Undercover eats: the Drawing Room at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel

Undercover eats: the Drawing Room at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel
The Drawing Room overlooks Michigan Avenue and Millennium Park

One of Chicago's newest hotspots is the beautifully renovated Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. For over 100 years from 1893 through 2007 the original eleven story building was a private men's club for Chicago's Who's Who. The rest of us could only wonder what was inside.

When it closed, nearly a decade ago, its fate was uncertain.

In 2012, a group of people including John Pritzker and Chicago-based Agman Partners, made the decision to renovate. And renovate they did...in a BIG way.

Now, three years and millions of dollars later, the spectacular building is open to the public as the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. The hotel consists of  241 elegantly outfitted rooms with rates starting at $385 a night.

Better yet, is the exciting mix of bars and restaurants throughout the building from the casual Shake Shack on floor one to the upscale Cindy's, named after Pritzker's mother Cindy, on the rooftop.

You can spend a lot or a little depending upon which spot you select.

An $11 burger with a large helping of fries and a $6 Firestone and all is well. Photo: Clayton Hauck

An $11 burger with a large helping of fries and a $6 Firestone and all is well. Photo: Clayton Hauck

drawingroomstairschicago-athletic-associationThis Friday, Chicago Eats decided to go undercover to check things out at the casual but elegant Drawing Room at the top of the stairs on the 2nd floor of the Chicago Athletic Association.

When I arrived at 5:30 pm., the TGIF crowd was in full force.

Entering the Drawing Room is a like walking into someone's living room--someone very wealthy.

Described by some as "a living room for a new generation," there are multiple seating areas, welcoming fireplaces, cozy nooks and crannies, intimate tables and couches bedecked with cushy pillows.

The 300-seat space is large but feels intimate.

It's a place where people can feel immediately at home. During the day it is a quiet area where one can contemplate, have a cup of coffee, meet a friend or co-worker...even get in a little computer work.

Nighttime is when the space comes alive.  Especially on a Friday night.

When I arrived, the best seats in the room--those by the windows overlooking Michigan Avenue and Millennium Park and the cozy nooks by the fireplace were already taken.

Many were standing.

After searching the room, I was able to grab two chairs at a long library style communal table.

There was an interesting assortment of people at the table. One guy, drinking his beer from a can was texting his buddy directions on how to find the Drawing Room. Two attractive 30-something women were sipping identical glasses of white wine while sharing a cheese plate. A 30-something businessman sat by himself drinking wine while working on his Mac Pro. A white-haired gentleman was drinking a highball while intently staring at his iphone.

For how busy things were, I was amazed when a waiter took my drink order and offered me a menu within minutes of me sitting at the table. My drink order arrived 12 minutes later--not a huge pour but adequate (I'd say the same for the wine pours that I observed).

Cutty on the rocks. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Cutty on the rocks. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The menu was surprisingly affordable as were the drinks. Some appetizers were under $10. A Crock of French Onion Soup was $10; Simple Greens (radish, white balsamic, soft herbs) were $9. Besides two market priced offerings the most expensive item on the menu was the New England Lobster Roll with fries at $23.

I had the Double Griddled Cheese Burger at $11 which was quite large and delicious--cooked to the perfect doneness. It came with a large order of fries that were nicely seasoned but unfortunately by the time they arrived at my table were on the cool side--not surprising for the large crowd being served. (the kitchen also serves the other restaurants on the floor).

There's an adequate menu of beverages from an interesting selection of coffees and teas to cocktails--including a retro Highball at $8, and an Old Fashioned at $11. Bubbles are served by the glass or the bottle as are the White, Rose and Red wines. The choices are middle of the road with prices ranging from $11 to $14 for a glass to $40 to $56 for a bottle. The beers and hard ciders range in price from $5 for an Astra lager from Germany to $26 fro a 750mL Virtue the Leobury hard cider from Fennville, MI.


Atmosphere:  The view, both inside and out, is a 10.

Vibe: Energetic, fun, casual but sophisticated, young professionals, with a scattering of hotel guests, business men and women and others.

Food: The menu is simple and straightforward. Perfect choices for after work, before theater, before the Symphony (the CSO is just down the street), before or after ice skating on The Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park or an early evening before heading home.

Drink: Throwback highballs and Old Fashioneds along with new wave cocktails beer, wine and an adequate selection of teas and coffees.

Where to sit: Comfortable seating options are scattered throughout the space. During the daylight hours the view of Millennium Park from the tables at the front of the room is spectacular. At night, especially a cold night, try to grab a spot near the fireplace.

Noise level: Conversation challenged but not impossible. However if you are bothered by noise avoid evenings especially after work and especially on Fridays.

Meet up or pick up: If you are looking, the possibilities are there. There are some couples but a lot of men only and women only groups along with mixed groups of men and women. People are friendly especially at the communal table or in some of the groups standing in the fireplace area.

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