"Do you mind if I take a photograph of your monkey lamps?" I asked the woman behind the front desk at the St. Jane Hotel, 230 N. Michigan. "It's for my blog."
Lauren Kaczperski, the hotel's executive meetings manager, said she did not, and added the lamps were custom-made for the St. Jane in Europe.
"They're certainly special lamps," I said, stepping over to a corner of the lobby and snapping a few shots. I was on my way to Northwestern's downtown Medill graduate school to talk to a friend's class. But had a few minutes to spare. The Carbide and Carbon Building is one of my favorite Chicago buildings, for its brawny industrial name, Art Deco trim and hard-to-pin-down black/green color, so give it extra scrutiny in passing. Which is how I noticed the monkey lamps through the window.
The St. Jane opened in 2018 in what used to be the Hard Rock Hotel Chicago. Kaczperski said they spent $30 million fixing up the place, which is now cooly elegant with a slightly funky, artistic vibe. The hotel is also named, delightfully, for Jane Addams, the tireless social reformer. Though one does wonder what the Nobel Peace Prize winner would think of a fancy hotel being named for her; she was concerned about the conditions faced by girls working in Chicago hotels, so I suppose she might not mind, provided the staff is treated well. She did once write, "We are learning that a standard of social ethics is not attained by traveling a sequestered byway, but by mixing on the thronged and common road," which could very well include introducing distracted travelers to the existence of the author of "Twenty Years at Hull House" by naming hotels in her honor.
Nor were the lamps the only artistic touch. The wallpaper in the entrance is marbleized like the endpapers of a 19th century book. Hanging there is "Hustle Coat," where Chicago artist Nick Cave had lined a street vendor's black raincoat with the kind of glitzy baubles being sold. The St. Jane says "Hustle Coat" is one of only two Nick Cave public art installations in Chicago.
Maybe not quite “Domplatz, Mailand," the enormous square Gerhardt Richter painting that the Pritzker family bought for $3.8 million in 1998 to decorate the lobby of their new Park Hyatt up the street. Fifteen years later, perhaps realizing how the work had appreciated, they sold it off, fetching $37.1 million at Sotheby's, a record for a living artist. Think what a modern Jane Addams could do with that kind of money.
We talked a bit about the hotel, someplace to bear in mind if you are trying to place out-of-town guests: funkily designed, well located and courteously run. And they accept dogs at no additional charge. She offered me a tour, but I begged off—couldn't be late for that class.
|"Hustle Coat," by Nick Cave|