Who can forget the opening scene of “The Untouchables,” when notorious and feared Chicago mobster Al Capone was being shaved, got nicked, and cast a menacing glare at his barber? The movie and the scene were purely works of fiction, but an actual barbershop frequented by Capone can be visited today at one of Chicago’s famous historic hotels.
Many of Chicago’s most historic hotels opened during the Prohibition Era. The site of Capone’s favorite barber, The Blackstone, opened a bit earlier in 1910 and also played host to Lucky Luciano’s National Crime Syndicate in the Crystal Ballroom. It’s registered on the National Register of Historic Places. Other historic hotels such as the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel, the InterContinental Chicago, The Drake, and the Allerton Hotel, all opened in the 1920’s and may have had their brushes with infamy.
However, not all of these hotel’s histories are of a nefarious nature. The Blackstone also hosted 12 U.S. Presidents, Truman Capote, Joan Crawford, and Rudolph Valentino. The Drake saw its share of Presidential guests and such eminent people as Amelia Earhart, Walt Disney, Princess Diana, and both Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin of the “Rat Pack.”
The very oldest hotel in the Loop is The Palmer House Hilton Hotel built in 1871. A victim of the Chicago fire, the Palmer House was rebuilt despite being destroyed only 13 days into its initial opening. Its elegant history is on full display in the lobby, a preserved masterwork of architecture and taste restored thanks to a $170 million renovation. Built only a bit after in 1895, The Alise Chicago, Staypineapple, was one of the first skyscrapers in the city at 14 feet. It has fully modernized rooms, but the stairwell and outside façade tell the clear story of a building with tremendous history and deep roots in the city.
These historic hotels are generally downtown, near the action and historic center of commerce and industry. While they may vary in terms of how much they’ve preserved their historic look and feel, they are all devoted to comfort and cleanliness. Expect to spend a little more on a stay in a historic hotel rather than a more modern, low star hotel. If you’re a fan of architecture, a by-gone era of opulence and service, and the finer things in life, you’ll appreciate making one of these locales your base of operations during your Chicago trip.