REFRESHING A TRADITION

Gregor Andreewitch is a trim, stylish man who doesn't seem prone to sentiment. But, the general manager of Chicago's Drake Hotel admits, guests can embarrass him with their expressions of affection for the historic property. “I get guest letters where I turn red when I read them,” Andreewitch says.

The 84-year-old landmark at the corner of Lake Shore Drive and Upper Michigan Avenue is in the midst of an extensive renovation designed to bring it into technological and décor line with its many competitive newcomers. Within three blocks of the 537-room Drake are a Four Seasons, a Ritz-Carlton and a Peninsula, all hotels Andreewitch considers top-notch.

But the Drake has uniqueness, something these hospitality babies — none more than five years old — don't, he says. “These are four fabulous hotels, but they could be anywhere,” says Andreewitch, who arrived at the Drake last year from the top position at the Hilton London Heathrow Airport. “There's only one Drake, a unique hotel with a unique location.”

Two years ago, the Drake completed a five-year, $45-million renovation of guestrooms and hallways. Now, it's spending another $15 million to add a 4,000-square-foot fitness center, a 7,500-square-foot executive conference center, new luxury bedding and executive desks.

Already, says Andreewitch, the service is legendary, with approval ratings in the 90s. In addition, the Drake has five restaurants, including the Cape Cod Room, a cheery seafood hideaway sporting checked tablecloths, stuffed fish on the wall, extraordinarily experienced wait staff and Bookbinder's Soup, a red snapper soup served with a vial of sherry. Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe ate at the Cape Cod, where “the Bookbinder's is as consistent as Coca-Cola,” Andreewitch says.

No single market would fill the Drake, says Andreewitch. From Monday to Thursday, it's a businessman's hotel. Weekends, it's leisure. It does bang-up wedding business, and from last Thanksgiving to Christmas, it served 500 afternoon teas per day. Built in the Italian Renaissance style by architect Benjamin Marshall, the Drake will celebrate its 85th birthday this New Year's Eve.

But it's not only about tradition, he emphasizes, noting that the Drake also boasts high-speed Internet access. “The Drake offers classic style with contemporary pace,” says Andreewitch.

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