Palmer House

17 E Monroe St Chicago

Jackson Red Line/Palmer House
Chicago Scene
Written By Chicago Scene

“The Insider's Guide” Of Where To Go And What To Do In Chicago

Known as the longest operating hotel in North America, and the first hotel to have elevators and electric light bulbs, the Palmer House remains to be one of Chicago’s most well-known hotels.

When Marshall Field introduced Chicago business magnate Potter Palmer to Bertha Honoré, a wealthy socialite, they fell in love right away. As a wedding gift to his bride, Palmer gave Bertha a grand hotel. The Palmer House opened on September 26, 1871, but, unfortunately, burned down just days later on October 9, in the Great Chicago Fire.

Potter Palmer didn't let a fire keep him from having a luxurious hotel in the Loop and quickly went into rebuilding a second one, which opened in 1873. The rebuild was funded by a $1.7 million loan, which was said to be the largest loan secured at that time. This Palmer House was seven stories high and marketed as “the worlds only fireproof hotel”, which was very significant at the time as Chicago was putting in new construction regulations. Many famous figures stayed there such as Ulysses S. Grant, Mark Twain, Frank Baum, Oscar Wilde, and more. When the dining room was converted into an entertainment room, many famous stars performed there such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Louis Armstrong. Palmer's wife Bertha had a lot of influence on her so-called wedding gift. As a French woman, she wanted her heritage displayed in the hotel and did so by filling it with paintings and other artwork from France. Bertha ended up having the largest collection of impressionist art outside of France with items that can only be found in the Palmer House.

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Later in the 1920s, the decision was made that the Palmer House was going to be rebuilt with 18 more floors on the same site due to the fact that Chicago was able to support a larger facility. In 1945, Conrad Hilton bought it for $20 million and it was then known as The Palmer House Hilton.

The Palmer House is even known for a classic dessert we all know and love—brownies! Served at the Columbian Exposition World’s Fair in 1893, the brownie was created in the Palmer House kitchen. While the recipe is over a century old, it still remains to be the same one served in the Palmer House today. Today, the hotel has 1,639 guest rooms, a spa, and a full fitness center, as well as two restaurants/bars—The Lockwood Restaurant with American Cuisine and Potter’s Chicago Burger Bar. Many events are also held at the Palmer House in one of their three ballrooms, such as weddings, corporate events, galas, or charity fundraisers. On Friday and Saturday nights, the Palmer House hosts a magic show in a secret performance venue. Great for both kids and adults, your night will start in their Prohibition-era Potter's lounge before being taken to the hidden Magic Parlour for a 75-minute show with a magician.

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