How an Association’s Former Headquarters Became a Hip Hotel

The Chicago Athletic Association building used to house an exclusive club of the same name. But now, a luxury hotel, open to the public, has taken over the space—and it's won numerous accolades in the year it's been open.

The Chicago Athletic Association’s building, once home to a private club exclusively for men, has seen a lot of faces come and go over its 123 years.

But its defining moment may have come a year ago, when the old building opened its doors as a luxury hotel, with 241 rooms and a variety of restaurants and bars, including a Shake Shack.

The big change came roughly eight years after the private club shut its doors for good, losing its lease on life due to changing times.

It may be a public hotspot for nightlife instead of a private club, but much of the building’s legacy remains in the hotel’s many rooms and eateries. Peter Toalson, a partner in Land & Sea Dept., which runs many of the hotel’s restaurants, said that the task of living up to the name and the building is downright daunting.

“The historical significance of the building is of course remarkable and intimidating,” Toalson told Eater last month. “The space itself is very large. The level of square footage that we operate, implementing four concepts across the space, all the elements are daunting and intimidating at first, but I feel as though after a year we’ve all got pretty good at handling it.”

The Game Room at the Chicago Athletic Association hotel. (Lou Stejskal/Flickr)

The building came back to life in 2015, two years after John Pritzker, the son of Hyatt founder Jay Pritzker, purchased it out of foreclosure and made a major investment in restoring it. He saw the effort as one of civic duty—something especially important to his family, which has called Chicago home for generations.

“I love everything about Chicago and Chicago history. And there’s nothing like this,” Pritzker told Crain’s Chicago Business. “It sounds sappy, but there’s a responsibility to save these kinds of places.”

The building—with its prime Michigan Avenue location and James Beard Award-winning restaurant, the Cherry Circle Room—isn’t an inexpensive spot to rest for the night (rates start at $329). But it’s certainly a great conversation starter. And to get it that way took a lot of hard work.

“In projects of this size, there are usually a few spaces or a lobby and an exterior to do,” restoration expert Paul Alessandro noted in an interview with Michigan Avenue magazine. “But the CAA has space after space after space, all historic and important to save.”

The Chicago Athletic Association building. (Lou Stejskal/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!