Gold Coast

Because Michigan Avenue was developed in the 1920s as a sort of extension to downtown, which is officially south of the river, several beautiful buildings line the street among the flashy newness of a shoppers dream. This part of Michigan Avenue, north of the river, is called The Magnificent Mile, or "Mag Mile" for short. And while your experience of Chicago will likely entail some of the newest restaurants, postmodern skyscrapers, and perhaps the new Maggie Daley Park next to Millennium Park, you can stay in a place of beautiful historic ambience right on the Mag Mile. 

Drake Hotel

Crowning the north end of the Mag Mile is the famous Drake Hotel (above). It opened on New Year's Eve in 1920 as a high-society palace among the posh Gold Coast neighborhood. Its exterior is neoclassical, with columns close to the ground, and grand Renaissance-style arches. Inside has plush carpets, sweeping high ceilings, grand chandeliers, and wood moldings. The Drake Hotel has historically hosted celebrities and dignitaries.

Allerton Hotel

The Allerton Hotel was for a brief moment the tallest building on the Magnificent Mile. Built in 1924, it also uses the Italian Renaissance to add elegance to its exterior. You enter through limestone arches inside, and while you may be wondering about the "Tip Top Tap," due to the neon sign on the facade, you won't find it. It's now a ballroom. But look up there and you'll see the large windows where it was, around elaborate brick work and a Palazzo Pitti-like overhang. 

Intercontinental Hotel

The most intriguing architecturally of the three is the Intercontinental Chicago Magnificent Mile, as people often wonder about the dome at the top. The Intercontinental Hotel consists of two separate towers: one built in 1929 as a private club and a north tower added on in 1961. The historic skyscraper part of the Intercontinental is topped with a round dome, evocative of Middle Eastern mosque architecture. The stone facade is adorned with reliefs depicting Egyptian-style processions of plans to build. And inside is where the hotel architecture best shows off its opulence, with lavish materials.

The public spaces and ballrooms are adorned with elaborate plasterwork, stone carvings, and colorful tiles. A great way to learn about the fascinating history and architecture of this building and the private club that built it is through Chicago Detours' Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour - as a bonus, Michael Jordan's Steak House, which is inside, is a stop on the walking tour. 

Staying at any of these hotels will ensure an interesting experience, but as an alternative the architecture can be enjoyed from the outside or a step into their lobbies. 

Photos: Allerton Hotel by Danielle Scott via flickr; Intercontinental Chicago Magnificent Mile by Jeremy Keith via flickr