I will go out of my way to avoid anything hip, cool, or happening. I am not, and have never been, hip. So it was fairly alarming to find, immediately upon entering The James Hotel, that, despite the gazillion TripAdvisor reviews I had read, it had somehow escaped me that I had chosen a hip hotel for our stay in Chicago.

The lobby was teeming with Beautiful People, some of whom gave us a bit of a cold once over. The front desk people, however, were very lovely. They gave us a complimentary upgrade to a “Loft Suite”, which runs for something like $600 a night!! (Thank you, extradordinary Sandra at Plaza Travel!) Since our rooms weren’t ready, they stored our luggage for us and called me on my cell phone as soon as the room was ready. Then they asked us whether we needed help with our luggage, rather than whisking it away, requiring us to tip the bellman when we would have been perfectly happy to deal with it ourselves.

Anyway, when we walked into the room, we were wowed. Later I compared this to the first time we walked into our room at a Four Seasons and were definitely underwowed. It seemed like just an ordinary hotel room. It took about 24 hours for us to realize how spectacular the Four Seasons is. In this case it was somewhat the opposite. It took us less than 24 hours to realize that the James is all about form over function – something that always leads to me grousing and complaining.

The room is VERY large and set up a bit like a railroad flat, which might be why they call it a loft. The queen size bed is up on a platform at one end of the room with some very cool silver beads hanging down on one side to separate the bed from the living area. Both of us were quite delighted with the little cozy bed nook until bed time. That is when we noticed that there were not two separate lights on either side of the bed. Instead there was one very cool-looking, heat-producing horizontal light above the bed. As we read before bed, it became warmer and warmer, and when I was ready to go to sleep but Mary wasn’t quite ready, I still had a hot light blaring above me.

Mary complained about the light – I was annoyed but only slightly. But when my girlfriend said, “I hope this window doesn’t break because I keep falling into it,” I became a bit concerned. We are on the 14th floor after all, and I so don’t want to lose her. There is very little room on either side of the bed, but on her side, the floor actually has a sudden slope towards the window – hence the falling. Then there is the tv hanging from the wall at the end of the nook. Perfect viewing angle, but she must contort her body a bit to get past it. Finally there is the step up into the nook from the rest of the room. We both tripped over it, oh, I’d say about 5 times each, before we trained ourselves to remember it was there. Thankfully, no middle of the night falls.

There are two bedside tables, but neither has a drawer, and they are both very tiny, so they are both piled with our crap – well mine is – Mary is quite neat and tidy no matter the constraints of her bedside table.

The bed is VERY comfortable – absolutely no complaints there. The biggest issue for me is that all through the night of our first night, I kept hearing thumping noises, as if someone was slamming their door shut. It kept me from sleeping. Though there was a wedding party staying here, I could not imagine that anyone could be opening and closing their door that often. There was a thump once or twice a minute, but the thumps didn’t seem to follow any regular pattern. I was VERY tired in the morning. I could hear the thumps in every part of our suite, and I was a bit unhappy. I must say that Mary did not notice it, and neither did Cathy and Claudia who were in a loft suite exactly 6 floors beneath us. So, more on this later. Back to the room.

The main living area includes a large flat-screen tv, a fully-stocked honor bar (full-size bottles of booze, plus the regular mini-bar stuff, including a “Mile High Kit” which Claudia found particularly interesting and scandalizing), a little seating area with a small table and two chairs, and a sitting area with very modern, hip (read fairly uncomfortable) furniture. There is also a large seventies shag rug in the sitting area, which feels just heavenly on the feet after a long day of museum-going.

The piece de resistance is the “private media room” at the far end of the loft. It is a small room which is taken up entirely by a very comfortable platform bed. There is a bose player with surround sound speakers and a projector so you can watch your “media” on the wall. All very cool. I was very excited about watching tv on the wall and hooking up my iPad to the projector to watch Cagney and Lacey (Netflix) on the wall. There were no instructions on how to use any of it. When I called to ask, they sent a technician up to our room who told me that the only thing you can do is watch a DVD in there. Still cool, but you’d think they’d hook it up to a tv, and allow you to connect your own electronics to it.

We have discovered that the “private media room” is very lovely at certain times of the day when the sun comes in and shines on the bed. We both have spent some time there reading and sunbathing. I actually worried about getting a sunburn yesterday!

The bathroom has a separate shower and tub. I love that. But the shower is just a little smaller than a separate shower usually is, and when I opened the shower door after my shower, water got all over the floor.

One other form over function detail that bothered me is that there is a safe, but it is so high up in the closet that I have to stand on my tip-toes to reach it and I can’t see into it at all.

Anyway… Sandra extraordinaire also procured us a free breakfast every morning, and when on Sunday morning we went to catch the elevator down to breakfast I discovered the source of the thumping. The elevator thumps constantly as it travels. This was actually a relief to discover as it meant there was a possible solution. That solution would mean switching rooms. I can tell you that Mary was not at all pleased with that possibility as she had already unpacked and made herself quite at home. We temporarily tabled the discussion.

Our free breakfast was quite hearty. We were told that we could order the “James Classic breakfast” – no substitutions. The James Classic is two eggs, choice of meat, toast, juice and coffee. I am lactose-intolerant so I asked the waitress if my eggs could be cooked in oil, rather than butter, and I asked if the potatoes were cooked in butter. She said yes to the former, and that she thought the potatoes were cooked in oil. I asked her to make sure and she said she would.

A different person brought our plates and he handed them out as if they were all the same. I asked, “Are these eggs cooked in oil?” and he said yes. He didn’t speak very good English so I didn’t ask about the potatoes. A third person came to ask how everything was. I asked, “Are the potatoes cooked in oil or butter?” He said, “Oh, oil I’m pretty sure.” I still wasn’t very confident. A few minutes later he came back and said, “If it’s a lactose issue, I talked to the chef, and everything is cooked in clarified butter and clarified butter has no lactose, so you should be fine.”

I said, “You mean these eggs are also cooked in butter?” He said yes. I was not thrilled that it took me asking three different people to finally ascertain that my eggs were cooked in butter, not in oil, like I had requested. I also didn’t believe that clarified butter has no lactose. However, my darling girlfriend looked it up on the internet (and we all know the internet does not lie) and confirmed what I had been told. And, in fact, that is a very cool thing I have learned, because indeed I had no trouble with the clarified butter. But I should not have had to work that hard to find out whether or not my breakfast was going to make me sick. And what if I had been actually allergic to dairy and it was not a lactose issue?

After breakfast, we decided to head to the grand opening of Marshalls Home Goods a few doors down from the hotel. I wanted to put my newspaper away, so Mary, Cathy, and Claudia went on ahead and I ran up to the room. Coming down in the elevator it occured to me that if we were going to change rooms, I should let them know before they cleaned our current room. I explained the problem at the front desk, where they were VERY nice. There was only one other room available, on the top floor at the end of the hall away from the elevator, but next to the service elevator, which, I was told, rarely goes to the top floor. This was an ordinary sized room with two double beds – no separate sitting area, no private media room. It looked out onto the street rather than the “courtyard” ours looks out on. The deskman said he thought that noise from the street could be fairly loud also. He said I could make up my mind “whenever” and even wait until the next day if I needed to. Very nice and accomodating.

I headed on to Marshalls Home Goods where I laid out my dilemma. I really didn’t care about a smaller room or even separate beds, as long as I could sleep. But would the street noise be worse than the thumping noise? Claudia said that she thought she would prefer street noise. It’s not constant, and it can be kind of soothing. I totally agreed with that. Then Cathy pointed out that she had her fan on all night and didn’t hear anything. The air conditioning here is VERY LOUD, and I realized that ours cycled on and off all night long and when it was on, I could barely hear the thumping. I didn’t realize that you could run the fan continuously. Once Cathy pointed out that you could, she SAVED OUR MARRIAGE! I decided to give it another night with the fan on all night, and I am happy to report that I slept much better last night and we will stay in our huge loft suite with private media center.

All in all, I don’t think I would choose this hotel again. We both prefer staid luxury to hipster luxury, and there are so many inconveniences here in the service of being cool. But I’m happy for now.