount of rooms and a rooftop scene. In February, the hotel was planned to open in September. Um, nope.
Throughout the year, we did learn small tidbits, like the announcements of a general manager and the chef and his F&B concepts. We also got Raul Leal, CEO of Virgin Hotels, to tell us 6 things we didn't know yet about Virgin Hotels.
This was nice but without a rendering or a room shot, we couldn't get excited. Even when the hotel was making up rumors about itself over the summer, we were still very nonplussed.