Staycation at The Freehand Hotel
I’d first come to The Freehand because my wonderfully talented friend was featured in a pop-up gallery there a month back. I loved its cute haphazard style so much that I knew I needed to stay there. The building held a certain mystique for me as it used to house the
ultra-creepy Tokyo Hotel before being renovated into The Freehand. I’d never been inside when it was the Tokyo Hotel, but always passed it and wondered what went on behind its dingy exterior. A month later, there I was checking in at the upscale hostel/hotel. I had walked over after work on Friday; it was just a short jaunt over to the River North Neighborhood. The check-in process was casual and easy, and after a brief orientation of the property, I was on my way up to the tenth floor in a painfully slow elevator. I chose to stay in one of their private rooms, which they offer along with shared and private bunk-bedded rooms.
The room was straightforward and charming, with a queen-sized bed, small armoire containing hotel robes and a small safe and a desk facing the city-view window. The desk had two small shelves of books ranging from “The Help” to “The Mammoth of Best New Erotica”, as well as a house phone, hotel guide, and a mini bar in an interior cabinet. The blue-tiled bathroom featured a stand-up shower, hairdryer, fluffy white towels, and beautifully packaged toiletries. After getting settled and changing out of my stuffy work clothes, I met up with my boyfriend to go out on the town, staycation style. I was dying to try The Purple Pig, which I had never been to, despite living in Chicago for seven years. We walked over there only to find out they had an hour wait for a table. We put our name down anyways and went off in search of appetizers. After pinging back and forth across Michigan Avenue, looking at menus and turning them down, hunger forced us to stop into Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen. Right off the bat, I wasn’t crazy about this decision. It seemed like an upscale TGI Fridays, only without the moderate prices. We sat down and ordered a couple of beers and decided whether or not we should bail. Again, hunger won and we had our beers and a kale and artichoke dip which was good in the way that artichoke dip always is. After we paid, we walked back up to Michigan Avenue just in time to finally be summoned to The Purple Pig because our table was ready. We were sat at a table inside and immediately made work of reading and translating their extensive menu of share plates.
The Chorizo Stuffed Olives, Whipped Feta Dip, and Pork Belly Rillon looked best to us. They brought each dish out separately, which made for optimal enjoyment. We started with the feta, which was served with thick slices of delicious bread. The feta had cucumbers and peppers brunoise on top and was so tasty. For me, there is literally nothing better than cheese and bread so of course I loved this dish. Next came the olives, which were a little too salty for me, but my boyfriend very much enjoyed them. Finally, the Pork Belly Rillons, which were the perfect mixture of crispy and melt in your mouth. I only wish the serving was bigger.
After we finished the decadent dinner, we walked the few blocks across the river and walked down the steps to the River Walk. The brightly lit river-adjacent sidewalk was vibrant and teeming with the after-dinner crowd. We walked down a-ways and doubled back to pop into The Hideout for a beer.
The music venue/bar had an industrial feel; the area it occupied was fenced off by the green tarp covered fence that’s usually reserved for road work. The furniture was mismatched inside and there were picnic tables and highboys outside. The bar offered beer, wine, shots and snacks from Bridgeport Pasty. We sat outside to enjoy our beers before walking back to The Freehand to have a nightcap in their bar, The Broken Shaker. I immediately wanted whatever drink was encased in the enchanting golden pineapple that I saw other patrons holding. It turned out to be Chicago Politics, a delectable and spicy cocktail that kicks you right in the throat.
There was an extravagant process to making it that ended with lighting the garnish on fire with a blowtorch. It was a hefty portion of booze worthy of two cocktails and priced accordingly. The bar was crowded, but not uncomfortably so. The bartenders were very attentive and continued to craft creative cocktails without the pretension of other “mixologists”. We spent a good amount of time enjoying the cozy atmosphere of The Broken Shaker before retiring to our room for the night.
The next morning we rushed down to catch the complimentary breakfast located in the sitting room next to The Broken Shaker. It was a free-for-all. There was quite the crowd milling around the tables containing coffee, tea, juice and baked goods. We fought to get our free muffins and hightailed it over to Café Integral, the in-house coffee bar/café. I had a latte and my boyfriend ordered an Americano, both were superb. The apple muffins were also very good, and we were happy to find out they were brought in from Lovely Bake Shop, which is in our neighborhood. We also ordered from Café Integral’s “on toast” menu, and chose the Avocado Smash.
I would gladly eat that every day if I could, it was that delicious. It was served with thinly sliced radishes, pickled shallots and sprouts on top and a slice of lemon on the side.
Part of the beauty of a staycation is that every new thing that you discover and enjoy is easily accessible for revisiting. And I plan to go back to Café Integral often, specifically for the Avocado Smash.
Before we checked out, I wanted to explore the basement of the hotel, which is where the guest laundry and kitchen was located. The kitchen was brightly lit and happily buzzing with a few other guests preparing their meals. In addition to these in house amenities, The Freehand offers an activity calendar for their guests including workouts, walking tours, and other special events much like the pop-up gallery my friend was featured in.
We left the hotel at noon, after walking around and popping into a few shops in the area. We walked the two miles back to our apartment, across the river and over the line that separates blissful staycations and real life.
A big thank you to The Freehand for having us and giving us such a wonderful staycation experience. I will definitely be back!
Have you ever tried a staycation? How did it compare to other vacations?