Radisson Blu Aqua: The VibeThe Radisson Blu Aqua hotel holds much to appeal to your inner design geek.
Let’s start with the eighty-story building itself: one of Chicago’s newest sky scrapers, and the tallest building designed by a female lead architect, Jeanne Gang, the Aqua building is striking thanks to its unusual balconies– an undulating horizontal wave of concrete that grows thicker and thinner and sometimes disappear entirely.
The odd thing about these balconies is that they are visually compelling when you see them from a below or a relatively short distance, but become almost invisible when you see them from afar – from, say, across town. You can puzzle over that during your Chicago stay, as I did, or you can distract yourself with the ample attractions within a short stroll of the hotel, since the hotel is literally across the street from Millennium Park.
The first eighteen floors of the building are the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel. In the United States, the Radisson brand is best known as a perfectly fine but nothing special business hotels chain, but Radisson Blu is a different animal entirely. (This is called “tiered branding”, in the formulation of Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, the Radisson offers an “upscale experience” and Radisson Blu offers “upper upscale”. You can read more about this if you like.) What this means in practical terms is not just all the amenities that the affluent traveler expects – flat screen TVs, crazy comfortable beds, Anne Semonin toiletries – but something beyond than a cookie cutter experience.
The Radisson Blu Aqua delivers on that, as it has the feeling of every detail being well thought through – from the metal press numbers outside each hotel room door, to the fifty foot long fireplace in a lobby that glimmers in gold. Plus, it’s just plain nice that this chain refuses to gouge its guests on WIFI, which is free.
There are two room styles in the hotel “Naturally Cool”, which is downright Scandinavian – wood floors, impeccable shiny whiteness -- and “Mansion House” which is carpeted, darker and perhaps more masculine.
Radisson Blu Aqua: The FoodThe hotel’s restaurant and bar are in the split-level Filini – the dining happens upstairs and the drinking and the light snacking happens downstairs. Although divided only by a staircase, the two spaces have a very different atmosphere. Upstairs is cozy and intimate, where downstairs is brighter, lively, and although there are plenty of adult beverages on hand—more on that in a moment – it’s also kid-friendly.
Filini is an Italian restaurant, and the bar’s list of craft cocktails reflect this heritage. There are, of course, standard Italian cocktails – a Negroni, a Bellini. And then there are cocktails that are made with iconic Italian spirits, liqueurs, cordials, aperitifs and other alcoholic beverages – the Grappacello, for instance, with limoncello, grappa, lemon juice, thyme and orgeat. There are also unexpected Italian twists on sips you’d typically find in another cultural milieu: if for some reason you are craving a Polynesian concoction, you can get West Indies Ristretto, which is made with pineapple rum, Galliano, Kahlua, sage & pineapple juice.
The cocktail list does tend heavily towards the sweet side, for those with a more savory palate, the Filini Martini, with Aperol, gin, cointreau & lime juice, is a reasonable choice. Or just hit the Italian wine list.
The bar bites available can easily be a whole meal. The menu is mostly what you’d expect – there’s burrata cheese, bruschetta, meatballs – but also a few curve balls: goat ragu with bay leaf & cippolini onion. Either way, it’s all very well done. There’s also a large selection of capable pizzas, with a variety of toppings that favor comfort over challenge, but I’d be more inclined to stick with the smaller plates. The only downside here is that the food operation shuts down early by hotel standards: by 9:30 on weeknights and 10:30 on weekends, meaning late-arriving hotel guests that would prefer to eat at a restaurant must go elsewhere.