A cool upgrade to the hostel concept in downtown Chicago.
After the success of its Miami debut, Sydell Group chose Chicago for the second incarnation of its funky hostel brand. The Freehand is housed in a beatnik, circa-1927 building in the heart of the city’s humming River North neighborhood. As the old Tokyo Hotel, it was a humble pit stop for backpackers of all stripes. Today, it still is, albeit with a design upgrade that channels Frank Lloyd Wright. Inspired by Wright’s Usonian aesthetic, New York designers Roman and Williams stripped the place down, updating original terrazzo tiles and lining the book-strewn shared spaces in honey-colored African Sapele woods. Their aim was to bring Chicago’s four seasons inside, through the use of natural fabrics and textures. The result is a casual, Southwestern-style commune, dressed in alpaca wool throws and handwoven rugs, with each space distinguished by an eclectic work of art. The lobby centerpiece, for instance, is a totemic carving by multimedia artist Crazy Al Evans, while a tile mural by Carol Payne steals the spotlight in Café Integral. The main event at Freehand is the Broken Shaker bar, where some of the country’s best cocktails are served in a room tricked out with pine wallpaper from the 1940s. It’s a choice spot for a nightcap before surrendering to one of the 217 guestrooms, where cherry wood bed frames are offset by blue-and-green-tiled bathrooms, bringing a cool and colorful upgrade to the very concept of youth hostels.