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  • Cindy's, the hotel's rooftop bar (Photos by Clayton Hauck)  
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  • The Game Room  
  • Drawing room

09/24/15 The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel – Chicago, Illinois

Words by Margarita Buenaventura

Any sports-themed bar will tell you that injecting athletics into interiors doesn’t always yield stylish results.  But a visit to the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel might just discourage the stereotype. Celebrating its proud sporting history and embracing sleek, modern design, the CAA will likely be anyone’s favorite second home in the windy city — sports fan or otherwise.

The CAA was originally a private club, a storied 1890s structure that was long vacant until early 2015. The Venetian Gothic building was where members would rub elbows with Olympic gold medalists like Johnny Weissmuller at the pool and blues legend Duke Ellington at The Blue Note. For a long time, it was largely vacant until its new life as a hotel was revealed in early 2015.

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Restoring the hotel — keeping in mind its 19th century charm — was no easy feat. “We tried to restore as much of the original building as possible,” says CAA general manager Patrick Hatton in an interview with NOUS. “For example, the White City Ballroom ceiling has been restored to its original grandeur, as well as Stagg Court, the full-size basketball court.”

A sense of warm, welcoming masculinity seems to live in every part of the CAA; inspired by the abandoned athletic equipment on-site, designers Roman & Williams Buildings used leather-embellished racquets, clubs, and sticks in their design scheme. In the hotel’s guest rooms, the desks and armoire were inspired by stretching racks used for exercise, offset by vintage oriental rugs and brass beds for added texture.

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Beyond the rooms, the CAA has become a sort of playground for locals and tourists on the hunt for a novel dining experience. Open to guests and visitors, the Game Room offers an array of activities — there’s no shortage of billiards, chess, card tables, and table soccer here. And should any player be in need of a post-game tipple, Hatton recommends drinks such as the Brooklyn, a bottled drink that includes rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, amaro, maraschino, and bitters. The Frozen, meanwhile, is a tart cocktail of gin, blackberry, lemon, fernet, and mint.

For a fuller dining experience, the CAA also has a number of special places to lounge in. The Drawing Room, the Milk Room, the Cherry Circle Room, and Cindy’s all extend a unique blend of food and recreation. (They’ve also added a Shake Shack on the ground floor, for those in need of a quick fix.) There’s certainly a lot to do at the CAA, whether one is staying for a week or even just an hour. It’s that sense of inclusion and camaraderie that has stayed true to its original iteration, a club where everyone was invited to join, 125 years ago. Safe to say that’ll stay true for the next century.

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