Is the new Hotel Palomar the sign of a rooftop pool trend in Chicago?

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.

The W Hollywood won’t let guests use its pool

In what must be a first for a big hotel, the W Hollywood is telling guests they are not permitted to use the rooftop pool.

It seems ludicrous, but it’s true. That’s because Starwood, which owns the combination hotel/residence property at Hollywood and Vine, contracted a slew of hotel services out to third parties. Drai’s, a Las Vegas nightspot promotion outfit, opened on March 17, and was charged with nightlife at the W, too, presumably because the hotel wanted to purchase some off-the-shelf cachet with hipsters rather than earning it through the merits of the product.

I found this out, of course, the worst way a guest can: By staying there, and being denied access to a swim. On a recent 85-degree Sunday, I tried taking the elevator to the rooftop pool (called WET) for some of those famous California rays. After all, my room on the 11th floor was literally thumping with the beats coming through the ceiling, and I wanted to enjoy a little of this party that I had to put up with despite paying $230 a night.

But the 12th-floor button wouldn’t light up. Down in the lobby, I was directed to a line of early 20s hipsters who were waiting to be admitted to the pool deck themselves. I was informed by a doorman that although “the general public” (that would be me: a paying hotel guest) was not permitted upstairs today, I was welcome to join everyone in the line if I wished, or he would “introduce” me to someone inside who “might be able” to get me on the guest list. As I walked away, he called after me, eyeing my clothes. “Don’t forget, sir. Appropriate pool attire.”The hotel’s statement about the arrangement, which amounts to a recap and doesn’t defend its wisdom, follows at the end of this post.

I’m a reporter at heart, though, and undeterred, I skulked up a service elevator with a friend. I paid $10 to bribe a staff member to let us into what Drai’s publicizes as a “sexy poolside affair with House music and Hollywood’s elite.”

Drai’s is dreadful. There wasn’t a spare inch. A DJ blasted beats, pneumatic girls danced laconically as they stood on the cushioned lounge chairs, and shirtless boys in fedoras smoked cigarettes in the pool while they scoped the girls’ bikini bottoms from shin level. My friend glanced around and proclaimed it “a douche-tacular.” Nearby was a big empty table marked “reserved.” We were told we couldn’t be seated there because “it’s the owner’s table.” It was like this all day, from 10am to 10pm, exclusive of guests unless they greased the right palm.

A luxe L.A. hotel without a pool is like a wedding without a cake. A banquet without forks. A pretentious product without a shred of class.

Am I willing to praise a hotel when it does something right? Only too willing. The W has a lively lobby bar, supremely comfortable beds, and the Sanctuary, an octopus-like device that can charge almost anything you have, is a lifesaver. The views of the Capitol Records building and downtown L.A. are unobstructed, and the staff, although saddled with defending a misguided policy, is accommodating and professional.

That same hotel staff, by the way, is generally mortified by the arrangement with Drai’s. One member told me, confidentially, she was sick of having to be “on the front lines” for Starwood’s greedy scheme. She said half her weekend was spent soothing the fury of rebuffed guests. She also complained about one drunk girl who, just the day before, had vomited in the designstudio-created lobby. “This isn’t Vegas,” the staffer astutely pointed out. “A lot of dedicated business travelers stay with us. They don’t want this.”

I have a sinking feeling this trend won’t be unusual in the future. People are making a lot of money off the W’s cynical elitism. It’s a short-sighted victory for Starwood, though, because such Vegas shenanigans will only turn off regular customers, and when the hotel’s It Factor goes off the boil, its alienated customer base won’t be likely to return.

Thanks to the travel industry’s ever-escalating addiction to extra fees and thirst for found money, greed is elbowing aside even the inclination to provide the simplest amenities.

Jim McPartlin, W Hollywood’s general manager, gave this non-apology for excluding guests from its pool:

“We have been absolutely overwhelmed by the response we have received from guests since we opened our doors 2 months ago. With the opening of Drai’s Hollywood on 17th March, the interest in the hotel has increased beyond our wildest dreams, and as such we are having to limit guest access to the WET Deck and Drai’s…..we simply cannot keep up with the demand! We are aware that operationally this is causing problems for some of our guests and we are working very closely with our partners to come up with a solution that works for everyone.”

Update: The furor caused by our exposé caused the hotel to revise its policy. Click here for the story behind that, including an apology by McPartlin.


Tie the knot or just recharge in the Riviera Maya

Surround yourself with an emerald-green jungle, and take a plunge in turquoise blue waters with a stay at the Valentin Imperial Maya Resort. This luxurious all-inclusive property is just the destination you’ll need when we reach the depths of winter and just need a break. Have kids? Line up a babysitter: this is an adults-only property, so you’ll be able to take a vacation from every aspect of real life imaginable, enveloped by the warmth and comfort of the Riviera Maya. Sun yourself on the Playa Del Secreto, and recharge your spirit.

The Valentin Imperial Maya Resort offers 540 suites in six categories, a 900-foot meandering swimming pool with three island pools across the property and a natural lagoon. There’s a main pool, as well, featuring two swim-up bars. Back in the rooms, you’ll find marble bathrooms with hydro-massage tubs, nightly turndown service and nine restaurants, featuring cuisine from Italy, France, Japan, Mexico and other cultures. But, if you really want style, arrange for a private dinner on the beach. Spa treatments are available on the property, along with couples rooms that feature a Jacuzzi and rain shower.

“By offering guests a high level of elegant and personalized service, Valentin Imperial Maya Resort is setting new standards of quality for all-inclusive resorts,” says Dirk Urban, General Manager Valentin Imperial Maya. “What sets Valentin apart from other hotel brands,” he continues, “is our attention to detail and the unique ability of our staff to make guests feel comfortable and taken care of, as if they were among family.”

If the Valentin puts you in the mood for a big move, there’s an official Roman Catholic chapel on the property, a great place to tie the not. Don’t worry, there are two dedicated wedding concierges who can help with planning the big day.

Top ten extraordinary hotel pools of the world

Hotel price comparison site Trivago, has compiled a list of the most amazing hotel pools in the world. Each of these pools has something amazing to offer – from an infinity edge pool overlooking the Hong Kong Harbor, to a secluded resort pool nestled between the Arizona Boynton Canyon mountains – these are truly the most extraordinary hotel pools in the world.

The top ten lineup is:

  1. Intercontinental, Hong Kong
  2. Adler Dolomiti Spa & Resort, St. Ulrich
  3. Ubud Hanging Gardens, Ubud
  4. Gran Hotel La Florida, Barcelona
  5. Cavo Tagoo, Mykanos
  6. Rogner Bad Blumau, Steiermark
  7. Rio Calma, Fuerteventura
  8. Golden Nugget, Las Vegas
  9. Enchantment Resort and Mii Amo Spa, Sedona
  10. Atlantis The Palm, Dubai


Piss in the ocean, not in the pool and other TripAdvisor reader thoughts

So much of life is governed by “unwritten rules,” but beaches and pools are surprisingly short of convention to cite. Public opinion is all over the map on what matters most – and what can lead to a heated conversation. But, there are still a few hot buttons that irritate the world. According to a recent survey of 3,800 people by TripAdvisor, 69 percent encounter some breach of etiquette, with 13 percent taking the cynical view that everyone breaks these undocumented standards.

The most common violations at the beach and pool are hogging beach chairs, pissing in the water and littering, while the most annoying are loud music, smoking and, yet again, draining into the water … though you can get away with doing this in the ocean if you aren’t too close to anybody. And, in praise of double standards, more respondents believe that women can get away with skimpy beach gear than feel men should wear speedos.

So, what enrages?


Hogging beach chairs: if you’re “saving” a chair for someone for to use later, 84 percent of TripAdvisor readers think you’re an asshole. According to a TripAdvisor Destination Expert, “My bugbear is when people throw a towel over one of the highly sought-after sun lounges/cabanas, and then go AWOL.”

“Bugbear”? Eh …

Unleashing the stream: 16 percent of survey respondents called this the most annoying breach of pool and beach etiquette, but 53 percent will piss in the ocean if nobody’s around.

Smokers blow: 82 percent want to ban poolside smoking, and 62 percent don’t want you puffing at the beach. Says one of these Destination Experts, “I can’t stand when on a crowded beach day people smoke one foot away from you, and then discard their butts in the sand…I don’t care at all if people choose to smoke as long as it doesn’t affect me or the beauty of the beach!”

Washing off not a big deal: 14 percent of travelers don’t bother to shower before they go into a pool (hell, it has all that chlorine anyway, right?), and 37 percent do so rarely. A substantial 69 percent find it acceptable not to bother cleaning up before swimming.

Stay away: if the beach isn’t crowded, 38 percent of respondents believe you should set up camp at least 20 feet away, and 22 percent think seven feet to 10 feet is acceptable. When the beach is crowded, you should stay at least six feet away. According to one of these TripAdvisor Destination Experts, “I find the perfect spot on the beach, far away from the intrusion of kids, pets, and game players. Then a family of 12 with undisciplined kids sits right next to me! When the beach is empty move over!”

Watch what you wear: 76 percent of respondents don’t think it’s a big deal for women to wear revealing bikinis (no word on whether hotness matters), but only 65 percent say the same for men and speedos. Only 14 percent think speedos are only appropriate in the United States. One of the Destination Experts is irritated by people who “either go topless or wear tiny little dental-floss bikinis on the beach or by the pool.” Again, I say don’t judge until you see the body that’s barely covered.

Want to learn more? Click here.