HOTELS Exclusive: Wit Hotel Chicago Aims For Multi-City Expansion

CHICAGO It is the hottest hotel to open in the Windy City in recent memory, and soon versions of The Wit may be popping up in other destinations across the country.

Lincolnshire, Illinois-based ECD Co., which owns The Wit, is targeting as many as a dozen Wits in operation within five years, with the first satellite properties open as soon as next year, according to Chief Brand Officer Lou Carrier. No deals have yet been signed, but Carrier reports “concrete interest and commitments” from multiple potential partners.

“The Wit is not a brand that can go in every market, but it’s certainly a brand that has a cultural appeal … that is absolutely applicable in a lot of different markets,” Carrier says. “Whether they’re strong urban markets or second-tier cities or certain resort destinations, the feedback we’ve gotten has been absolutely overwhelming: When is the next one going to come, and where?” ECD is only looking at launching The Wit in markets where it would be unique and could have a marked cultural impact. That probably rules out New York City, at least in the near-term, Carrier says. 

A Future With Hilton?

The Wit is a Doubletree-branded property, but along with The Curtis in Denver, it has broken the mold of what most travelers expect from the Hilton Worldwide brand. Carrier lauds Hilton’s support for the project—he calls Hilton “the mac daddy,” a slang term for being at the zenith of one’s trade—and he credits Hilton’s upmarket repositioning of Doubletree in Europe with The Wit’s strong reputation among international travelers.

ECD is in talks with Hilton about possibly attaching Doubletree to future Wit properties. “We love the relationship, and fortunately they love the relationship as well,” Carrier says. “We’d love to be able to do more Wits with them.”

Wit’s ‘Cultural DNA’

Sophisticated entertainment is at the core of The Wit experience. The Wit, marked by its striking glass façade that includes a roof-to-ground neon-yellow lightning bolt, offers a style of nightlife that is arguably more attainable to business travelers and locals than some of its edgier neighboring rival hotels.

At The Wit’s signature space, Roof, scenesters intermingle seamlessly with stockbrokers, each nibbling upscale bar fare while overlooking downtown Chicago. Carrier recently relaunched the former lobby library as the Phoenix Lounge, home to live crooners and Prohibition-era cocktails. The Wit has two other F&B concepts in Italian hotspot Cibo Matto—a semifinalist for the 2010 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant—and the new-American pub State and Lake, named for the intersection where the hotel sits.

Those F&B concepts may or may not be replicated at future Wits, but unique F&B and a focus on lively entertainment, along with whimsical design elements, represent the “cultural DNA” of the brand. “One of the key components of The Wit is doing very, very unique food and beverage and entertainment centers—having those experiences live within the body of this place—and it’s very unusual when the production of food and beverage and entertainment eclipses the revenue production of the rooms of a hotel. That is this model,” Carrier says.

Future incarnations of The Wit will likely have between 150 and 300 guestrooms; the existing property has 298.