The Ritz-Carlton Chicago unveils $100 million renovation

After 18 months and $100 million, the “new” The Ritz-Carlton Chicago unveils a spectacular transformation.  The lobby bar, once tucked away in a corner as if it were an afterthought, has been elevated to a focal point. It’s now a glowing beacon of copper, marble and geometric-shaped overhead lighting reminiscent of modern Italian design from the ’30s and ’40s. The brand new Torali Italian – Steak restaurant, which launched last week with a soft opening will officially launch Aug. 3.

The 434-room hotel has gone through a series of “soft” refreshes since opening in 1975. But this final phase of renovation marks the first true overhaul of the high-profile public areas. The guiding principle was to give the Ritz-Carlton a better sense of place, weaving in nods to the city’s status as a pioneer of modern architecture and creating more harmony between the building’s interior and exterior.

The same type of marble on the Water Tower Place facade has been brought into the lobby in the form of massive columns. These pillars are interspersed with rows of 19-foot-tall walnut “fins,” all of which are meant to draw the eye upward.

Floating above the lobby lounge where the heron fountain once stood is “Flying Wave,” an art installation suspended from the ceiling. Its 616 orbs of hand-blown glass come in four shades of blue, evoking the nearby lake.

It’s one on a long list of the hotel’s recently procured art collection. A massive piece called “Wallpaper with Blue Floor Interior” by Roy Lichtenstein is fittingly located in the smaller ground-floor lobby not far from the Museum of Contemporary Art.

The hotel’s overhaul began a year and a half ago, not long after Ritz-Carlton Chicago became part of the Ritz-Carlton chain. (Despite the name and lion logo, the hotel had been part of the Four Seasons’ portfolio until August 2015.)

A 2,600-square-foot Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge, a hallmark of the brand, was added last year on the 15th floor. Access to this hotel-within-a-hotel, featuring complimentary food and drinks among other perks, is open to all Ritz-Carlton guests — for an extra $200 a day.

Other first-phase renovation projects included upgrading the bathrooms in all 90 suites and refashioning the fitness center, making it bigger and giving it views of Navy Pier. The old workout facility was more like a windowless box.

On the dining side, chef Greg Elliott joined the Ritz-Carlton in June after doing stints at Remington’s and the W Chicago Lakeshore hotel. Elliott developed the menu for Torali, the hotel’s new signature restaurant. On the dinner menu: pastas made in-house, seafood and steak, including a $120 porterhouse for two.

This final phase of renovation called for shuttering the hotel for nearly six weeks, a closure that started right after a wedding on New Year’s Eve. The hotel hasn’t hosted a wedding reception since. The next one is slated for the end of the month in the newly expanded grand ballroom.