The Drake Hotel is a Chicago landmark and has been a symbol of distinguished service and timeless elegance for over 90 years. Located at the beginning of the Magnificent Mile, The Drake overlooks Lake Michigan, across from Oak Street Beach, providing guests with easy access to the beach, premier shopping, nightlife, and dining.
Where tradition meets elegance, The Drake Hotel has 535 guestrooms, including 74 luxurious suites, with views lake and city views. Hotel facilities include a well-equipped fitness room, business center, and a number of in-hotel specialty shops. Also on property are six dining facilities offering everything from elegant afternoon tea in Palm Court, to award winning seafood in the first themed restaurant in Chicago in Cape Cod, and the speakeasy atmosphere of Coq d'Or, which has been open every night since the repeal of Prohibition. For guests wishing to dine in the privacy of their hotel room, service is available as well.
Stylistically, The Drake takes its balanced formal composition and restrained detail from the Italian palaces of High Renaissance Rome and Florence. Constructed of smooth limestone, it rises from a rectangular base which changes at the third story to an H-shape. A distinctive feature of Italian Renaissance design found in The Drake is the “piano nobile” which was the principal story, raised above ground and containing the public rooms. This concept was especially appropriate for adaptation to a grand hotel, particularly in the case of The Drake which was ideally located to afford a panoramic view of the park, beach and lake.
It was Marshall who decided in 1917 that the Near North Side would be Chicago’s most strategic and important section and therefore, the most prominent location for The Drake’s magnificent structure.
A life-long motto of the famous architect, Ben Marshall, was “I can build a better one,” whether it was a recipe or a skyscraper. And so, this flamboyant and ingenious architect erected The Drake hotel, The Drake Towers, and a score of other magnificent structures now lining Lake Shore Drive.
The Drake hotel was to open in 1920, and the March 1919 issue of “The Economist” reported that the structure would be “of unusual magnificence, nothing like it in appearance, arrangement or finishing having ever been attempted in this country…” Ben Marshall (1874-1944), responsible for this magnificence, had no formal architectural schooling. It was just intuition, divine guidance and a knack for flying by the seat of his pants. He married the girl next door, Elizabeth Walton which is the street name of The Drake’s address today.
The Drake cost $10,000,000 to build, including land, building and furnishings. Its original eight hundred rooms were served by nine hundred employees. The brothers’ master plan was a hotel to inspire wonder and emulation which was clearly achieved with the first guests on New Year’s Eve in 1920 as they entered and marveled in wonder at one of the nation’s first urban resorts. The hotel went on to be the hotel of choice for visiting royalty and heads of nations, including visits from Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip of England, Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, presidents, and celebrities alike.
Embracing progress, The Drake was the first hotel in Chicago to provide air conditioning in every room and the first to have color televisions in all guest rooms. However when modern marvels would have diminished services, The Drake became the only hotel in Chicago to retain elevator operators. Years later, it spurned the advent of ice machines until the quality of the ice became comparable to handmade cubes. For while the property is majestic, there exists an atmosphere within these walls that is notably inviting, comfortable, and always rewarding.
In 1979, The Drake was purchased by Jupiter Industries who, in turn, leased the property to the management company Hilton International. After restoring The Drake to its traditional grandeur, the hotel became a set for several popular movies, including “The Blues Brothers,” “Risky Business,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “Hero” among others.
The Drake remains, to this day, the gathering place for celebrities, politicians and diplomats alike. In September 2010, the entire cast of 20th Century Fox’s “The Sound of Music” reunited over afternoon tea for their first interview together since they filmed in 1975. Recent guests have also included Vince Vaughn, John Travolta, and Chicago native, Jennifer Hudson. President Barack Obama has also been welcomed by Drake staff on numerous occasions before and during his term as President of the United States of America. It was during one of his visits in 2011 that the Secret Service discovered hidden passageways within the hotel, unique elements of the hotel’s architectural design and purpose in the era of its erection.
2011 also market the completion of three years of restoration to The Drake Hotel. While refreshed, The Drake still maintains its original charm and splendor envisioned by Benjamin Marshall in 1917. For over 90 years The Drake Hotel has represented all that is Real Chicago and as the eras continue to pass, The Drake maintains its position as a prominent staple in Chicago – its timeless story woven into the very fabric of this great city.