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STAYCATION REVIEW Millennium Knickerbocker, History, and a bit more
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times.

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The Millennium Knickerbocker hotel ( 163 E. Walton Pl.; ) has been open since 1927, and has entertained everyone from Al Capone to John F. Kennedy to Janet Jackson—but how does this historic spot compare to the slew of new boutique hotels that have seemed to inundate Chicago? Let's take a closer look.

—Location: In a word, the location is prime. The Millennium Knickerbocker ( across the street from another historic hotel, The Drake ) seems to be mere steps from everything, including Oak Street Beach, Navy Pier and, of course, the Mag Mile. It's a tourist's/staycationer's dream ( and, during the off-season, rooms are as low as $89/night ).

—Feel/atmosphere: This hotel, as previously stated, is full of history—and that historic feel is apparently upon walking in the Millennium Knickerbocker.

A landmark in its own right, the hotel has 306 guest rooms and suites, and almost 19,000 square feet of meeting space, including the practically magical Crystal Ballroom—complete with illuminated dance floor and gold-gilded domed ceiling. ( During the off season, the room can be rented for the low, low price of $20,000. )

If you're lucky, sunny concierge Tiara Epps ( who also happens to be an award-winning independent filmmaker! ) will provide a tour, disseminating information about secret doorways, renovations and even ghosts. ( By the way, here's something you may not know: In the '70s, the hotel doubled as Playboy Towers. )

Rooms definitely have a vintage feel, which can be good and bad. ( The living-room sofa in my suite could've been there from the initial opening, my friend said—although I doubt that. ) However, the overall feel was very comfortable, and the bathroom was definitely sizeable. ( In addition, bellman Gene was kind enough to explain the layout and offerings of the room—an experience I'd never had in a hotel. )

Interestingly, the hotel apparently has an agreement with British Airways, so you may see some pilots and attendants in the hotel on any given evening.

—Amenities: If you're into getting your workout on, the exercise room is certainly better than most I've seen in hotels. However, there were two complaints: The screen on my bike did not work, and there were no disposable earpieces ( which I've seen at many other spots. )

Regarding food: First, there's no room service—although that didn't really bother me because I'm not a room-service kind of guy. As for breakfast/lunch, there is the first-floor restaurant Nix, which serves pretty high-quality and -quantity fare.

Dinner was at the Martini Bar—which, as one might guess by its name—offers an astounding number of well-made drinks. And then guests can retire to the library to watch TV, read or people-watch. The Martini Bar also offers food that's executed well; however, they're on the order of chicken paninis and the like. In an era where hotel restaurants have wonderfully raised the bar, this was my one true disappointment with the hotel. Fortunately, though, the Millennium Knickerbocker is close to some kick-ass restaurants—including some in other hotels.

—Bottom line: Most would like the Millennium Knickerbocker. The rates ( especially in the off season ) would be enough to attract people. However, the hotel holds many other attractions—and the Crystal Ballroom bears touring, along with other areas such as the Prince of Wales Room. The hotel is very good—but I feel that, with only a couple changes, it could even be great.

Note: This hotel visit was based on an arranged invitation.

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