The great American author Mark Twain is perhaps best remembered for his infinite sense of humor and exceptional eye for detail. But just as he could bring his characters to life, so too could he capture the essence of a place like few others. It was Twain who once said, “for she is never the Chicago you saw when you passed through the last time.” It is a line that will likely ring true for most people to have ever visited or lived in the windy city—but, more specifically, it feels particularly true of Wicker Park, a neighborhood just west of the Kennedy Expressway, also home to The Robey.
It is a neighborhood far removed from the virtual mood board that most assemble before visiting the city: a long way from Al Capone’s 1930s gangland, or fiercely proud hot dog stands and pizza joints. True, you might still hear the odd Curtis Mayfield tune playing, but the gritty imagery of the city in the 1970s he calls upon feels, for the most part, resigned to history.
Instead, this neighborhood (named after the park that provides it with its central landmark) and Bucktown are commonly referred to as ‘the Brooklyn of Chicago’—and rightly so. Blending into one another like fingers lacing through the hands of another, they are home to numerous cultural institutions, young artists, palate-pleasing restaurants, and a vibrant lifestyle.
When walking through Wicker Park, one will inevitably face the diverse mix of economic levels and architecture styles present in Chicago. Be it mansions or working-class housing, no street is like the other. Beautiful 19th century architecture is present throughout the neighborhood, best observed on Pierce Avenue with several Victorian style homes. They make up the Historic District of Wicker Park and are mostly fully restored to their majestic glory.
Buildings equally rich in architectural and cultural appeal include the Chopin Theater or the Flat Iron Building, that houses a collective of artist’s studios, with open doors and gallery events, enriching the neighborhood with unique events. To observe a section of the eclectic mixture, head to the rooftop lounge and adjoining terrace of The Robey: From 13 floors up, you get 360 degrees views of the city and drink in the spirit of both contemporary and classic Chicago.
Situated at the six-way intersection of Milwaukee, Damen, and North Avenues, inside the Northwest Tower, the building itself is actually a fusion of two historic buildings—a former office building from 1929 and a former Hollander Fireproof Warehouse built in 1905. Today via a truly contemporary design vision, the hotel unites stripped back, industrial-style interiors and Art Deco stylings in equal measure, across its entirety. The rooms often allude to 1950s offices, complete with authentic mid-century furnishings—however they are all brought thrillingly into the modern day, not least via the staggering terrazzo floorings to be found in many of the rooms.
Whether you come for the expansive views or the interior delights, The Robey encapsulates a particular special something about a particularly special part of the city. Like the neighborhood itself, it is a must-pass-through; a space, that will never be the same again.
The Robey is featured in the Design Hotels Book. The 2020 edition marks an innovative new editorial and artistic direction for the design anthology, created in collaboration with some of the world’s leading photographers.