Some cites get the rooftop pool concept right. Chicago is not the first place that would come to mind, but if we’re being honest, when summer descends on Chicago, it’s like God is smiling. Its winter weather gives the city a bad rap for the rest of the year, but outside of snow season, visitors to Chi-town could use the mercy of a cool dip.
Kimpton’s Hotel Palomar, which opened in March in River North, acknowledges the Illinois summer heat by opening a dedicated rooftop pool. Although the pool, located on a setback of the 17th floor of the 36-floor building, is enclosed for year-round use, it’s attached to an outdoor terrace, with views of the Wrigley Building and Marina City.
A few other Chicago hotels have rooftop pools — the ritzier Peninsula, nearby, comes to mind, which is telling since the Palomar’s designer, Orlando Diaz-Azcuy, also did the spa and pool of the Peninsula’s flagship property in Hong Kong. But for the past few years, it’s become the amenity du jour for newcomers such as the Affinia, the Avenue, and now, the Palomar.
On a recent Friday, I came back to the 261-room Palomar after a night of dinner and cocktails. The pool was undeservedly deserted. In Phoenix or Los Angeles, the pool deck is mobbed when the temperature goes above 80 degrees, and not always with inviting results. Not in Chicago. In Chicago, the pools are still mostly undiscovered, which makes this a sanctuary you can have to yourself.
While the moody Kokopeli-styled soundtrack might be cheesy by day, by night, as the clouds drifted across Lake Michigan, it made the lap pool feel more like a private spa — with the bonus backdrop of some of America’s most impressive skyscrapers.
Maybe visitors to Chicago still don’t think of it as a rooftop town unless there’s baseball involved. Let them bake on their boozy decks overlooking Wrigley. There are signs that a new kind of al fresco civilization is making inroads in Chicago’s summertime.