Allium (Chicago): A hotel restaurant undergoes a season of change and gets a whole new look in the process

The accessible and energetic Allium replaced Seasons, the staid fine-dining stalwart in Chicago’s Four Seasons Hotel.  Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Chicago

It seems fitting that a restaurant that was once called Seasons would be subject to change.

Seasons — the award-winning, but underperforming, fine-dining room at Chicago’s Four Seasons Hotel — regrouped  and  reopened in February as Allium.  The restaurant’s distinguished chef, Kevin Hickey, stayed on and overhauled the menu, which now focuses on more approachable American contemporary fare.  And the space got a major makeover.

Out is Seasons’ ultra-traditional, for-the-one-percent décor.  In is a look that is “casual, refined, hip, fun and very sensual,” says Marshall Drake of San Francisco-based BraytonHughes Design Studios, which oversaw the renovation.

Located off the hotel’s seventh-floor main lobby, Allium took over Seasons’ former lounge and bar spaces. (The old dining room now serves as private-event space.)

Some elements remain:  the signature mahogany millwork; the distinguished marble fireplace and the bubbling entranceway fountain — although it now has “Allium” written across it in pink neon.

The design team kept certain features from the original space, including the signature mahogany woodwork, but scores of new design elements were added. Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Chicago

The mission was to retain aspects of the iconic space and seamlessly incorporate them into something new and exciting.

“We’re capturing the old, and refreshing it and making it even better,” says Drake.  “We’re taking the original feeling [of the room] and turning it on its head and making it ‘today.’”

The design team used color, for example, to energize what once a highly subdued space.

In the main dining room and bar, the palette is now a tony mix of taupes, browns and grays, electrified with lively dashes of rich carmine red — a color that bespeaks the Midwest, Drake says.

“We definitely wanted to give [Allium] a personality of the Midwest, of Chicago,” he says.

The adjacent “windows” room, which is used primarily for daytime and overflow dining, features an entirely different color scheme.  Here, turquoise, gold and buff complement the main color palette, creating a brighter, sunnier feel.

The restaurant — and the main dining room in particular — have an intentionally “residential flair,” that was intended to make guests feel “at home and at ease,” Drake says.

Eye-popping color-saturated artwork hangs from the main dining room’s mahogany walls, while an eclectic mix of seating vignettes sit atop bold damask print carpeting.  There are starburst wood rounds coupled with upholstered arm chairs and leather tub chairs.  And “living room” areas that feature nubbly rust-colored sofas, cane and wood chairs, low-slung black lacquer coffee tables and lamp-bedecked side tables. A string of gold and carmine-red-upholstered, high-backed loveseats create a stylized banquette.  And a lighthearted animal print sofa is positioned cozily in front of the fireplace.

“We wanted to make sure there were no bad seats in the house,” Drake says.

The windows room complements the main dining room and bar-lounge, but has its own distinct look and feel.  Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Chicago

A sea of starburst tables and leather tub chairs also appear in the windows room, where magnificent views of the Magnificent Mile abound.  The room’s original limestone walls and dark burgundy marble floor were left undisturbed.  But the designers updated the room by upholstering the chair backs in alternating solid turquoise velvet and silky gold leaf-patterned fabric, then adding custom-painted chinoiserie wall panels on each end.

The bar, which stands off to the side of the main dining room, was designed “to be one of the best watering holes in the city,” Drake says.

A yin/yang of the masculine and the feminine, the bar is both clubby and sexy.

“When you go into the bar, the vibe goes over the roof,” Drake says.  “It’s taking the energy from the other areas, but really intensifying it in that room.”

Again, the space is all mahogany walls.  And the grand neoclassical granite and wood bar remains.  But then things get a bit wild.

Art pieces — with an emphasis on fashion, beauty and wildlife photography — emblazon the room.

“Instead of boats and horses and prints, we wanted to have bold expressions of color,” Drake says.

Inspired by fashion — both men’s and women’s — the bar-lounge area features a fun and funky array of furnishings and artwork.  Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Chicago

Seating again offers a variety of options beyond the bar’s row of handsome leather stools.  Several pieces of furniture — in a nod to men’s haberdashery — are covered in pinstripe or plaid suiting fabric, allowing guests to sit at stone-topped rounds on brown leather high-backs or tub chairs.  Or they can hang out on a nail-head studded plaid love seat and set their drinks on a nearby coffee table.  And those seeking a bit of distance from the action can grab a funky, pinstriped upholstered hooded chair.

Says Drake of the cocoon-like chairs:  “You can feel like you’re in a private room within a room.”

Four Seasons Hotel Chicago
900 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois  60610

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