Investigation turned up a web site with more information and online booking. It was a bit of a risk, not knowing what the building was like inside, but we decided to go for it. The location was perfect, and it was significantly cheaper than a hotel room.
I booked a room online and let my friend know. The first snag was, I booked it for the wrong long weekend. I called Stan Proprties and talked to a very helpful woman named Cera, who helped me update the dates to the right ones. She was supposed to call me back and tell me when it was complete, but did not. I did receive an email from their automated system indicating that the date was updated per my request.
Then, the day before he arrived, I noticed that the date was off by one day. He was arriving on Friday, but the “hotel” reservation started on Saturday. This was partially my fault; I simply had told Cera to move the dates up a week, and I didn't double check the dates. If I had, I would've more quickly found that the date was only adjusted by six days, not seven.
I figured this out on Thursday evening, just before bed, so, first thing Friday morning, I called Bogdan at Stan Properties. He wasn't sure if anything could be done. I said I'd be willing to pay extra to upgrade to a more expensive suite, if it would help things. He told me he would figure out what could be done and call me back. That was about 9:40 in the morning. At about 1:30 in the afternoon, I called back. Bogdan indicated that it would be no problem to check in today instead. I asked if I should call back around 4 pm (check-in time) to get the keys, and he said yes.
So, I called back just after 4pm. A different person answered. (Sadly, I didn't write her name down, though I ended up talking to her a half-dozen times that day.) She said the room hadn't been cleaned yet, and that she'll find out where the cleaners are and let me know. I said that was fine, because they were doing me a favor changing the reservation, and my friend wasn't in yet.
While I was standing outside the building – I saw the setup for obtaining the keys. They have 3 or 4 “realtor-style” key-holding padlocks attached to the front gate. These are the kind of thing a real estate agent would use to get into your house to show it to prospective buyers. They give you the code for your key box, and inside you find your keys.
It seems pretty straight forward. But, like I said, we've run across people trying to “check in” here in the past, and those people have always been confused. I think if I didn't live nearby, and already know how this worked, I'd likely be really confused. Case in point, while I was there, I saw a woman sitting there with luggage, looking forlorn. She was visiting from Ireland, with her fiance, and had a reservation here. They didn't see the key boxes and didn't know what to do. Her fiance was off somewhere figuring out what to do, so I called Stan Properties back and helped her get her key out of the box and get into the building. She was very grateful. I certainly don't blame her for not easily understanding how this process works – it's very uncommon. Visitors expecting a typical “hotel style” process will find that it is anything but.
The woman from Stan Properties informed me that the cleaning people were downtown, and it now being rush hour, it'd probably take them a couple hours to get up to Rogers Park and get the room cleaned up. Knowing Chicago traffic, that seemed truthful. I hadn't yet picked my friend up from Union Staiton, and even afterward, we were just going to hang out and then have dinner, so there was no real rush to check in.
After I picked him up and we grabbed a cab back up to the neighborhood, we dropped his stuff off at our apartment, and went out for dinner and drinks.
I was disappointed that the woman from Stan Properties, who promised me with absolute certainty that she would call me back when we could check in, never called me back. They're now zero for three on returning phone calls. I realize people are busy, stuff is happening, but this is a problem. It takes no effort to return a phone call and say “hey, still working on it, sorry for the delay.” I do this myself, via phone or email, when working on a particularly tricky and urgent problem for a client.
Anyway, I called Stan Properties back just after 8:00 pm to find out where we're at with getting the keys to a clean suite. The call was received by an answering services, who took down all my information, and assured me that they'd page somebody. They did, and that person called me back about fifteen minutes later. It turns out that nobody had come to clean the room and drop off keys. They paged somebody else, who came up there to clean the room. A couple more phone calls later, they said it would be very soon now, and we'd be all set.
We stopped in a neighborhood bar for an after dinner drink while we waited. After we were done there, nearing 10:00 pm, we decided to give them one more try before giving up and checking my friend into the Hilton Garden in Evanston instead. I walked over to the gate just as somebody was fiddling with the key boxes on the front gate. He was the Stan Properties employee setting up the room, and he had keys for us. Finally, all set.
We grab my friend's luggage and take it on over. The lobby of 1137 Pratt is nice and clean. After a bit of confusion, we find the elevator. (It looks to be about an eight floor building; it better have an elevator. My friend is older and stairs would kill him.) The elevator is very, very old, and missing a couple of buttons, but it gets the job done. We exit on his floor and note that the hallways are very small, and a bit beat up. Definitely could use some sanding and patching, plus a new coat of paint.
The room itself was actually very nice. It was a very small studio. Very small. It had a twin bed. (Or was that a double? It was pretty small, so I'm thinking it's a twin bed.) But just about everything in the room is brand new. It has a perfectly serviceable little bathroom, and kitchenette. It had a flat screen TV and ethernet cable for internet. Everything is clean and nice.
My friend couldn't get the TV or ethernet to work. He rarely watches TV, and he has a Sprint EVDO modem for internet, so these weren't really issues. Nothing worth complaining about. (And it's hard to say if there is an issue with the TV, or if it's just too complicated to wrangle.)
The stay itself was uneventful. No problems with electricity, heat, water, any of that. There were no loud noises, nothing disturbed him, nothing made him feel unsafe. It worked well for my friend to stay so near, and he got a good night's rest at the end of each day of adventuring. It did just what a tourist needs a hotel room to do -- give one a quite place to relax when not exploring the city.
Kate and I are always trying to get friends to visit – so this was a bit of a “test run” to see if we'd be comfortable with other friends, or my parents, staying here. Was it a successful run? I'm not entirely sure. I'm a bit irked about the company not returning various phone calls throughout the process. That, plus it taking until nearly 10 pm to get the keys, makes me worry that they might be the kind of people to just “tell you what you want to hear” to get you off the phone, even if it's something they can't do anything about. I hope that's not the case.
This really could be a deal killer. Thankfully, I have my platinum card. Sometimes stuff happens and you just have to throw the credit card at it to make it go away. Eating (or disputing) one hotel charge while having to spend more on a last minute different, more expensive hotel charge, is something I can do in an emergency. Hell, that's why the good lord invented the platinum card. So if I were stuck, if this ended up not working out, it would have been irritating, but not the end of the world. I wonder, though, about other people that stay here, that don't have a backup plan, don't know the neighborhood, don't know where else to look for a hotel. That would not be a good situation to be stuck in.
And the building hallways and elevator need some TLC. The building age isn't really a problem; I live in a similarly aged building, and my place in Minneapolis was even older (having been built in the 1880s). So, I'm not put off by the potential limitations of an old building. But at some point you can't just add more coats of paint to something; it actually needs to be sanded and patched. (And elevator buttons replaced.) It reminded me a bit of the hotel I stayed in when I last visited New York for work. (A little old, a little beat up, bring your cell phone with in the elevator just in case, but everything ended up working out just fine.)
Also, a lot of the communication issues were driven by me originally booking the suite for the wrong dates. If I booked it correctly to begin with, and they had been able to work through their normal schedule, to get the room ready by 4:00 pm the day of check in, would any of this been an issue?
The room itself was fine. The location was great. The price was a bargain compared to usual hotel prices here in the Windy City. And it was probably a lot nicer than the Super 8 on Sheridan Road.
So, depending on who next comes to visit, we may try this again. It's worth giving another shot, and if everything comes together, the process and property would work out fine. We shall see.