Part of the Freehand brand, which has outposts in Miami, New York City and Los Angeles, this upmarket hostel is more than bunk beds. Private quarters can be booked, too. Design firm Roman and Williams--whose imprint has appeared on hip hotels like Highland Hotel in New York City and the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel--puts a fresh spin on this 1927 building with boho-chic fabrics and decor. A cafe off the lobby serves breakfast and espresso drinks while Broken Shaker's lounge is a chill spot to have drinks.
The ultimate room here is the two-bedroom, two-story Penthouse with its macrame hangings and other 70s-era decor, plus floor-to-ceiling windows, arched French doors and a fireplace. But even the King and Queen private rooms are cool and worth whipping out your phone for some Insta shots: think Native American-inspired rugs, pendant lamps above the bed, throw pillows with a hand-crafty vibe and custom platform beds.
YOU SHOULD KNOW Renting a Quad room? Either bring a padlock or be prepared to buy one at the front desk. Your rate includes the bed and also a locker (in the room).
Private rooms have their own bath with wood paneling that reminds of a ship's cabin, but the Quad shares among four guests. Still, that mossy-green-tiled shower in the Quads is an example of great design and nothing like what you'd find at the Y.
Even though this is a low-budget hotel the lobby's style blows other properties out of the water because it's truly comfortable, with a mix of globally inspired furnishings and '70s-era decor (in other words, avocado green is huge here!). There are tons of spots to chill with a book or a drink, or work on your laptop.
Cafe Integral is part of the hotel and adjacent to the lobby on the street level. Although the food menu is only served until 3 p.m., the breakfast and lunch menus are solid with shakshuka and a Cuban sandwich two of the options. Coffee drinks go beyond drip with Chemex pour-over brews, for example.
Vegan? This is a rare cafe that offers almond and coconut milk as dairy substitutes for lattes and other coffee/espresso drinks.
The hotel does not have its own parking but contracts with a nearby lot to offer $39/night spots, which is a bargain in River North. Otherwise, take an L train from the Grand stop a block away to travel outside of the downtown area. To get to Michigan Avenue south of the river, take the 3, 26, 147 or 151 buses. Uber and Lyft drivers are always nearby.
Since opening in 2009, The Purple Pig (5-minute walk) continues to wow with its drinks, eclectic apps and cheese/charcuterie boards. Shake Shack, a block east of the hotel and also on Ohio Street, serves up shakes, burgers and--for vegetarians--its famous 'Shroom Burger.
For Tiki drinks, and a glimpse at Chi-town's best bartenders, head to Three Dots and a Dash (7-minute walk). Howl at the Moon Chicago (5-minute walk) is a fun dueling-piano bar with a full bar.
WHY WE LIKE IT
Who doesn't want to save money on the room rate? What's nice about Freehand is that you're still in the hottest foodie 'hood in town (River North) and even have a cool lounge to come back to at night. Private rooms are on the small side but you didn't come to Chicago to hang out in your room, did you?