Chicago hotels are riding the wave of Warhol-mania

By Lori Rackl Chicago Tribune (TNS)

CHICAGO — Andy Warhol predicted everyone would be famous for 15 minutes, but it’s doubtful that even the prescient pop artist could have foreseen the ripple effects of the Art Institute’s current exhibition.

“Andy Warhol — From A to B and Back Again” set in motion a flurry of whimsical hotel packages, along with spawning restaurant dishes and drinks in the artist’s honor and plastering images of his iconic silkscreens on city buildings large and small.

“Andy Warhol is everywhere in Chicago right now,” said Nora Gainer, director of partnerships and tourism at the Art Institute, where the ambitious retrospective is on display through Jan. 26. “The ubiquity of his presence throughout the city, in mediums from murals to cocktails, speaks to the unparalleled appeal of his work.”

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More than a dozen hotels have gotten in on the act, with some offering Warhol-inspired stays that transcend the usual room-and-a-pair-of-exhibit-tickets bundle. One property even created a Warhol pop-up suite, where the campy props include painting supplies, a wig of unruly silver hair and a bowl of bananas.

“This exhibition has sparked the imaginations of our partners in a way that parallels the civic moment we had during the Van Gogh exhibition in 2016,” Gainer said. “Both artists connect to audiences in a way that transcends generations.”

Here’s a look at how some Chicago hotels are riding the wave of Warhol-mania.

No lodging in the city has leaned in to the Warhol exhibit quite like Acme Hotel Co., which transformed one of its 130 rooms at its River North address into a playful shrine to the artist.

Starting at $350 a night and bookable through the exhibit’s run, the pop-up suite is tricked out with Warhol imagery, from throw pillows and prints of his instantly recognizable work to cardboard masks of the artist and a wig mimicking his hallmark hairstyle.

Pyramids of Campbell’s tomato soup cans and tiny Brillo boxes — some of the mundane commercial products Warhol turned into art — are scattered around the ready-for-Instagram space. Warhol’s quote about 15 minutes of fame is scrawled on the bathroom mirror, next to a fat pair of red lips. (The lips, a favorite backdrop for Acme guests’ selfies, are permanent.)

On the retro record player, suite guests can play the Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut album, the one with the Warhol banana on it, or pick up a paintbrush and let their creative juices flow on an easel in the corner.

“Acme’s motto is ‘Do your thing,’” said Liana Clark, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. “We embrace individuality and we embrace art. When we heard this exhibit was coming, it just made sense for us to do something with it.”

The hotel bar manager, Derek Alexander, was tapped to design a cocktail to go along with the package, which comes with tickets to the exhibit.

“I went back to my over-priced liberal arts education and started tearing through some of my art history books for inspiration,” said Alexander, who chose Warhol’s 1984 portrait of music superstar Prince as his mixology muse.

“It’s my interpretation of what the painting would taste like — floral, aromatic and bright,” Alexander said about the drink Orange Prince, a combination of gin, curacao and other ingredients poured over a tall stack of blueberry and orange ice cubes.

The pop-up suite package includes two complimentary Orange Princes along with unlimited bacon “pop”corn at the hotel’s Berkshire Room bar.

The Chicago Athletic Association hotel has a roster of Warhol-related field trips and programs, like a behind-the-scenes visit to the Museum of Contemporary Photography to see the artist’s Polaroids usually confined to the museum’s vault and a screen printing workshop at All Star Press that took place in mid-November.

Warhol wore many hats during his life, one of which was filmmaker. A couple of his 1965 movies, “Poor Little Rich Girl” and “Camp,” will be screened in the hotel’s ballroom Nov. 21.

The Pittsburgh-born multihyphenate also designed a slew of album covers during his career. That’s the inspiration behind a rotating list of cocktails being served at the Michigan Avenue hotel’s rooftop hot spot, Cindy’s, where an original Warhol portrait of Chicago philanthropist Cindy Pritzker, the restaurant’s namesake, hangs in perpetuity above the fireplace.

Further south on Michigan Avenue, The Blackstone hotel has a Warhol package that stocks your lakefront room with a canvas and paint set, along with some wine to kick-start the creative process. The hotel partnered with Kehoe Designs on its sidewalk window displays celebrating Warhol’s art.

Mosey past The Gwen hotel on North Rush Street to see another colorful window installment, this one built around portraits of Liza Minnelli and Aretha Franklin. The late Queen of Soul’s album cover was reportedly Warhol’s last piece of work before his death in 1987. Head upstairs to The Gwen’s bar for Warhol’s Wonder, a cocktail made with the artist’s favorite booze, Jack Daniel’s whiskey. It’s served, appropriately enough, in a soup can.

The Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel’s Filini bar and restaurant recently rolled out a Warhol menu featuring grilled shrimp with Campbell’s bourbon sauce as well as cocktails named for some of the celebrity-obsessed artist’s most famous subjects, like Muhammad Ali and Mick Jagger.

Hang on to that Warhol exhibit ticket. It gets you a free Absolut Warhol cocktail at the rooftop bar at TheWit Hotel. It’s also your key to unlocking a complimentary off-menu vodka concoction called Self Portrait for diners at Hotel Julian’s steak joint, About Last Knife.

Lots of hotels have worked Warhol into their beverage menus, but Travelle at The Langham has taken it to another level.

The luxury downtown hotel serves seven distinctly different Warhol-inspired cocktails, priced from $16 to $20. Their presentation is so eye-catching, whichever drink gets ordered early in the night tends to end up being that evening’s best-seller thanks to the power of visual suggestion.

“We’ve been working on this for months,” said chief mixologist Slava Borisov. “It’s way more involved than just ‘see a picture and create a cocktail.’”

One of the offerings, The Monroe, plays off Warhol’s penchant for repeating images. The drink — more like several drinks in one — gets delivered on a silver tray with four images of the movie star topped with small glasses of Grey Goose vodka. The liquid takes on various hues — blue, yellow, red and clear — depending on whether curacao, spiced pear or wild strawberry liqueur has been added.

“It’s our deconstructed cocktail,” Borisov said. “We followed Warhol’s philosophy, reproducing the same cocktail over and over but in different colors and slightly different tastes.”

The Colognist, served in an ornate perfume dispenser, is a nod to Warhol’s print of the legendary scent Chanel No. 5. Bar staff soaked gummy bears in Ketel One vodka to infuse the alcohol with a subtle candy flavor. The drink is layered with hints of spiced pear, lemon, cranberry and cinnamon.

“We wanted to capture the aroma of perfume in a cocktail,” beverage manager Thibaut Idenn said, noting that the dispenser can be used to consume the drink.

The most expensive beverage on the list, El Pajaro (Spanish for “bird”), stems from Warhol’s depictions of endangered species; the artist was quite the conservationist at heart. The blend of mezcal, sherry, tawny port and chocolate bitters costs $20, with the hotel donating $1 of that to the World Wildlife Fund.

The honey-colored cocktail comes in a transparent bird-shaped glass, with a straw and garnishes tucked into its tail. The delicate drinking vessels were special ordered and handmade in the Czech Republic.

“Each one is signed on the bottom,” Idenn said. “They’re like pieces of art.”

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