Richard Branson Opens Virgin’s First Hotel in Chicago

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That it took Sir Richard Branson this long to launch a hotel company verges on the inexplicable, to be sure. That he chose Chicago for the debut of Virgin Hotels might be a bit craftier than you would at first think. After all, it’s a lot easier to work out the kinks here than under the Klieg lights glare in New York or London.

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Perhaps most surprising, considering that this is Branson’s hospitality baby, is that it doesn’t deviate all too much from the “affordable chic” model of The Ace or The Public. There’s no in-house space balloon ride, no Guitar Hero pods in the lobby.

But for sure, there’s nothing so banal as a “room” to sleep in here. Rather, they’re called “Chambers”—where hallway, closet and loo are combined into a “Dressing Room”, and sliding doors create a “Sleeping Lounge.”

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The scene? From breakfast to cocktails, the soaring-ceilinged Commons Club will be Virgin’s socializing central—while spring brings the opening of Miss Ricky’s Diner and the by now rather obligatory Rooftop Bar, serving Izakaya style tapas.

New hotels will follow in Nashville in 2016 and New York in 2017. But this is surely a momentous hospitality deflowering for Virgin.

Chad Martel