Almost from the moment it opened its doors in 1920, the Drake Hotel won most favored status with Royalty. Future British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a guest during the 1920s, as was exiled Grand Duke Alexander of Russia and Queen Marie of Romania. During the 1960s, by now an established Chicago icon, the Drake hosted Emperor Hirohito of Japan, Prince Charles, and Pope John Paul II. Even Princess Diana stayed at the Drake Hotel during her only visit to Chicago in 1996.
The preponderance of visiting kings, queens, diplomats, and entertainers molded the character of the Drake, which quickly became known for its commitment to the highest levels of guest service. However, this same reputation was the source of some interesting anachronisms. Although the Drake was the first hotel in Chicago to air condition and include color televisions in all guest rooms, it stubbornly refused to install ice machines until 1967, when the quality of machine ice was finally deemed comparable to “hand make cubes,” and human elevator operators were retained well into the 1970′s.
After Hilton International was brought in to manage the Drake in 1981, $40 million was allocated to return the hotel to its original splendor. Rooms were equipped with high-speed Internet, dual line speaker phones with caller ID, in-room safes, luxurious bathrobes, remote control TVs, iron and ironing boards, and alarm clock radios. A 3000 sq. ft. fitness facility was added and made available to all guests on a complimentary basis.
Though British royalty may not visit with the regularity of bygone eras, America’s royalty – Hollywood – has discovered the Drake in recent years. Scenes from the movies Mission: Impossible, Risky Business, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Hero, What Women Want, and Wicker Park, among others, were filmed at the hotel. Even so, the Drake still maintains one majestic tradition. Every afternoon, in-the-know tourists and Chicago elite gather at the hotel’s Palm Court for live harp music and High Tea, a tradition at the Drake for more than 25 years.
Despite numerous new luxury hotels springing up along North Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile, the Drake, with 535 guest rooms on ten floors, five restaurants/lounges, and four major public banquet and meeting areas, is stiill considered to be one of Chicago’s most distinguished hotel premier luxury hotels.
Photo credits: The Drake Hotel
Article by barbara Weibel at Hole In The Donut Travels