At the beginning of the last century, Chicago’s West Loop was downwind from the infamous setting of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, a destination for product from the insidious meatpacking plants located there. While Sinclair’s fictionalized muckraking helped clean up the industry, it remained an industry neighborhood, the province of butchers and wholesalers, for most of the 20th century.
Recently, however, the district has changed. The West Loop is home to Randolph Street’s Restaurant Row; instead of packing meat, some of Chicago’s most famous chefs are working magic with it. On one block alone sit Google’s new Chicago headquarters, competing cocktail lounges, and the boutique Ace Hotel.
While the culinary neighborhood is layered on top of the industry Sinclair wrote about, one destination borrows instead from the city's writers, including Sinclair himself: the newly opened Publishing House Bed and Breakfast.
Through a bright blue door on May Street, guests enter into a building that has known many lives (and many deaths). A decade after Sinclair’s novel about the West Loop went to press, the Free Methodists opened their publishing house in this building. (After the religious paper closed shop, it became headquarters for a casket company.)
The bed and breakfast is on the second and third floors of the building. The latter of which serves as the common area. There, guests enjoy toothsome breakfasts at the long communal table; skim magazines available from a towering rack; recline in the leather chairs and couches that surround the columnar fireplace in the center of the space; chat with the chef pulling fresh-baked pastries from the oven; puzzle over the puzzle on the grand piano; and, of course, peruse the novels scattered about the hotel.
Open and comfortable, the space is artistically diverse. Colorful rugs span wooden floors, an avian mural drips from one wall, and the windows present the West Loop’s endless projects, where bowing cranes and bulldozers atop rubble promise another version of the district the next time you visit.
What makes the Publishing House special are the rooms, most of which are located on the floor below. Beyond having all the modern luxuries—spacious bathrooms, plush bath products, comfortable beds—the rooms are wildly unique. Some have skulls adorning walls, another has a gallery of nudes, one uses old bank safes instead of end tables. But beyond these eccentric and artful touches that preserve the minimalist design, each room in the Publishing House pays tribute to a writer who had celebrated Chicago in their literature. (Rooms are either named for the author, a title, or a character in their book about Chicago.)
In the Dybek room, for instance, guests can sit at the small writing desk and attempt to compose something as elegiac as Stuart Dybek’s I Sailed with Magellan, which sits upon a bookshelf in the room alongside his other works, like The Coast of Chicago. Or guests can retreat with his collection of stories to one of the pillowed reading corners/libraries outside the room. There’s even one beneath a staircase.
There are rooms named for the Pulitzer Prize-winner Saul Bellow and for Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Upton Sinclair is also honored at the bed and breakfast.
Had the Publishing House existed when Sinclair was penning The Jungle, and had he woke up to the French press coffee and toast with farm fresh eggs and ribbons of smoked salmon, his novel might have been slightly diminished. After all, who could have imagined a meatpacking district so ghastly with a bed and breakfast this pleasant.