hotels travel

Chicago’s Oldest Hotel: The Palmer House Hilton has its pros and cons

palmer house hilton chicago

Part of the Historic Hotels of America, the Palmer House hotel has undergone a recent $170 million renovation.

I stayed here for my brother’s wedding. Although the hotel itself is breathtaking, there are definitely some negatives about the hotel. Thinking of booking at the Palmer House Hilton on your Chicago trip? Here are the pros and cons based on my recent stay.

Pros of the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago

Stunning lobby and common areas

Stunning is really an understatement. This hotel is gorgeous with lots of detail from the floors to the ceilings. Everything in the lobby and bar / seating area is chic and beautiful. There were about half a dozen brides taking their pictures in the hotel on the Saturday we were there.

Palmer house hilton hotel chicago

The lobby at the Palmer House in Chicago is stunning

Great location of this Chicago hotel

From Chicago’s Midway airport, you can take the Red line all the way to the Palmer House Hotel. The subway stairs are literally right in front of the hotel’s side entrance. Note that there are multiple entrances of the hotel. We took an Uber and it was approx. $43 from Midway and $28 to Midway leaving the hotel. Also, it was a short stroll to Millennium Park from the hotel and we were just steps away from the theatre where Hamilton was playing.

Lots of history

Palmer House Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in America, dating back to 1873. Started by businessman, Potter Palmer, the French-influenced hotel was decorated largely by Potter’s wife, Bertha Palmer, after she befriended Claude Monet. She eventually accumulated the largest collection of impressionist art outside of France.

Palmer House Chicago hotel gym

Photo credit: Palmer House Hilton

Large workout facility

Considering the puny pool, I wasn’t expecting a big workout room either. But I at least wanted to see it. To my surprise, it was a huge 2-story facility that was well equipped with machines, weights and additional gym equipment.

Cons of the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago

Rude staff

Hopefully your stay only involves interacting with the staff at check-in. Because if that is the case, you will have a lovely experience. And if you pass any Palmer House staff in the halls, they greet you with a smile and other pleasantries. However, if you misplace something like we did, you get to deal with the surly staff members.

Here’s what happened: Upon swapping rooms (more on that below) my husband accidentally left his phone charger in the old room and didn’t realize it until later that evening. I guess the maid threw it away or something because when my husband called down to the front desk and was transferred to security to asked if it was found, he was given a “No, goodbye.” He pleaded with a “Wait, can you check your lost and found?” and a couple minutes later the security person said he didn’t have one and hung up.

Really? I always heard hotels had loads of chargers of all kinds. We decided to take a different approach, this time stopping at the concierge desk. They weren’t much nicer, once again, insisting, they couldn’t help but still called security, handed my husband the phone and just walked away. Gee, thanks! No matter, this person was not at all interested in helping us either.

We were there for my brother’s wedding, and there was a lot of coordination with other family members involved. Not to mention the amount of rooms that were booked due to the wedding. But they didn’t seem to care one bit. However, when the wedding coordinator called down, miraculously they did have a charger we could use.

King room at Palmer House hotel in Chicago

Choppy, uneven room sizes at the Palmer House

When you choose to stay at an old hotel, you need to be aware that not all rooms are the same size even though they are the same price. Our teeny, tiny room felt like we were staying somewhere in Europe rather than in the United States. Fortunately, my husband called the front desk and was able to get us swapped to a slightly larger room for the next two nights. See a picture of our larger room above.

Small pool at the Palmer House

Small is an understatement. When we walked up to Palmer House Hilton’s pool to scope it out as I usually do before getting pool ready, we were flabbergasted at just how tiny it was. With about five people in it, it looked crowded. At least it was a beautiful summer day in Chicago, and we were able to walk around the city instead. It is indoors, so you can take advantage of this pool, year round.

Palmer House chicago hilton hotel

Beautiful, but slow elevators at the Palmer House in Chicago

Slow elevators at the Palmer House

Palmer House is a huge hotel. They’ve got sets of elevators that only go to certain floors. You’ll often times find yourself going up to go down. This strategy started on day two of our stay. Some elevators were not working, so we’d go up, just to know we were able to snag an elevator at all. If time and convenience is important to you, a stay at Palmer House may not be the best idea.

Executive lounge offerings are terrible

One of the perks of loyalty, or at least it should be, are little unexpected upgrades. My brother is a Hilton Honors member and was able to book my dad a lovely room at the Palmer House Hilton. Another benefit? Access to the Executive lounge. Here there are snacks, sodas, coffee and tea during the afternoon happy hour and breakfast from 6-10 am.

Famished from a long day of travel, we headed up to the lounge. While the coffee was decent, the other offerings (thawed out meatballs), sauce and penne pasta were barely edible. And breakfast? Their eggs tasted like the powdered kind that you just add water. Breakfast downstairs is a rip off as well at $25 for the “buffet” with the same repulsive eggs. Freshly made waffles? Nope. But you can take one out of a plastic wrapper and put it in the toasting machine.

Although a very pretty hotel, there are definitely some areas to be improved upon. Namely, the way some of the staff treat guests. Based on my experience, I would not stay here again.

Palmer House Hilton hotel website

About the author

Malika Bowling

Malika is the author of several books including Culinary Atlanta: Guide to the Best Restaurants, Markets, Breweries and More! and the founder of Roamilicious. She is also a Digital Marketing and Social Media Consultant. Follow us @Roamilicious on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for the content not shared on the blog. And don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter (subscribe box below) and never miss a contest, giveaway or the latest must visit restaurant!