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This Isn't the Kind of Hotel One Associates
 with Iowa - hotelVetro in Iowa City
By John McCormick, Chicago TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 30--hotelVetro,

201 S. Linn St.,

Iowa City, Iowa;

800-592-0355; http://www.hotelvetro.com

This isn't the kind of hotel one associates with Iowa. Yes, hotelVetro is in Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa and perhaps the hippest city in the state. But the hotel looks and feels more like a boutique property one might expect to find in a much larger city.

Just over a three-hour drive from Chicago, this is a great place to go for an affordable getaway, where you can pamper yourself with some upscale refinement and never have to drive anywhere once parked. Located in the heart of Iowa City's Old Capitol Cultural District and on the pedestrian mall, shopping, dining and cultural attractions are all within a few blocks.

There are many restaurants and bars to choose from, from upscale to more reflective of the college town this is.

The hotel offers a top-notch workout facility as part of the room rate. (Guests have access to a nearby fitness center that is open around the clock, as well as access to the swimming pool in the adjoining Sheraton Hotel.) Overall, the hotel and its furnishings reminded us of the popular W chain, known for its modern, cosmopolitan and sleek designs. Both inside and out, the hotel is very contemporary in design.

Whether you are traveling in the area for the upcoming Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses -- the first step in the presidential nomination season -- or just going to Iowa City for an Iowa Hawkeyes basketball game, this is an upscale property to consider, where you can have more space than a traditional hotel room.

CHECKING IN: Finding the front desk from the city ramp where you are supposed to park is a bit confusing. We finally just went to the street level and asked for directions. There is a skywalk that connects the two structures, but it is a tricky to find and the ramp's signs are not very helpful. The front desk is minimalist (I had to ask whether I was in the right place to check in). The young man who was running the desk was professional, but not overly welcoming. A luggage cart was available in the lobby, but no one asked if we needed help with the bags. For security purposes, a room key needs to be swiped each time you use the elevator.

ROOMS: Despite being in a 14-story building, the hotel, built in 2006, has only 54 studio suites. From the seventh floor up, the complex has apartments and condominium units. My wife, daughter and I stayed in room 618, which had a lovely view of the city ramp where we had previously gotten lost. When making your reservation, you might consider requesting a room on the other side of the building, where you can catch a glimpse of the golden dome of the Old Capitol on the University of Iowa campus.

The rooms are spacious by almost any hotel standard. The first thing you will notice when you walk into the room is the polished concrete floor, which can be slippery in socks, but it was also cleaner than the wall-to-wall carpeting in many hotel rooms. There is an area rug -- but only under the bed and around the sitting area. The bed was very comfortable, with plenty of oversized pillows and a cozy comforter. For inside views, there is a plasma TV and DVD player. Also, a full kitchen is provided for those who want to fix a snack or plan an extended stay (pots and even silverware were strangely not provided). The room has many upscale amenities: free Internet access in the rooms, robes, ironing board, complimentary bottled water from Norway and Starbucks coffee. Chocolate truffles also sat in a small box on the bed for our arrival. The room was blissfully quiet, with the exception of the air conditioning. The unit and its powerful blower kept the room very comfortable, but it was a bit noisy as it cycled on and off.

BATHROOM: First-class. We were impressed with the fancy, but functional room that included both a bathtub for two and a glass-walled shower. Lighting is great, and there is a make-up mirror. The sink was square and shallow. High-quality soap, shampoo and lotion was provided in large bottles.

KID FRIENDLY: The room was definitely big enough for the crib we had brought along for our 2-year-old. (Complimentary cribs are available, on request.) For bigger kids, the couch could hold one. There's a nice city playground and library just outside the hotel. But this place is built more for Mom and Dad than the kids.

ROOM SERVICE: In-room breakfast is served from 6:30 to 11 a.m., and lunch and dinner are available from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

PERKS & PEEVES: The staff was professional, but not as friendly as we felt they should have been. They were more like staff you typically find in a chain where customer service often is not stressed. And, you have to go down to the front desk to get a copy of your receipt, slowing down the checkout process.

BOTTOM LINE: Depending on the type of room, rates range from $159 to $259. Tax is 12 percent. Parking is $10 a day. Three rooms have specially designed bathrooms for handicap accessibility.

IN THE WEB EDITION

For a video look at hotelVetro, go to chicagotribune.com/sleepingaround

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