The check-in area at the Hotel at Midtown in Chicago feels more like a high-end health club than a resort. Parents saunter in with their kids, the whole family toting tennis rackets. Women hustle by in yoga pants. Staffers stand behind a dramatic granite desk and call out greetings to guests as if they're old friends.
That's because it is a health club. An enormous tony, private, three-level health club called Midtown Athletic Club, with wood and stone accents and natural light streaming in. On the fourth and fifth floor of the same building are 55 tranquil hotel rooms ($225 to $250 a night), including the soon-to-open V Suite designed by Venus Williams' design firm, V Starr Interiors. (Art by Serena Williams will soon adorn the tennis lounge.) From the moment they enter, hotel guests are thrust into the workout-bound whirlwind.
"There's a real energy because all of the normal members show up and are in the flow of things," says Steven Schwartz, president and CEO of Midtown Athletic Clubs, which has eight locations but just one hotel. "It's not like a typical hotel, where you're sitting in the lobby and you feel like a transient person. You feel like you belong there."
He's right. The energy is contagious and more than enough to motivate a guest to take full advantage of the sprawling facilities. It's a health nut's playground, with 15 indoor tennis courts; multiple pools; golf simulators; a high-tech studio for cycling; a stunning yoga room and Pilates studio (with more than 200 classes available per week); a boxing ring; indoor and outdoor turf-lined fields; a spa; and a fantastic restaurant, Chromium, where the 48-hour duck fat tater tots are well worth an additional Bodycombat class (or three). Hotel guests have access to all of the members' privileges, without the $200 per month membership fee.
Midtown Athletic Club is a top-of-the-line health club that also happens to be a resort. While many hotels are putting a greater emphasis on fitness (by putting yoga mats and workout equipment in rooms, offering programs that allow guests to borrow workout clothes and shoes, and guiding staff-led runs), a handful of properties across the country are drawing travelers who check in to work out. Businesses might book a meeting at the Hotel at Midtown and also coordinate a group boxing or cycling class. And residents who live in the surrounding Bucktown and Wicker Park neighborhoods are booking staycations, expecting to get their sweat on. "Several people are young couples who have had their mother-in-law come and stay with their kid. And they go to the club for a day, work out, have a massage, have dinner and then go home the next day," Schwartz says. "And they live three blocks away."
At the Houstonian Club in Houston, you could pay $15,000 to $29,000 per year to be a member at the posh health facility. Or you could spend about $340 to stay overnight at the Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa for a taste of the good life, which includes three pools; nine tennis courts; 200-plus classes a week in cycling, yoga and Pilates and other areas; boxing; and a cushioned outdoor track that's just under a mile in length and connects to nearby trails. Plus, there are four restaurants and a spa.
"It's a really good deal," says Cher Harris, the Houstonian Club's general manager. "They get access to a club that is very exclusive. It has all the amenities that our membership pay a lot of money for."
The hotel is on 27 wooded acres near Memorial Park and the Houston Galleria, giving guests easy access to the city or an escape from it.
Harris says that the club is especially known for its fitness industry experts, and guests can sign up for a one-on-one session in personal training, aquatics, racket sports, Pilates and other areas.
"We have people that travel so much that it's a necessity to have a good fitness facility available to them when they're traveling," Harris says. "I believe hotel guests are demanding more."
Guests at the Los Angeles Athletic Club Hotel stay in a room (starting at $259) on the top floors of the Beaux-Arts-style building and can take the elevator (or, come on now, stairs) down to work out at the private club, which is on floors five through nine. While members pay $122 to $185 per month here, every hotel guest is enrolled in something called an "Olive Club" membership, which allows access to the clubhouse and other areas.
"We have a 12-story building and our three top floors are hotel rooms, and then all the other floors are all amenities and athletic facilities," says Cory Hathaway, assistant general manager for the LAAC. "Whereas a normal hotel would have the reverse, they'd have maybe one or two floors of amenities and all the rest would be hotel rooms."
The club's history dates back to 1880, when it was founded as the city's first private club. Back then, club members could stay in the rooms, which resembled dormitories. In the 1970s, those rooms were converted to hotel rooms. The club is also home to a spa, restaurant and whiskey-centric bar.
Beyond the 70 or so classes offered per week, including circuit training, yoga, boot camp, aerobics, barre, cardio kickboxing and cycling, the LAAC has facilities for squash and racquetball, courts for volleyball and basketball, and an indoor swimming pool that was designed when the club was built. Hathaway says guests will sometimes reach out after booking a room and coordinate a one-on-one session with one of the club's trainers in basketball, squash, swimming or other pursuits.
The fitness focus helps travelers keep up and even improve their workout routines, Hathaway says. And it also offers them a chance to try something new and play cardio tourist.
"Someone who's never really taken an interest in swimming for fitness can come here and try that. They can go up to the ninth floor and try yoga," he says. "You can try out a lot of different fitness-related stuff here during a stay."
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Silver is a writer based in Chicago. Find her on Twitter: @K8Silver.