Cigar Aficionado

Fairmont Hotel, Chicago

Good hotels convey a distinctive character to their guests. Some have Old World charm. Some are homey. Some project a twenty-first century, hi-tech efficiency. Some are just unadorned and utilitarian. And some, like the Fairmont Hotel in Chicago, send out a warm welcome that emphasizes grace in a setting of modern elegance.

Situated on Lake Michigan, the Fairmont rises above the northern end of the downtown business district and is within walking distance of Chicago's famed Magnificent Mile shopping mecca on Michigan Avenue. Nearly every major retailing name faces the avenue or is located in indoor shopping malls just off the street. Visit the extravagant Nike store, one of the retailer's first U.S. shops.

In recognition of its status as a destination for business travelers, each Fairmont room has a fax machine; computer rentals are available as well (each room comes equipped with data transmission/modem ports). The hotel also offers $10 daily membership privileges in one of America's most spectacular health clubs, the Athletic Club. It has an indoor track, dozens of fitness machines, weights, a pool, a full European spa, aerobics rooms, ball courts and a 50-foot-high climbing wall. It's a quick walk underground from the hotel, so even during the winter you have no excuse not to go.

Whether you have vistas of the downtown business area or Lake Michigan, most of the 692 rooms, including 66 suites, have spectacular views. The rooms are decorated in neo-modern pastel tones. The Fairmont Suite comes with a living room, dining room, library with fireplace and grand piano, as well as two bedrooms. It is located on the Fairmont floor, the hotel's 37th, where a private boardroom is available.

The hotel has a top-rated French-influenced Continental restaurant, Entre Nous, that serves a range of specialties. Typical dinner menus include a brioche with New York State foie gras, a fricassée of sweetbreads, and crab cakes. The main courses cover the entire range of top-quality and exotic meats, from beef tenderloin to ostrich and venison. The restaurant's wine list has received Wine Spectator's Best of Award of Excellence. The list is noted for its strong selections from all major French regions and California.

The hotel's other restaurants include the Primavera, a simple Italian-style bistro that doubles as the hotel's main breakfast and lunch center. In the evening, there are often strolling singers, and the entire bar and restaurant area pulses with energy.

The Metropole, however, is the cigar smokers' haven. It is off the main lobby, next door to Entre Nous, and it frequently offers live music in the evenings. So, you can dine at Entre Nous and shift over to the Metropole for a cognac and your favorite smoke. It is a plush, wood-paneled room with a full-length bar. There is plenty of comfortable seating and a slightly raised stage for easy viewing.

The hotel also hosts Cigar Aficionado's Big Smoke. The 1995 event there sold out two sessions with more than 2,500 people. Chicago's 1996 Big Smoke will be held at the Fairmont on April 16.

-- Gordon Mott

Fairmont Hotel
200 North Columbus Drive
Phone: (312) 565-8000
Room Rates: $219, city view; $239, lake view; suites start at $500