The Sable, downtown Chicago’s newest hotel isn’t actually downtown at all. You’ll find the 223-room development more than a quarter-mile offshore, straddling the edge of Navy Pier and Lake Michigan. 

Construction on the project began in early 2018 and, although work was officially completed earlier this winter, the team behind the Sable has done a decent job keeping things under wraps ahead of welcoming its first guests on March 18.

Spending a night on Navy Pier might sound unappealing to local Chicagoans who pride themselves on steering clear of such a touristy location, but the Sable is surprisingly sophisticated. It is part of the pier's 2016 Centennial Vision which includes updates to the iconic lakefront attraction's landscaping, dining options, and cultural programming.

Making the best of limited space, the new hotel is made up of a trio of glassy seven-story volumes that were essentially grafted onto the pier’s existing structure. Getting the century-old pier to support the weight of the development was made possible with micropiles—small diameter vertical supports—that were driven into preexisting foundations. 

“We had to work around so many constraints and the existing pier infrastructure,” explained architect Jackie Koo of Chicago-based design firm KOO LCC. “Because we were basically backed up against Festival Hall, we had to go with all south-facing rooms, which ended up being fantastic for the guests.” 

The arrangement takes full advantage of arguably the Sable’s best feature: sweeping views across Monroe and DuSable harbors through floor-to-ceiling glass. “Unless you’re lucky enough to own a boat, you don’t really get to experience that,” said Koo. “Now you can have it for the price of a hotel room.” 

Mike Schwartz

The hotel’s yacht-on-land motif is also reflected in the subtle “nautical cues” of the interior such as brass detailing, blue-accented carpeting, and rounded curves similar to those found in a ship’s cabin. Even the Sable name has local maritime roots and is a nod to the USS Sable, a 1920s-era Great Lakes passenger steamer that was converted into a “mock” aircraft carrier moored at Navy Pier and used as a training vessel during World War II.  

The lobby features telescoping column covers and mirrored glass balls arranged to resemble sailing star charts. The space was a particular challenge, according to Koo because it had to navigate the pier’s existing interior walkways and ductwork and connect to the hotel’s restaurant. 

The Sable is part of the Curio Collection by Hilton and is developed and operated by Maverick Hotels and Restaurants. Switzerland-based real estate firm Acron served as equity partner on the project. 

Chicago hotel openings have cooled in recent years due to a dramatic drop in bookings and conventions caused by COVID-19, but the Sable isn’t the first notable hospitality project to open its doors post-pandemic. Last June, the long-awaited 115-room Nobu Hotel welcomed its first guests (albeit with COVID safety restrictions) in Fulton Market.  

The rest of Navy Pier has remained closed to visitors since shutting down last September. Pier organizers are hoping to reopen the popular tourist destination when warm weather returns later this spring.