I've long been obsessed with the boutique design travel group MR & MRS SMITH.
They are a company that specializes in special destination accomodations.... Conde Nast Traveler named them winner of 'favorite travel websites'- and they have a great series of coffeetable books.
So when they called asking if I would be willing to be a hotel review-
which means stay in luxury boutique design hotels
(on their dime)
I did little cartwheels in my head.
I could not say yes fast enough.
Pick a destination anywhere in north or south america or the Carribbean.
Bring a guest. Stay for 2 nights on the house. Take it all in.
They buy your dinner, give you a per diem and all I have to do is write an 800-word review?
Done and done. I picked to stay local for my first trip, the Hotel Lincoln.
One Monday evening, gathering everything I would ever need for a long-haul holiday, I loaded up the car (ignoring the soft cry of our leaf springs) eager to get on the road at 6.15. I set off into the waning sunlight and arrived at my destination. 15 minutes later.
I’m not usually one to stay local. When it comes to taking time off of work, it had better be for something irrational, inconvenient and impractical. I want to trek across Morocco on an unruly camel. Or venture to a remote fishing village off the coast of Ireland, and live in a stone cottage with no running water or neighbors who’ve never even heard of Breaking Bad. My ideal escape starts out in Portugal on Sunday, and ends a week later in Poland. Or Peru.
But, when the opportunity to bunk at the Hotel Lincoln, a buzzed-about hometown newcomer in Chicago’s leafy Lincoln Park neighborhood, came knocking, who was I to say no? It’s true, Mr Smith and I had steered clear since the hotel’s opening last year. Wiser (OK, maybe just older) we were waiting for the press to quiet down, along with the queues of twentysomethings comparing tattoos as they waited for their spot at the happening rooftop bar.
Bracing ourselves for ironically bearded lounge-dwellers and a too-cool attitude, we were pleasantly surprised to find an interior that felt more living room than lobby and no overstyled facial hair in site. We were greeted at reception by friendly staff and a massive wall soaring with vintage, thrift-store paintings straight out of a Victorian brothel or the glossy pages of The World of Interiors. I was smitten.
After maxing out my iPhone photo library with every last delicious design detail in the lobby, Mr Smith nudged me towards the elevator. Even that – wall-to-wall plaid carpeting and navy shagreen wall coverings – had me all aflutter.
Our 10th-floor room, a light-filled Lake View Junior Suite, was more subdued in style than the common areas (what, no rawhide walls?), but it certainly didn’t lack character. Or square footage – it was the size of my college apartment. A full-length Warhol-esque mirror greeted us and Chicago-inspired art filled the walls. The several windows were generous with the panoramic views of Lincoln Park, the Lincoln Park Zoo and rolling Lake Michigan waves. But, it was the piles of plush pillows stacked to the ceiling that invited me to call this room home. Well, for the next few days, anyway.
Unpacked (or, rather, moved in) we headed up to the top-floor J Parker bar, named after President Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguard. Reminiscent of a glass slipper atop a skyscraper, it boasts views of the city in every dizzying direction from the see-through balconies hovering above the verdant park below. However, at these heights, I wouldn’t recommend drinking as much as I did… so, swill your deftly built Lazenby (Beefeater gin, Lillet Blanc and Death’s Door Vodka) cocktails responsibly.
Back in our room, we revived with still-bubbling fruit cobblers quickly delivered by room service, and watched Leo DiCaprio throw lavish parties on a television the size of a VW. And, just 15 minutes spent on the ginormous bed was enough to knock us out cold. Damn you, sleep-seductive thread count.
Maintaining the fantasy of our new pied-à-terre, we made our way downstairs to Elaine’s Coffee Call for breakfast the next morning. Hello, tartan cushions tossed on the large black sofa… hi there, adorable barista and master of the perfect latté leaf… how utterly charming you all are. We settled in with lattes and newspapers from the stack perched on the 1970s record player. All that was missing was a shaggy dog chewing my shoes.
Anxious to explore the neighborhood, Mr Smith put an end to our lounging. Most hotels, it seems, are set in a prime location designed to assault you at every turn with the tourist experience. However, nestled comfortably in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, casually overlooking a sprawling park and a world-famous lakefront, the Hotel Lincoln lives like the locals do.
Once a residential hotel (playwright David Mamet lodged here), you get the impression that nothing on the surrounding blocks has changed in the last century. A florist squeezes in against a coffee shop, next to the most adorable stationery boutique. It was enough to make me want to relocate permanently.
The best was yet to come though – we had a reservation that night at adjoining Perennial restaurant, a farm-to-table favorite in town. We cozied up in the glow of the golden room decorated with Mason jars of mysterious pickled things that demanded to be Instagrammed. Award-winning chef Paul Virant is a dedicated canner and the many pickled items – from summer beans to ramp relish – are his specialties.
Focused expertise is a hallmark of the restaurant, as demonstrated by our waiter’s impressive knowledge of Midwestern cheeses that could have landed him on Top Chef. Bellies blissfully full, we returned to our suite in the sky.
Waking up to the sparkling sunrise over the lake the next morning though, reality set in. We didn’t actually live at the Lincoln. We had to pack up sans darling barista, acclaimed in-house chef, cloud-like down pillows or shagreen walls.
So, for the moment, let’s just forget all that exile-to-a-remote-island-with-no-plumbing business. Who would have thought that a hike across town could be just as eye opening an escape as a trek across a distant desert? Our little adventure led to another fascinating development: we were now staycation evangelists. Turns out there’s no place like your home away from home…
A few destinations from the Mr & Mrs Smith Collection: