Don't judge this place on appearance alone: the nondescript tower is actually one of the city's most family-friendly hotels, and its location—five minutes by foot from the Museum Campus—is one reason why. The South Loop inn also offers easy access to nearby attractions like the Art Institute of Chicago. Kids, however, might not want to leave the hotel once they see the huge, top-level pool: open year-round, floor-to-ceiling windows provide views of Grant Park and Lake Michigan. Comfy rooms (with cribs and rollaway cots available on request) fulfill parent’s practical needs.
YOU SHOULD KNOW Yes, the rate is affordable but don't be fooled because the overnight parking (at a garage across the street) is exactly what you'd pay at a Loop hotel ($60/night).
Each of the 254 rooms is basic but spacious, with Art Deco-period design and furnishings. Families or girlfriend-getaway groups might want to upgrade to a suite because, even with the inn's affordable rates, you're paying as much as you would in the Loop for a standard room.
Request a room overlooking Grant Park or Lake Michigan for splendid views--the higher the floor, the better.
The baths are small, but clean and updated, with a marble-countertop vanity. While there isn't enough room to do your morning stretches in here, guests don't come to Chicago to hang out in the bathroom, do they? Given the price point, it's almost surprising that toiletries are boutique-y, from Aromae Botanicals and in bergamot, rosemary, orange and aloe scents.
Some of the Art Deco charm has been retained in the lobby, including the sofas' clean lines and red shell chairs crafted from plywood. Located on the ground floor, it's a sunny, spacious spot (thanks to walls of windows) to work on your laptop or wait for your room to be ready.
With plenty of stationary bikes, elliptical trainers and treadmills, the fitness center is perfect for a hotel of this size.
Greektown's restaurant scene (10-minute drive) featured prominently in the film "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Don't leave Chicago without sampling the city's famous deep-dish pizza. Lou Malnati's (4-minute walk) and Gino's East (10-minute walk) are both near the inn.
Celebrate Chicago's blues scene over pints of beer at Buddy Guy's Legends (3-minute walk) with performers nightly. Scout Waterhouse & Kitchen (10-minute walk) features many Chicago craft beers on tap.
WHY WE LIKE IT
While Essex Inn isn't anything to write home about, it's also not anything to complain about either. Rates are super low and come without the frills (spa, pool, restaurant, etc.) but you are within walking distance of major museums and attractions, plus snug in an up-and-coming part of Chicago where high-rise condos dot the skyline.