|By Jason George, Chicago
TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 26, 2007 -
Hotel Pere Marquette,
The first day the Hotel Pere Marquette opened in 1927 about 16,000 people came out to observe what was arguably the nicest hotel between Chicago and St. Louis. For the next five decades, heads of state and celebrities alike visited the Pere, arriving either by road, air or the Illinois River, which runs just blocks from the hotel.
As the years rolled by, though, and the hotel's ownership changed hands, quality slipped. By 1980, after a period of mismanagement, the hotel closed for business: bankrupt.
The hotel reopened a few years later, but only recently has it begun to approach its former grandeur, after a recent, massive rehabbing and remodeling.
Has the Hotel Pere Marquette returned to its place as one of the best hotels in America?
No, but it's yet again one of the nicest places to stay between Chicago and St. Louis, and it is surely a gem in Peoria's crown.
Hope it never closes again.
CHECKING IN: Sure, countless U.S. hotel lobbies feature sparkling chandeliers and cream-colored tile, but how many can claim to have a canoe-shaped statue above their check-in desk?
That canoe and a large mural of Pere Jacques Marquette, the 17th Century explorer/priest and the hotel's namesake, are just a couple of the indicators that this member of the Historic Hotels of America will not be your everyday interstate inn. History hangs all around.
Unfortunately, this nostalgia extends to the aged lobby elevators.
Consider the stairs if you're on a lower floor of the 12-story hotel -- calling the elevators slow would be too generous.
ROOMS: All rooms have been remodeled sometime since last year. Each has an iron and ironing board, coffee/tea maker and access to Wi-Fi. But while items like the new and comfy bedding are uniform throughout the 288-room house, there are some differences depending on where you stay.
If there's availability on the Concierge floor, you'll find a slightly nicer spot, with king beds in every room, flat-screen TVs and marble bathrooms. I stayed on this floor, Room 1021, and particularly enjoyed the access to a lounge with snacks and coffee, which is available to all guests on the Concierge level.
BATHROOM: Garden Botanika products add a nice touch to the bathrooms, which are generally well lit, small and adequate. Most feature a tub/shower combo, and all have a hair dryer.
KID-FRIENDLY: The Pere's not a place your average child would beg to stay at, but kids abound, perhaps because of the hotel's close proximity to so many Peoria attractions. There's the Spirit of Peoria riverboat, which docks a few blocks away at the Illinois River waterfront. The Peoria Chefs minor league baseball team also plays not too far from the hotel.
ROOM SERVICE: A full menu is available during breakfast, lunch and dinner hours from the hotel's restaurant, Carnegie's 501.
PERKS & PEEVES: A hot buffet-style breakfast is included in an overnight stay. Make sure to sample the strawberry muffins, as they manage to make eating cake at breakfast socially acceptable.
My biggest peeve was that the staff seemed unable or unwilling to provide the outstanding customer service this property deserves. Two examples: no one ever helped with our bags, and several scheduled shuttles, both at the hotel and the airport, never arrived when they were supposed to.
Management would be wise to remind their employees that the hotel's stated goal is to be a place "Where History Lives and Service is still in Style."
The hotel is pet-friendly, and allows smoking on one floor (the 8th) and in the hotel lounge.
BOTTOM LINE: During the week it's $140 for a standard room; on weekends, the rate drops to $119 for a room with a king bed and $129 for one with two doubles. Rooms on the Concierge floor are $155 all week. Handicap accessible. 866-376-8886; www.hotelperemarquette.com
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