The Chicago Athletic Association is a new hotel to the Hyatt family but not a new property in downtown Chicago. Since joining Hyatt, this was our first chance to try the property and we loved it – with one caveat.
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What an incredible place for a hotel! The hotel faces Michigan Avenue, overlooks Millennium Park and is across the street from the “Bean.” The Art Institute and Willis Tower are just a few blocks away, and from a tourist perspective, I am not sure locations get a lot better than the Chicago Athletic Associations Hotel.
Address: 12 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: +1 (312) 940-3552
Hyatt has expanded an awful lot in the last 24 months through acquisitions, organic expansion and their partnership with Small Luxury Hotels. Chicago Athletic Association is part of their acquisition of Two Roads Hospitality, a 74-property addition. The CAA has recently been added to the Hyatt Unbound Collection.
The former private health facility (Chicago Athletic Club) has been converted from its gym, game and Speakeasy facilities to a hotel with nearly all of the original charm. If you are familiar with Ace Hotels, the Chicago Athletic Association (CAA) is reminiscent of the Ace Hotel Pittsburgh, converted from a classic YMCA.
Note: Interior hotel images brightened as it was very dark.
In addition to a game room, bar and restaurant (covered below), and original speakeasy the hotel features an excellent lobby that feels more like a library at an Ivy League school than hotel reception. While there was always a seat available at a tall-backed Chesterfield or communal table, it was consistently full of guests and those meeting them.
Resort “Founder’s” Fee
In a classic case of good idea/bad execution, the destination charge is full of potential but poorly delivered. Upon our arrival, we had a detailed check-in but it wasn’t discussed. We were on an award stay, so we didn’t pay the “Founder’s Fee” either night of our two-night stay, but we also would have gotten extensive value from it had we known about what was included.
Here is a list of the items we could have received some benefit from but didn’t:
- Skydeck Chicago: Discounted General Admission and Fast Pass Tickets
- Welcome champagne toast in Cherry Circle Room
- 10% discount at Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea
- Shoe Shine Service & Turndown Service (upon request)
- Complimentary daily coffee (or tea) from Cherry Circle Room
We took our daughter to the Skydeck, ordered coffee and hot cocoa at Fairgrounds, though we might not have ordered at all if we had known there was free coffee from Cherry Circle and I would have absolutely had my shoes shined.
None of these benefits were discussed with us at check-in. I put it down to being new to the Hyatt brand and perhaps the staff wasn’t briefed. Further, we were charged for breakfast until I had it removed on account of my Globalist status. We were understanding and patient with them in regards to this but business travelers likely won’t have time to communicate to the staff what the hotel offers them in the program.
We waited until a normal check-in time for our “upgraded” room. I was told it was a suite, but it was not. It was larger guest room, but the bed, wardrobe, desk, chair, and couch were in the same open room, the bathroom was the only door in the room.
In-room dining includes the only Shake Shack room delivery in the world. The prices were reasonable, add $3 for delivery plus 20% to otherwise normal Shake Shack prices. The hotel went out of their way to welcome our daughter Lucy, including setting up her own bed for her and sending up chocolate chip cookies and truffle popcorn.
The room has two lakeshores-facing windows which feature views of Millennium Park in the foreground. Two small box windows with original Victorian Gothic features provided a perfect place for Lucy to set up shop in a five-year-old-sized space.
The white subway-tiled bathroom felt classic and modern at the same time. This is the one time where a shower over tub had a premium feel. It also reminded us of The Principal in Manchester, England. One oddity was the excessive amount of unused space opposite the double vanity. It seemed like smaller shower against the wall and a clawfoot tub would have made better use of the space.
Reject Rooms on the 7th or 9th Floors
I have written before that maybe I am just not cool enough to appreciate DJs in the lobby of a W hotel. This property had a lot of cool factor and excellent design, but one serious design issue was the placement of ballrooms on the 8th floor.
On a busy Friday and Saturday night, the music was shaking items throughout the room, they didn’t stop at midnight as they had stated they would, and it was really annoying. I understand the property is older and to keep its charm there are limitations. However, there are also large rooms for parties and groups on other floors further away from sleeping guests. I understand that hotels make huge money from hosting weddings but if guests can’t sleep as a result, is it still primarily a hotel? If I paid to sleep and that doesn’t happen, do I get my money (points) back?
Perhaps the single-most perfect portion of our stay was breakfast at Cherry Circle. The coffee was excellent, staff went out of their way to accommodate Lucy and the food was exemplary. The Lamb Marguez was an excellent ragout with a floating egg, sausage and crunchy toasted sliced bread.
But the Blueberry Belgian waffle will change your life. Our daughter ordered this and we stole most of it on the second day – the dollop of lemon mascarpone whip was incredible. The monkey bread was not good. I would include a link to the menu but the only page that’s missing is breakfast, so what would be the point of that?
The hotel was absolutely the “cool” place to be. Dave, a member of the bell staff, was friendly, personable and genuinely cared about our visit. Someone from the hotel noticed that My Concierge indicated Lucy would be with us and not only prepared a space for her but sent up cookies, popcorn and Connect Four.
Some members of staff were very proud to work at CAA, embracing the unique look and feel of the property, but happy to be there and serve guests. Others were so proud that they were unwelcoming, our stay was an intrusion. Any request outside of “you get what we give” was met with disdain. When the front desk staff doesn’t inform us of the benefits of the Founder’s Fee, when Fairgrounds coffee shop doesn’t mention that guests get a discount – it’s a little lack of effort. It was great service and then apathetic service which felt a little manic.
Nightly rates range from $195 to $350 but most of the time I found it for about $259 before taxes and service fees. The hotel charges a Founder’s Fee but offsets the cost with sufficient value… as long as they mention the benefits. All guests using points are immune to the fee. The style of the property is excellent, the location could not be better, and breakfast was one of the best we’ve had at any Hyatt in the world – high praise. That said, they aren’t quite aligned with the brand yet, and having a room on the 9th floor over a weekend meant we joined the wedding party whether we were invited or not. The property is one of the better values in the chain to use for points (15,000/nt) or a category 1-4 certificate.
Have you stayed at the Chicago Athletic Association? How was your experience? Did this Chicago Athletic hotel review align with your expectations?
What camera do you use?
@Lukas – Exterior shots (Millenium Park, the building, the bean, shot of the park through our window) were taken on a Cannon 3Ti. The rest are on the new iPhone 11 Pro Max. The automatic extended exposure in low light settings gives more to work with when adjusting the image afterwards, is easy to carry and the new lenses offer so many options.
Great review — I stayed here once 6 years ago and really liked it though didn’t love it. But glad to know it’s an option with Hyatt now.
I went to Whitfield at Ace PGH a couple years ago and remember thinking the l reminded me of a place I’d been in the past — now I remember it’s this one!
@Amol – My Pittsburgh buddy! Message me on the Facebook account linked at the top and we can get lunch.
Globalists should be immune to all resort/destination/founders fees on any Hyatt stay — points or not. Nobody pays these fees on stays that are all points.
@Tom – You’re right, I was conflating the parking benefit and the resort fee waiver. Corrected in the post, thanks for catching that.
In many ways, looks better than the Park Hyatt!
Shame on you!
But I sort of agree, for a flagship property the Park Hyatt Chicago is not one of the best out there…suprising as Chicago is Hyatt’s hometown. But the rooms at Park Hyatt are still MUCH nicer than what Kyle showed.
I know, I reviewed it! 😉 but service is really hit or miss at PH, and when it misses, oh it misses
Matthew – you are right. Stuart, I have stayed at the Park before near the Water tower and the room was more elegant but the food was not better, the location was not better, and the service as Matthew indicated can be hit or miss and when it misses, it misses big. That said, neither property compare to what you get from Park Hyatts elsewhere.
I agree, just giving Matthew some shade. 🙂
I still don’t get how the Park Hyatt in Chicago can be so, well, meh, compared to other PH’s worldwide. It’s their hometown flagship for god’s sake.
With that said, The Pen in Chicago is and will always be one of my top 5 U.S. hotels. I can’t afford them in a lot of cities but Chicago is not insane rate wise (most of the time). And what a treat that hotel is. The “perfect” room.
Almost stayed here last week but decided to try out another of the new additions, the Thompson Chicago. Will have to see how they compare next time I’m out there. Was a big fan of the Thompson. Did the Hyatt Rosemont the other night which appears to be the most confusing brand in the Hyatt Portfolio. Especially since most Regencys have closed their clubs.
This looks like a really nice boutique property which retains a good deal of its historic character – a place I’d ordinarily consider in a heartbeat. But thanks to the BS destination fee, it’s permanently off my list. (Yes, I hope someone from Hyatt corporate is reading this.)
Just checked out here a few minutes ago thanks to my Globalist 4pm checkout. I’d echo Kyle’s review almost to a tee. Luckily I was in the other tower off Madison on the 18th floor, so music noise wasn’t an issue. Dave the bell hop is amazing, food was great at Cherry Circle, but service for me (and most other staff) was a little lackluster. I used one of my cat 1-4 free stays, and with the free parking, free breakfast, no fee, it was quite an amazing easy weekend stay in the city. My kids love Maggie Daley park from when we lived nearby, so it was nice to go back into the city for a short weekend trip and run around the park all day.
Also, went up to Cindy’s bar on the roof, and while too crowded and tough to enjoy with 2 little kids (it was packed), the view from the balcony is amazing.
Lastly, on the service – had a waiter spill mustard all over my daughter in the way too crowded game room Sat night while walking through as he dropped on the floor. Not him, nor the 2 other staff I mentioned it to offered an apology. Oh well, mistakes happen.
Hyatt is positioning itself very well via these acquisitions: this kind of property will appeal to a wide range of guests, including the avocado toast/quinoa/kale set. Meanwhile Marriott seems to think it’s either St Regis-like properties or Moxy/Aloft .
I’d stay here in a flash ( annoying add-on fees notwithstanding).
You definitely look better with the beard.