Hearting Our Art at The Blackstone, Hotel in Chicago

Checking out the Art and Architecture in Chicago has been in my travel wishlist for quite some time.  Now that Sneha (can’t call her teen anymore! the girl just turned 20 this month) has taken a keen interest in creative studies – while pursuing a major in Genetics at the University! I figured why not plan a little mother daughter trip to Chicago to check out the Art Institute of Chicago, some cool murals and explore the magnificent Windy City that has long been the laboratory for art and architectural innovation.  So we booked our trip and planned for a stay in a downtown Chicago Hotel at The Blackstone.

Checking in to The Blackstone

We stayed at The Blackstone, known as the “Hotel of Presidents”. It has been the most prestigious spot in Chicago for a long time. Located on Michigan Avenue in the South Loop, the hotel has hosted a dozen U.S. Presidents and many celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and socialites like The Rockefellers, and Vanderbilts. The 21-story neo-Classical Beaux-Arts style building has undergone a major renovation and restoration recently and now equipped with a health club, a business center, a restaurant serving authentic Catalan cuisine at Mercat a la Planxa, an Art Hall featuring the hotel’s rotating exhibits of contemporary work and a street-level cafe.  The historic hotel is now managed by Marriott’s Hotels Autograph division.

Blackstone Hotel Chicago - Photo by Outside Suburbia

A little history about The Blackstone

The Blackstone’s terracotta building with its lower-level arched windows and Grecian pediments is designated as a Chicago Landmark. The hotel was named for Timothy Blackstone, a notable Chicago business executive and politician, who served as the founding president of the Union Stock Yards, president of the Chicago and Alton Railroad, and mayor of La Salle, Illinois. Every President of the United States for seven decades has stayed at the Blackstone Hotel after it opened in 1910.

Presidential visits at The Blackstone were so common that the hotel modified a suite to suit the Commanders-in-Chief.  According to legend, the Secret Service had the walls around the Presidential Suite hollowed out so that they could operate more easily. The empty walls also allow the President to leave the building quickly and inconspicuously.  Only two guest rooms were preserved during the restoration: the famous ninth-floor “smoke-filled room” and the original tenth-floor presidential suite. The term “smoke-filled room” originated here, when a reporter observed the cigar-smoking politicians during the 1920 convention.

Blackstone Hotel Chicago - Outside Suburbia

Photos by Amit Thakral 

Rooms and View at The Blackstone 

While the downstairs lobby still has the historic decor and artifacts like an old-fashioned typewriter, beautiful paintings and furnishings, upstairs the rooms are more contemporary.  The bathrooms were marbled and modern with a nice walk-in shower.  The bedding linens were soft and cozy. Our room looked out to the Grant Park, we could see the Buckingham Fountain which is one of the oldest and most well- symbols of Chicago, too bad it was not operational yet.  We could see the vast Michigan lake, which looked more like an ocean than lake.

Blackstone Hotel Chicago - Photo by Outside Suburbia
Blackstone Hotel Chicago - Photo by Outside Suburbia

We had the Heart Our Art package which included two Tickets to The Art Institute of Chicago, a Welcome Amenity of a Bottle of Wine, In-Room Canvas with Paints, and Coloring Book with Colored Pencils. The area where The Blackstone is located in also know as Cultural Miles since it surrounded by some of the city’s most legendary cultural attractions, including The Art Institute of Chicago,  Adler Planetarium (which we could see from the window),  the Field Museum (home to the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil ever found) among others.

Where to find Art in Chicago

While temperatures were still warming up, Spring was a nice time to be in the Windy City, the summer crowds were not there yet and we had most attractions to ourselves.  We went shopping on the Magnificent Mile, ate some cheesy gooey deep dish pizza and conquered our fear of height and walked on a glass ledge at Wills Tower and clung to the bars when the windows started titling at the 360 Chicago’s Tilt!

View from the Wills Tower - Photo by Outside Suburbia
A view of the Chicago and Lake Michigan from the Wills Tower

Chicago Bean - Photo by Outside Suburbia

After a quick lunch at Pret a Manger (don’t ask why it’s just a London obsession), we crossed the street to the icon and the centerpiece of AT&T Plaza at Millennium Park – Sir Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate. Also known at The Bean, it has somewhat become synonymous with Chicago.  We played with the refection at the 110-ton structure that captures the surrounding skyscrapers in its mercurial body.  We took a million photos before heading to the Art Institute of Chicago. See our virtual tour of the museum here.

Art Institute of Chicago - Photo by Outside Suburbia

The two bronze lions welcomed us to the Art Institute of Chicago. These two of the city’s oldest pieces of public art and was designed by sculptor Edward Kemeys.  The cats have stood guard along Michigan Avenue since 1894 and sometimes the AIC dresses the iconic sculptures up for holidays and in the gear of Chicago sports teams during playoff runs. Being a big fan of Impressionists and post Impressionists era of Masters, this Museum had been on the top of my wishlist.  It has a stunning collection of works – entire rooms are dedicated to Monet, Gauguin, Van Gogh and don’t miss the rare pieces by Picasso from the Blue Period.

Chagall’s America Windows in the Art Institute of Chicago
Chagall’s America Windows in the Art Institute of Chicago

A mural walk in Chicago

It was too early in the season to check out the Chicago Riverwalk, Navy Pier or River Cruise, we missed it be a week.  We more than made up for it by going on a tour with Teresa Peek from Tour through a Lens, who took us on a tour to see all cool murals around downtown and gave us an insight into some of the architecture and other art in the city.  Public art is plenty in Chicago!  We saw some vibrant murals, stopped at the Rookery a building redesigned by Frank Lloyd Wright, we saw the Tiffany glass mosaic panels at Marquette building lobby and the beautiful and elegant Palmer House.  She shared with us her secret Batman spot.  Do you see it?

Have you seen the Batman Building in Chicago | Outside Suburbia
Do you see Batman??

The Rookery, Chicago | Outside Suburbia
The Rookery

Best Street Art in Chicago | Outside Suburbia
Best Street Art in Chicago | Outside Suburbia
Best Murals and Street Art in Chicago | Outside Suburbia
Best Street Art Alley in Chicago | Outside Suburbia
Alexander Calder's Flamingo, Chicago | Outside Suburbia
Alexander Calder’s Flamingo

Alexander Calder’s 53 foot red Flamingo sits in a plaza of federal buildings that was designed by Mies van der Rohe. Teresa showed us how to turn the sculpture is made of steel and glass from a flamingo into a spider! We had such a wonderful time learning about the buildings, the stories behind them and learning how to capture them with our lens.

Picasso Chicago

I wanted to see Picasso’s unnamed statue located in Daley Plaza, an iconic 50-foot-tall sculpture designed by Pablo Picasso. Since I missed it Teresa was kind enough to send me a photo of it.  If you go to see it don’t miss a sculpture created by Spanish artist Joan Miró not too far from it.

We then went to our room freshened up and went to go see the Broadway show Hamilton at the Chicago CIBC Theatre, in one word it was EPIC! Everything you heard about the musical is true, go see for yourself if you get a chance. I was mesmerized the entire time!

Chicago is an incredibly artistic city and what better way to explore it than with a Heart Our Art package. I left inspired to get back to some drawing and painting after our stay at The Blackstone.

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