The travel and tourism industry has taken a hit during the pandemic, but the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago is using the time to tackle its largest renovation since it opened in 1989, according to General Manager Stephen Wancha. Having started the renovation in September 2019, the hotel was closed for the month of January for work, reopened in February, but closed again March 21. When the property reopens this fall, guests and locals can expect to see updated suites and public spaces — including the lobby, lounge areas, reception area, bar spaces and the restaurant — in a postmodern look with a contemporary luxury twist.
“It was necessary to reinvigorate the public areas.” Wancha said. “The building opened 30 years ago. It really opened in the height of that whole postmodernism architectural period. Ownership wanted to keep the meat of that but really add a little more contemporary feel to the space as well — harmonizing the two styles together. … We’re able to open up with much more light coming through the spaces.”
The renovations include reimagining the entire hotel, Wancha said. The soon-to-be-renamed restaurant’s ceilings were raised, bringing in more natural light from windows that permeate all the way through the lobby, across the reception area and into the meeting space on the seventh floor, Wancha said. Updates to 62 specialty suites that include the presidential suites (long-term stay residences), and meeting spaces. It’s a continuation of earlier work that the property started in 2017 when standard guest rooms and the majority of the 187 suites were modernized in 2019. The work this year will round out the new vibe, feel and look that the ownership is going for, per Wancha — a vibe that is defined as a “quintessential Chicago experience” that runs through the food, beverages, art and music that will be on the premises.
Chef Jonathon Sawyer will provide a menu that features Midwest staples and comfort food, with a splash of items from his globally inspired travels (be that ramen or homemade pastas with key seasonal ingredients). A small, 10-seat bar in the lobby can be used for such events as mojitos and manicures from the hotel spa team, or partnering with retail shops in the area for fashion events.
Wancha says a lot of the artwork in the guest rooms and the lobby spaces is by local artists and photographers. As for music, the property is moving away from top 40 piped-in music to Chicago jazz, soul, blues and house. A DJ booth is being added to the lobby/restaurant area, and live DJ and live music events are planned during the week as the COVID-19 landscape evolves, says Wancha.
“You’re going to have local, literally, on the art and photos in your guest rooms, in our lobby, and our food and beverage menu is going to be very rooted in Chicago/Midwest … and you’ll have it in the music program as well,” Wancha said. “Food, drink, art and music is kind of what we really want to hang our hat on for the hotel. For us, it’s really about the special touches — even the lighting. So we’ve updated the lighting in every nook and cranny of the hotel to make sure it shows our art and photography properly as well. All those little nuances, we put even a greater emphasis on them.”
The Four Seasons Hotel Chicago updated special touches like guest room packets. The children’s program has been revamped to give it more of a local tie-in. Kids can use an app to follow the hotel’s mascot — Sammy the Skyscraper — around the hotel for a tour, which takes them through the hotel and shows them different Chicago elements of the hotel.
“If you’re familiar with Chicago, whether you visit annually or you haven’t come here before, you’ll be able to leave with a love from the city that we have,” Wancha added. “The Four Seasons is really iconic in the city. We’re very excited at what we’re putting together and very hopeful that it gives the local community as much of a draw as it does guests for when travel picks back up in the city.”
The hotel plans to reopen in the fall but has not set an official date. The hotel will reopen with its Lead With Care program in place, guiding health and safety decisions during the evolving COVID-19 pandemic.
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