If the Virgin Group is known for one thing, it’s for being a little different. From quirky planes that allow you to digitally send drinks to other passengers to risqué ads, Virgin has never been afraid to push the envelope in order to grab people’s attention.
Founder Richard Branson is mostly to thank for this. The billionaire and perennial flirt is very much the face and inspiration for the company. His latest venture (after his airline, his space travel plans and various other tangential ideas) is a series of hotels, the first of which recently opened up in Chicago.
Like most Virgin entities, the Virgin Hotel is, well, a little bit different.
First off, let’s take a look at the rooms. There are 250 of them, 40 pet-friendly, 40 suites and two 736-square-foot penthouses — including one inspired by Branson’s own digs. Instead of randomly drawing a room from their system when you book, the hotel has you fill out an online quiz that asks whether you’re afraid of heights, travelling for business or pleasure, what you would love to see in the mini bar and what kind of music you listen to. It’s the kind of customization and personalization the company is known for. Also, they have these really neat beds with ergonomic headboards and weird bucket seats at the foot so that you can do pretty much everything on them — work or play.
Cost is another major focus. There are no hidden fees when you book at the hotel. What you’re quoted is what you pay. They’ve even kept the mini bar prices reasonable so that a bottle of water in the hotel costs the same as it would on the street: $2.
One of the coolest innovations is “Lucy,” an app for your phone that syncs to the hotel so you can do all kinds of things like control the thermostat, change the channel on the TV, stream your own music or movies onto the TV, chat with the hotel concierge and order room service. It also has recommendations for what to see and do in Chicago if you need some ideas in a pinch.
All of this sounds great, right, but isn’t Richard Branson a billionaire? Rest assured the hotel is not lacking in glitz. There’s the massive rooftop terrace with one of the best views of Chicago, a full service spa, which includes hammam services and a swanky “members only” hotel bar, where everyone (of course) is a member and happy hour means free drinks — like, actually free! Instead of stuffy limos, an in-house Tesla Model S electric car service is available to get you where you need to go.
Now that’s that Richard Branson way.