Budget-boutique stay Freehand Chicago is shaking up the travel world with a bang-for-buck hotel that has all the boutique trimmings on the side. Housed in an 1920’s block in downtown Chicago, the hotel has Art Deco-influenced interiors by designers Roman & Williams and is walking distance from many of the city’s best cultural sights – but it also has a vibrant social scene and group-friendly room types. During the day, Café Integral serves up coffee so good it keeps the most creative crowd happy; after dark, the mixologists at the Broken Shaker bar mix up some of the most inventive cocktails in town. It’s a shake up of the traditional hotel indeed.
Get this when you book through us:
A free cocktail at the Broken Shaker for each guest
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from $58.08, excluding tax at 17.4 per cent.
Rates don’t usually include breakfast, but there’s plenty of á la carte options at Café Integral, including pastries, fruity parfaits and single-estate Nicaraguan coffees.
If you’re wondering why the sign outside still advertises a ‘Tokyo Hotel’, it’s because that was the former, rather tatty inhabitant of the building before it was given a Roman & Williams makeover. Clearly, the sign was the only relic worth keeping...
At the hotel
Guest kitchen and lounge, free WiFi throughout, and laundry. In rooms: TV, desk/workspace, air-conditioning and a minibar.
Our favourite rooms
For families or groups, the Penthouse has it all: a double-height ceiling, impressive fireplace, city views and space for six. If there’s just the two of you, a King Room with city view gets our vote.
A book on 20th-century architecture. Chicago’s great fire of 1871 reduced much of downtown to rubble, giving architects a clean slate on which to build new and pioneering designs.
All of the hotel’s common areas are wheelchair-accessible: lifts provide access to every floor, and there’s a wheelchair lift to get into the Broken Shaker bar. Rooms with accessible showers and ADA tubs are available on request.
Children of all ages are welcome at the hotel, but it doesn’t cater to them specifically. Extra beds aren’t available, but a cot (free of charge) can be added to Queen and King rooms.
The food at Café Integral is organic and seasonal. The hotel has a full in-house recycling programme and uses recycled products wherever possible.
They can’t be booked, but there are a couple of cosy corner chairs ranged before a fire, making this a sought-after spot during the Windy City winter.
Bold prints and patterned shirts – you’ll get into the (Polynesian) groove in no time.
The name’s a bit of a giveaway, but Café Integral is more café than restaurant. It does a great breakfast (try the coconut French toast), serves single-estate coffee and does an all-day menu of Mexican-informed classics. The design is a cultural mish-mash of Macramé wall hangings, tiki statues and thick-pile Persian rugs – the perfect emblem of the hotel’s easy-going attitude and young-at-heart clientele. On Friday and Saturday nights, the café transforms into Tacoteqa, a late-night taco bar where the margaritas flow as freely as the hemlines.
The Broken Shaker pulls off a sartorial mash-up that’s as artfully blended as the cocktails. The wooden bar is reminiscent of an old-school gentleman's club, but it's accented with Polynesian styling and soundtracked by tropical beats. The drinks list brims with with herbal infusions and fresh-pressed ingredients – try the After School Special, which is nutty, herbal and fruity all at once.
Café Integral is open for breakfast from 7.30am to 10.30am; the all-day menu is served from 11am through to 6pm. The Broken Shaker bar is open from 4pm all the way through to 2am (there’s food until 10pm from Sunday to Thursday, and until 11pm on Friday a
The hotel doesn't do room service, but there is a communal kitchen for making those midnight snacks.
Sitting pretty on East Ohio Street in downtown Chicago, Freehand is a relic of Art Deco design amid a sea of gleaming skyscrapers.
Once the busiest airport in the world, Chicago O’Hare is a hub of hubs, so there are regular flights from London and other large European airports. If you’re already in the US, then smaller Chicago Midway is also an option – it’s closer to downtown, too. It usually takes 30 to 40 minutes by car to reach the hotel from O’Hare, and around 20 minutes from Midway. Flights and transfers can be arranged with the Smith24 Team; call 24 hours a day.
If you’re travelling light or want to transit like the locals do, take the Blue Line ‘L’ train from O’Hare, which costs $5 and takes 45 minutes to reach downtown Chicago. From Midway, it’s the Orange Line 'L' train, which takes 25 minutes
A car isn’t necessary if you're planning on staying in the city. The traffic isn’t the worst, but parking can be elusive and prices tend to be on the steep side. If you do want to hire a car, the major rental firms can be found at both airports. The hotel has parking at Grand Plaza, which is $39 a day. Note that it's a block away, so it’s a good idea to drop luggage off beforehand.
Worth getting out of bed for
Formerly a car park (and an ugly one at that), Millennium Park has become one of Chicago’s biggest attractions. The 25-acre space is filled with lawns, experimental architecture and otherworldly art installations such as the Cloud Gate, an enormous, mercury-like sculpture that reflects the city’s skyline. It’s not only the public art that stands out here, however – the architecture is world-famous too. This might be the Windy City, but that didn’t stop Chicago from building the world’s first skyscraper. The 10-story Home Insurance building would be a tiddler were it still standing today, but it was awe-inspiring when it opened in 1884. The city hasn't really lost any architectural steam since, and there’s no better way to take in more than 50 of its best buildings than on an architectural river cruise. Being this famous for the arts, it may come as little surprise that the city has a few good galleries up its sleeve. The River North district is home to more than two dozen spread over a compact area, making it a hotspot for a day of gallery-hopping.
Bavette’s takes the American steakhouse and gives it a bit of a polish, adding in a healthy dose of French decadence but doing away with the formality. The result is a distinctly stylish space with a bit of a rakish feel to it: there’s wooden panelling, leather banquettes and pyramidal chandeliers that provide maximum effect with minimal lighting. The cocktails are impressive, the cellar’s stocked with international wines, and they serve teetering seafood towers and every cut of meat you could ask for. The one-two punch of atmosphere and perfectly cooked food put this one in the running for Chicago’s best steakhouse. Eating at Peruvian restaurant Tanta is like taking a culinary tour from Lima to the Andes, with all of the country’s best fusion thrown in along the way. Sink a pisco sour or two before trying the ahi tuna served with coconut, tamarind, leche de tigre, mango chalaca and toasted peanuts. Originally conceived as a wine bar, Avec’s food offerings meant that it quickly turned into more of a restaurant, with a covetable selection of Mediterranean-inspired sharing plates. That’s not to say the wine isn’t still a star feature: there’s a vast and varied selection, including many hand-picked ‘peasant wines’, which offer serious value for money.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this budget boutique hotel in Chicago and unpacked their Polaroid pictures of the ‘Bean’, a full account of their city break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Freehand Chicago…
Freehand Chicago knows how to mix things up a bit. The team brought a thoroughly modern hotel concept to a historic 1920’s building, before treating it to a top-to-tail refit by designers Roman and Williams. The in-demand, New York-based firm restored some Art Deco soul with dark-wood furnishings and panelled bathrooms, but what they didn’t resurrect was any sort of elitism. Freehand Chicago might have all the bells and whistles of a boutique hotel, but it has a distinctly down-to-earth approach – and they don’t take things too seriously. Inside, you’ll find tiki-style bar furnishings mixed in with modernist furniture and patterned rugs that look as if they’ve been plucked straight from the Andes. Throw in a hip café and an award-winning cocktail bar, and you’ve got a hotel that ticks all the boxes for city-hopping socialites seeking lots of bang for buck.
Whenever you book a stay at a Smith hotel or villa, we’ll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what other Smith members had to say in Freehand Chicago’s Guestbook below.
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