When one enters the European Margarita Inn, a staircase presents itself leading to a well-appointed lobby from a bygone age. Built in 1927 as lodging for “proper single ladies” who had flocked to Evanston for pursuing various careers, the establishment required men to wait at the bottom of the steps. This sort of lodging was crucial, because it was illegal for women at the time to sign a lease.
The place began as the Margarita Club, named for Margaret O’Leary, the first female resident of Evanston who came in 1840 before the town even had a name and who lived where Calvary Cemetery now stands. Somewhere along the line, the hotel ceased to be a female only province and became a general boarding house. A major renovation eventually converted many of the “European” style rooms–common bathrooms in the hall–to the “en suite” floorplan which incorporated them.
When the current innkeeper, Michael Pure, took over in 2008, he finished the job, fully modernizing the rooms, while still keeping as much of the original material as possible to retain their old world charm. Most of the old doors and wood moldings were preserved with nod both to history and the environment.
“There are many options for a generic experience but we feel we attract a more sophisticated traveler,” Mr. Pure said. “We’re a boutique hotel and I think we offer a more genteel experience.”
Mr. Pure likes antiques and purchased most of the current artwork at auction himself. The original wood table in the grand parlor remains where it was installed 88 years ago. Original table in grand parlor Czech glassware, Delft china, Dickensonian Christmas with folk art Santas complete with real fur.
A row of flags in the front which change periodically is a tradition. This time, the British and American pennants stood next to those representing Israel, Northwestern and Wales, the latter with lion heraldry donated by a former patron. The grand parlor has floor to ceiling French doors, vintage molding and wood burning fireplace. The carpets, paintings, the lamps and furniture on the main floor all seem as though they could find their way into a movie scene from the 1920’s.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” general manager Kathryn Weimer said, offering comfort combined with a sense of history. She said the inn was recently a stop on the Chicago area architectural tour and attracted hundreds, hungry for a look at things from the past still in use today.
The English library just off the main hall has the feel of a private study and is a surrounded by a mystery as to whom it is named after. A plaque on the door announces it as the “Doolee Library,” though none of the research thus far has revealed just exactly who this Doolee was. “Libraries in hotels are a big trends now,” Mr. Pure pointed out, “but we’ve had one practically from the beginning.”
The hotel has routinely been used by Northwestern parents and professors and speakers. The website refers to it being considered “Evanston’s extra guest room” for the overflow of visiting folks who won’t all fit in a local home. There’s a lot of repeat business such that it is isn’t unusual for the staff to be able to greet patrons by name.
The inn is often full in connection with local concerts at Space or 27 Live or downtown festivals like Lollapalooza. Actors such as Jill Clayburgh, Aidan Quinn, John Lithgow have all stayed here. Mr. Pure said that other prominent people still come from time to time but he didn’t want to divulge the names for privacy sake.
A secluded patio and nicely furnished rooftop deck are frequently visited spots in season. Two family suites with sturdy bunkbeds, suitable for students and kids have been very popular. Internet access is available, the mattresses and locks are thoroughly modern and a highly rated continental breakfast is served daily.
The hotel has a tradition of patrons bringing “ugly mugs” to reduce the amount of plastic cups used, and taking one as a souvenir when they leave. A “green” brand of soap (“Pharmacopia”) is used and the coffee is from an Evanston importer who gets it straight from Costa Rica.
The land for the hotel was donated by descendants of Margaret O’Leary and construction of the building was overseen by Father Smyth of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, who called the creation of the club “the last great dream of my life.” He would no doubt be pleased to know that his project has endured so nicely, and without losing its sense of provenance.