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Chicago’s Famed Palmer House, Now a Hilton, Gets New Lift and Look

The legendary Hotel reopens this week its marking sesquicentennial in the City of Big Shoulders

Marked by its 150th Anniversary, the Historic Hotel Demonstrates its Staying Power in Chicago and Ability to Rise through the Face of Adversity

Following a tough year for the travel and hospitality, some new is borne out of old as  Chicago’s Palmer House, a Hilton Hotel reopened after a year-long closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The June 17 reopening coincides with its 150-year anniversary.

The hotel began as an extravagant wedding gift and was immediately regarded as one of the most luxurious hotels in Chicago. Just 13 days after its grand opening, Palmer House was destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire and was later rebuilt by founder Potter Palmer. 

Palmer borrowed $1.7 million to rebuild the hotel and surrounding Chicago area, developing Lake Shore Drive and reimagining State Street, the socialite couple were integral in creating the city structure as it stands today. After using their influence to rise Chicago up from the ashes, the grand hotel welcomed its first guests again on November 8, 1873.

“We are incredibility proud to reopen the iconic Palmer House doors, and welcome guests back to the epicenter of Chicago’s rich history for our 150th anniversary year. Reopening a grand hotel of this stature is no easy task, in the months leading up to reopening day, the team at Palmer House vacuumed over four miles of carpet, changed 10,000 light bulbs, and for the first time, filled 14,600 gallons of water into our new swimming pool.” said Dean Lane, Area General Manager, Palmer House, a Hilton Hotel. “We have faced the most challenging year for the travel industry and Chicago community, but in the face of adversity, Palmer House has continued to rise like a Mythological Phoenix, allowing our legacy as one of the most iconic hotels in Chicago to live on.”

150 Years of Experiences

Among other firsts, Palmer House is the birthplace of the original chocolate fudge brownie, the first fireproof hotel, the first to employ the vertical steam lift, which would later become the elevator, and the first hotel to use the lightbulb and telephone. The legendary Empire Room that first opened as a dinner club in 1933, quickly became one of the premier nightspots in the country having hosted performers including Liberace, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Phyllis Diller, and more. 

Today, guests can still marvel at the striking grand lobby that dates back to Bertha Palmer befriending Claude Monet in France, where she began decorating the hotel with paintings and other artistic treasures inspired by her French heritage. The stunning features include the Tiffany & Co. 24-karat gold “Winged Angels” that weigh in at 1.25 tons each, the intricately painted ceiling that features 21 Grecian murals by French artiest Luis Pierre Rigal, the Tiffany & Co. brass door handles, 24-karat gold hinges and hardware throughout the hotel, as well as Bertha’s signature French Havilland bone china, valued at $1.8 million.

The in-house History Museum and archive opened in 2013 and features a collection of historical artifacts and findings from the hotel’s storied past. The assortment includes scrapbooks from the archives of Bertha Palmer, the beer stein used by Mark Twain to toast a historic dinner, ads from the fabled Empire Room featuring a complete dinner and star-studded floor show for $2.00, and original polaroid photography taken from the World’s Fair during its debut.

The 1,641-room hotel remains within walking distance to Chicago’s cultural, business and shopping destinationssuch as the shops along State Street, the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the Joffrey Ballet. 

Palmer House new indoor swimming pool

What’s Old is New Again

Upon reopening, Palmer House will unveil its brand-new indoor swimming pool following a $2.2 Million renovation. The newly outfitted pool now reveals the once hidden vaulted glass-domed ceiling. The new poolside furnishings and interior design pays homage to hotel’s history with texturally rich deep woodgrain contrasting against white-washed Chicago brick.

At the lobby bar, guests will also be able to enjoy the 150th anniversary cocktail – the 1871, original recipe brownie and other elevated plates. New to Palmer House is Lockwood Express, a grab-and-go concept that includes daily baked pastries, Lavazza coffee and cold brew, a selection of warm artesian meals, and even small batch cocktails for travelers on-the-go.

Palmer House Lounge

Palmer House also features an entertainment component by magician Dennis Watkins of The Magic Parlor. There, acts of classic magic and mind-reading are featured in his critically acclaimed one-man-show, The Magic Parlour, celebrating its 10th year running at the Palmer House.

For those seeking extravagance, Palmer House is offering The Bertha Palmer Experience, which includes a stay in the Penthouse Suite, Black Car Service, $150 daily dining and cocktail credit, dedicated butler, and an array of experiences throughout the city and hotel. These experiences include an exclusive after-hours guided tour at the Art Institute of Chicago to view the French Impressionist Wing, largely assembled by Bertha Palmer’s collection; a private viewing of the hotel’s vault; private museum and archive experience; opportunity to bake the original brownie recipe in the kitchen where it was developed; private Empire Evening dinner; Magic Parlour performance; Spa at Palmer House weekly treatments and more. To top off this stay, the registered guest will be named General Manager for a day and receive a key from the hotel’s opening. The Bertha Palmer Experience Begins at $150,000 per month for those who plan to stay awhile.

Palmer House Penthouse Suite

For couples looking for romance at the Palmer House, the hotel is offering a Sesquicentennial Proposal Package, which includes the couple’s use of Bertha Palmer’s $30,000 per place-setting china for $150 per guest. 

Palmer House is implementing Hilton CleanStay protocols to deliver an industry-defining standard of cleanliness and disinfection.  Guests who desire a contactless arrival experience can check in, choose their room, unlock their door with a Digital Key, and check out using their mobile devices through the free Hilton Honors mobile app. This option is available for guests who book directly via the Honors app or at 

Palmer House Bedroom

With 130,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space including 3 ballrooms, 77 breakout rooms,16,909 square feet of Exhibit Hall, and 11 hospitality suites, Palmer House will utilize Hilton EventReady with CleanStay guidelines. The program offers reimagined ways to meet and gather from creative food and beverage offers to thoughtful technology resources.

Reopening rates start at $189 per night. Palmer House is located at 17 East Monroe Street.