staycation at the freehand Miami and vacation at the freehand chicago
the Miami Freehand is the OG, but when they opened a second spot in Chicago, building on the stylish hostal concept, it was finally time to stay in both spaces. So I booked a flight to Chicago (actually I set a price alert on Kayak and booked the cheapest weekend available, but details are so boring).
It didn't hurt that a Miami dude and old friend, Cesar Vega, runs the cafe and coffee shop in the Chicago location and he invited us to check out the space and drink all the Nicaraguan coffee we could handle. Full disclosure: while Cesar is a friend, Cafe Integral really does have a full, earned stamp of approval. His coffee is how I learned that I could drink coffee black and the attention to detail is singular. Hopefully we have a spot down here soon. Till then you can order it online (which I do) and get it at Stanzione87.
Miami and Chicago are different towns. In Miami the beach is free. In Chicago the zoo is free. Miami is a little more rattan. Chicago feels more dark wook. But in both cities you can order a drink from The Broken Shaker and it will come in the signature tiki-touched mixology style of Bar Lab. Roman and Williams (somebody get me their coffee table book already!) did the interiors for both and they both have a groovy feel.
Chicago feels a bit more done than Miami. Maybe the second project had a bigger budget, maybe they were drawing on a different set of references - still 60's vibey, niceness - but this time a bit more Frank Lloyd Wright and a bit less Miami Beach flea market. I don't like either one any more or less, but they're definitely different. The most obvious difference, besides the addition of the all-day cafe, is that you're inside a whole lot more in Chicago. Without the signature outside lounge space that they have all year around in Miami (ha!ha!ha!) they added a series of indoor chill zones. The space is filled with little built-in sitting areas that kind of roll into each other, with the Broken Shaker tucked into the back.
Both hotels are in historic buildings, just off of popular, more trafficked tourist neighborhoods. In Miami, a deco hotel was restored and in Chicago a 1927 building that was a mob den for a while has kept all the same dimensions as the original design. Rooms in both are small, but not uncomfortable. Usually, you get what you pay for, but at The Freehand I think you get a lot more style than what you're putting down in dollars. The bathrooms in Chicago was a particular stand-out and the mini-fridge in Miami.
At the end of the night, many Broken Shaker cocktails in, it doesn't matter where you fall asleep - at least it didn't for me - but I will say the beds were comfortable in both and the cocktails were equally as nice, and let's be honest, that's the most important part, right?