After closing for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the iconic Palmer House hotel in downtown Chicago has reopened — in time to celebrate its 150th anniversary.
During its closure, the hotel underwent a $2.2 million renovation, which included the addition of an indoor swimming pool.
In preparation for the reopening, staff at the Palmer House, a Hilton Hotel, “vacuumed more than four miles of carpet, changed 10,000 light bulbs, and for the first time, filled 14,600 gallons of water into our new swimming pool,” Dean Lane, area general manager of the Palmer House, said in a statement.
“We are incredibly proud to reopen the iconic Palmer House doors, and welcome guests back to the epicenter of Chicago’s rich history for our 150th anniversary,” Lane continued. “We have faced the most challenging year for the travel industry and Chicago community, but in the face of adversity, Palmer House has continued to rise like a Mythological Phoenix.”
Located at 17 E. Monroe St. in Chicago’s Loop, Palmer House first opened in September 1871, but it burned down 13 days later in the Chicago Fire. Chicago business magnate Potter Palmer had given the hotel to his wife Bertha as one of the most extravagant wedding gifts of all time, Palmer House’s website explains.
After Potter borrowed $1.7 million to rebuild the hotel and surrounding Chicago area, the hotel was rebuilt and opened on November 8, 1873.
“Palmer House is the birthplace of the original chocolate fudge brownie, the first fireproof hotel, the first to employ the vertical steam lift (which would later become the elevator), and the first hotel to use the lightbulb and telephone,” Palmer House explains. In 1933, its Empire Dining Room was converted into an entertainment epicenter and supper club which hosted performances by Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Louis Armstrong, and other celebrities.
The lobby in the 1,641-room hotel simply must be seen to be appreciated. That’s because shortly after Bertha befriended Claude Monet in France, she began decorating the hotel with paintings and other artwork inspired by her French heritage.
“The stunning features include the Tiffany & Co. 24-karat gold ‘Winged Angels’ that weigh in at 1.25 tons each, and the intricately painted ceiling that features 21 Grecian murals by French artist Luis Pierre Rigal,” the Palmer house website reads. The hotel also features “Tiffany & Co. brass door handles, 24-karat gold hinges and hardware throughout the hotel, as well as Bertha’s signature French Haviland bone china — valued at $1.8 million.”
New This Year
Chief among the hotel’s new features is the new indoor swimming pool under a “once-hidden vaulted glass-domed ceiling,” the hotel explains. “The new poolside furnishing and interior design pays homage to hotel’s history with texturally rich deep woodgrain contrasting against white-washed Chicago brick.”
Also new this year, for anyone who wants a touch of true extravagance, Palmer House offers what it calls “The Bertha Palmer Experience.” This package, which begins at $150,000 per month, includes a stay in the Penthouse Suite, black car service, $150 daily dining and cocktail credit, a dedicated butler, and numerous experiences around Chicago and within the hotel.
One of those experiences is an exclusive after-hours guided tour at the Art Institute of Chicago to view the French Impressionist Wing — largely assembled out of Bertha Palmer’s collection. It also includes a private viewing of the hotel’s vault and a viewing of the private museum and archive experience.
Also new for this anniversary year, Palmer House has a special treat for anyone hosting a wedding at the hotel. As part of what’s called the “Sesquicentennial Proposal Package,” couples can use Bertha Palmer’s $30,000-per-place-setting china for $150 per guest at their reception.
Know Before You Go
Palmer House has reopened and follows Hilton CleanStay protocols for cleanliness and disinfection. The hotel also offers contactless arrival, which allows guests to check in, choose their room, unlock their door with a Digital Key, and check out using an app. More information is found here.