It was the summer of 1920; the Republican convention was in Chicago; and powerful party bosses gathered in the grand Blackstone Hotel, stogies lit, to attempt to settle on a nominee for president. The result of that discussion—an evening that gave us the phrase “smoke-filled room”—was, somewhat disappointingly, Warren G. Harding. Though he won the election handily, enjoying great popularity as the 29th chief executive, history has not been good to him. But late this summer came news of another deal: Blackstone was partnering with another downtown legend, the Iwan Ries & Co. Smoke Shop. The arrangement may not clear the air, but it’s a boon to cigar-loving visitors.
Guests of the hotel—and regular citizens, if they reserve in advance—now have access to the members-only Iwan Ries Smoking Lounge (the only place to light up in the Loop) and the hotel’s private store of single-barrel Koval whiskey. Representatives of the Blackstone say it is the first hotel to hold a member locker in the tobacconists’s 160-year history.
How did this come about? It’s turned out to be a classic Chicago sweetheart deal after all: The current owner of Iwan Ries, Chuck Levi, married his wife, Susie, at the Blackstone in 1961.