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What It’s Like to Stay in a Virgin Hotel

Sir Richard Branson’s latest trending project isn’t galactic space travel, it’s hotels. The 66-year old mogul has dabbled in the hospitality industry before with his Virgin Limited Edition business, but now he’s bringing the Virgin brand stateside with a handful of Virgin Hotel properties. The first of these is Virgin Hotels Chicago, which I was able to experience in person on a recent trip to Chicago.

Located in the Loop area, Virgin Hotels Chicago will celebrate its second anniversary in January 2017. And while Chicago might not be the first city that comes to mind when you think of a flagship location for the new hotel brand, Branson says on the company’s site, “We thought there was a real opening in Chicago for a place like Virgin Hotels. Soho House is nice, but I thought we could create something just as nice without being private.”

The hotel brand is targeted at “the creative class,” which, according to Virgin’s website, “demand[s] style and substance and are willing to pay a premium for the Virgin Experience.” Promoting a “membership without dues” environment, the brand focuses on simple amenities that offer a bit of the unexpected: things like free Wi-Fi, no fee for pets, no cancellation fees, hassle-free late checkout, and street pricing on snacks and the minibar, but also larger room space for guestrooms (called chambers), a complimentary cocktail hour for guests (at the convenient time of 7:00 p.m.), the nicest hotel gym I’ve ever seen, and a digital concierge service, called Lucy.

Then there are the hotel’s restaurants, bars, and lounges, which are all designed to ensure you never want to actually leave the hotel. Starting with the lobby, you’ll find a coffee shop and wine bar, Two Zero Three and an American-style diner called Miss Ricky’s (you must try the spaghetti and meatballs). On the second floor, there are meeting spaces and the hotel’s lounge and bar space, called The Commons Club. On the top two floors you’ll find a gym, concert and private event space, as well as the rooftop bar, Cerise. (Seriously, you’ll never want to leave—but if you do, download the hotel’s app to control and set your room temperature, order room service, and find suggestions for things to do from “In the Loop“, a curated list of activities by local bloggers that rotates seasonally.) And all of these venues appeal to locals too, so you’ll find a diverse crowd at all of these spaces, making for a more unique hotel expereince.

Scroll through for images of Virgin Hotels Chicago.

The hotel does a nice job of sticking to the Virgin name, but not being too in your face about it. When I spoke with the company’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Doug Carrillo, about expansion, I learned some of Virgin’s overall brand ethos: smart disruption, surprise and delight, and red hot sexiness—all values you could see in the property and that are represented in everything the brand does.

I also asked Carrillo: “Why hotels?” He said that hospitality is a natural next step for the Virgin brand. And while Branson isn’t the CEO of Virgin Hotels—it’s more of a franchise as part of the overall Virgin Group—the company is just getting started.

Looking ahead, 2019 will be a big year for the Virgin Hotels brand with openings in Palm Springs, Silicon Valley, New York City, and Nashville. And a Dallas property, located in the innovative design district, is set to open even sooner (the target is by the end of 2018). Of course, no two hotels will be alike, but there will be similarities. The Commons Club, use of rooftop space, and chamber concept are things the Virgin team wants to carry across the properties, but otherwise it’s all about suiting the property to the city. For example, Nashville’s property will include a recording studio.

Virgin has even bigger plans for the future, including expansion to Europe, Mexico, Canada, and South America. This includes places where Virgin-branded airlines fly in the U.S., like Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco, and obviously international destinations like Branson’s hometown of London, Amsterdam, Rome, and Paris. In a press release, the brand states it hopes to have 20 properties by 2025.

Ashley traveled to Chicago courtesy of Virgin Hotels Chicago. Follow all of her adventures, big and small, on Twitter and Instagram.

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