Hotel Review: The Hotel Zachary and the Wheelhouse Hotel, Chicago

The Wrigleyville neighborhood on the north side of Chicago, named after its central landmark, Wrigley Field, has been gentrifying since at least 1988, when the stadium was finally outfitted with lights for night baseball. Growth has accelerated since the Ricketts family bought the resident Chicago Cubs in 2009, and most noticeably in the past year when the owners developed several blocks around the field, opening a park and offices and bringing in nearly a dozen restaurants and bars that vastly upgrade ballpark fare. Two hotels, the Hotel Zachary, owned by the Ricketts family, overlooking the field, and the boutique Wheelhouse Hotel, down the street, opened last year and offer competing options for travelers keen to crash near the Friendly Confines.

Doubles start at $209.

The seven-story Hotel Zachary covers a full block of Clark Street and is named for Zachary Taylor Davis, the original architect, in 1914, of the stadium now known as Wrigley Field across the street. The Zachary, with 173 rooms, makes vintage design rather than baseball its theme, including the second-story lobby featuring streetlamp-style lighting, tufted benches and a mural of the early stadium rendered in tile. Like a ticket to the ballpark, a stay at the Zachary is just the start of your spending, given the numerous drinking and dining options on the first two floors, some of which are outposts from local restaurateurs. Depending on your affinity for crowds, the Zachary might be a magnet or a repellent on game days, when crowds flock to the lobby bar and out onto the fire-lit terraces overlooking the stadium.

Wrigleyville is part of the Lakeview district, also home to the gay district called Boystown, a few blocks away. It is walking distance to the shop-lined Southport Corridor and the small theater companies based on Belmont Avenue. The Red Line El train stop at Addison, just east of the stadium, provides convenient access to neighborhoods beyond, including downtown.

The stadium-facing rooms offer uninterrupted views of Wrigley and the denizens it attracts. Booking the cheapest room, I landed on the side facing Addison Street and was pleasantly surprised to find a view south to the distant downtown skyline. Efficiently designed in muted tones, apart from the crisp white bedding, the room felt masculine with vintage aspirations captured in a multidrawer credenza that resembled storage for architects’ plans, and on the walls, a reproduction blueprint of the stadium and a black and white photo of Cubs players circa the early 1900s.

Brown and teal plaid wallpaper and white subway tile continued the retro boys’ club theme in the bathroom. The generous stall shower featuring a glass door and wall contributed a sense of spaciousness. Ivy Urban Apothecary bath products in eco-friendly wall-mounted dispensers seemed another subtle reference to the iconic ballpark ivy on the outfield walls.

Other than a McDonald’s, the Zachary loads the culinary bases with a collection of restaurants on the premises from popular local operators, including the foodie taco specialist Big Star and fragrant Kansas City-style barbecue spot Smoke Daddy. The higher-end Mordecai delivers craft cocktails, more upscale dishes like beef tartare and grilled whole branzino in an intimate room where the muted sports-tuned TVs reside behind obscuring screens (unless customers demand otherwise). The crowd-pleasing Dutch and Doc’s serves everything from pasta with creamed kale to bacon burgers. In the lobby, the bar at Hotel Zachary offers a limited menu of salads, burgers and brats (though the oval bar itself is a compelling social hub).

A hotel associated with a sports team had better deliver a decent gym, and the Zachary bats 1,000 here. Cardio machines, Life Fitness resistance systems, weight benches and open areas for floor mats overlook the Wrigleyville neighborhood behind the hotel. Wi-Fi access is free and the lobby library adjoining the bar features a selection of design books to browse.

You don’t have to stay at the Zachary to enjoy its chief appeal — its restaurants and bars. But residency puts you in the center of the action and offers an Uber-free commute home at the end of the night.

Hotel Zachary, 3630 North Clark Street; 773-302-2300;

Doubles start at $230.

With just 21 rooms, the Wheelhouse keeps its cool with vintage baseball touches, starting with the repurposed high school scoreboard in the thrift-chic lobby. A former apartment building, the five-story hotel channels a loft with exposed brick in the lobby and the stairwell that leads to a roof deck for panoramic views over the neighborhood. The baseball leitmotif threads throughout the décor, including Louisville Slugger bats suspended from the ceiling in the lobby, humorous quotes about baseball outside guest room doors (“Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets,” according to Yogi Berra), original metal folding chairs from Wrigley Field in the hallways and Baby Ruth bars in the minibar. The lobby includes a candy store wall with classic selections including PEZ dispensers. On the other side of a stone arch lies a Detroit-pizza restaurant and, on the lower level, a speakeasy-style bar. Warm service by front-desk staffers accompanies free coffee in the morning and Cracker Jack in the evening.

One long block south of Wrigley Field, the Wheelhouse is firmly planted amid a forest of bars that are especially packed on game days and weekends. The nearby Red Line El train stop offers easy access out and by renting a Divvy bike from the shared system, riders can reach the Lake Michigan waterfront in a few minutes.

Possibly the only guest on a Tuesday just after the hotel opened, I was upgraded from an entry-level double to a deluxe king room on the fourth floor with 12-foot ceilings and an arched floor-to-ceiling window that framed views of the former laundromat where, in the more scruffy past of the 1990s, my laundry was once stolen. In the rooms, the designers nicely dial back on baseball and focus on midcentury décor, including a marble pedestal table and two leather chairs, and period portraits in oil.

With black and white floor tile, a marble countertop and vanity-style lighting ringing the mirror, the bathroom was a modern convenience in retro disguise. Two cozy bathrobes in sweatshirt material hung in an armoire, hand towels came monogrammed with the hotel’s name and mini bottles of Beekman 1801 bath products lined the counter.

The restaurant Union Full Board makes a genial partner to the hotel, serving Detroit-style pizza, which is fluffy and square, along with generous salads, small plates and daily specials in a cozy room, featuring exposed brick walls, wood beams and televisions tuned to the Cubs. Downstairs, Tinker to Evers, serves craft cocktails in a stone-walled room and is a nice alternative to the beer bars packed around Wrigley.

Instead of coffee in the rooms, guests will find urns of it free in the lobby each morning. Wi-Fi is free, but there is no fitness center. Management promises that the rooftop deck will be furnished by summer, offering views over the neighborhood. It also plans to add cocktail service on the deck and a 3,000-square-foot beer garden beside the hotel.

A stylish boutique hotel with nods to baseball and a vintage vibe, the Wheelhouse offers a warm, intimate option in the bustling sports-centric neighborhood.

The Wheelhouse Hotel, 3475 North Clark; 773-248-9001;

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