Four Seasons, Chicago

On the hotel's high floors, you can see north to Wisconsin and south to Indiana. Lake Michigan stretches in both directions in a curving arc toward both neighboring states; its pale blue waters extend as far as the eye can see to the east. The Four Seasons Chicago offers more than views of the lake, however.

With its main entrance just steps off of Chicago's famed Miracle Mile, a conglomeration of the world's greatest retail stores, this hotel has one of the best locations in the Windy City. Although it's a new addition to an already crowded luxury-hotel scene, the Four Seasons has quickly climbed to the top rung--it's not always easy to get a room. There are 343 rooms here--177 singles and doubles and the rest a variety of suites with one and two bedrooms.

Success rests on a simple formula: full service. There is excellent 24-hour room service, twice-daily maid service and two-line telephones in the rooms. You can also take advantage of the city's nickname and open the windows to get a full blast of the wind off the lake. There is also a health spa that has an indoor swimming pool, aerobics room, outdoor jogging track and a sun deck.

Other touches aren't so obvious. On one recent check-in, a well-known businessman was greeted by name at the front desk and the concierge station. Although he'd been at the hotel before, it hadn't been more than a couple of times in the previous 12 months. Curious about how the hotel accomplished such familiarity with its guests, he asked the manager for the secret. It's simple, he was told. Every day, a list of the VIP visitors is passed around to the staff, if possible, with pictures. Voilà! In comes the important guest, and he or she is made to feel like a member of the family--immediately.

Like many of the new generation of luxury hotels in America,the Four Seasons Chicago also houses an excellent restaurant. The stoves at Seasons are run by Mark Baker, who specializes in American cuisine. The dining room is an elegant space with wood paneling and high ceilings. While daily specials are put on the menu, Baker also sticks to old American favorites with a modern touch: roasted free-range chicken, prime rib-eye steak with onion-baked potato and salmon braised in white wine served over fennel-herb risotto. The hotel restaurant, like all Four Seasons now, caters to those seeking lighter, lower-fat dining with its "Alternative Cuisine" menu.

For less formal dining or drinking, the cafe and the bar offer comfortable seating just off the main lobby. The bar is a welcome spot for cigar smokers. The barman keeps a humidor with Davidoff cigars, and the rule is simple: smoke in peace. There is a solid selection of after-dinner spirits including Cognacs and Ports.

The Four Season's cigar-friendly status was highlighted this past spring when it hosted a Cigar Aficionado Big Smoke. More than 900 people attended the night of cigars and spirits and good food.

Travelers don't usually spend a lot of time in hotel rooms during a busy visit to any city, but when they do, the accommodations can make or break the trip. If the rooms are quiet and luxurious and the guests know that their momentary whim is just a phone call away from being fulfilled, it can be a great stay. The Four Seasons fits the bill.

-- Gordon Mott

Four Seasons
120 East Delaware Place
Phone: (312) 280-8800
Fax: (312) 280-9184
Rooms Rates: single $285; suite $355