Winning awards is nothing new to the Drake Oak Brook Hotel.
But the recent news of being voted one of the best hotels in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, a luxury travel and lifestyle magazine published by Condé Nast, has taken the accolades to a new level.
The Drake Oak Brook Hotel was voted #2 in the Midwest, #11 in the United States, and #47 in the World in Condé Nast Traveler’s 2022 Readers’ Choice Awards.
“The other awards we’ve won have been exciting, but this one is really, really special because it’s the gold standard,” said Jim Nagle, who along with his wife, Tely, bought the Drake in 2013 and reopened it two years later.
While the Nagles are certainly entitled to the kudos for their hotel, Jim Nagle gives most of the credit to the 120 or so employees who work at the Drake.
“Our team really is the reason for this,” he said. “We always have people stay here commenting on their wonderful experiences with our team. You can have a beautiful hotel, but it’s really having a great team that makes things special.”
The Drake team’s commitment to excellence likely stems from the loyalty the Nagles showed employees when the coronavirus pandemic shut down the hotel industry in March 2020, a month after the Drake Oak Brook Hotel received designation as part of the Autograph Collection, a group of independent hotels from high-end to luxury hotels within the Marriott International portfolio.
“Everyone was telling us we should shut down and furlough everyone when the pandemic shut things down,” Jim Nagle said. “We closed the hotel because we had to, but we kept our employees and found them another job.”
Most of that work involved a refurbishment of the Drake.
“We had people doing all kinds of jobs that they had never done before, but he kept them employed with his health insurance,” Nagle said. “I think it made everyone feel appreciated, which they are, and they still feel part of our family now.”
Nagle is particularly proud that Drake has received recognition in a world that considers many well-known big-city hotels.
The Drake was the winner as Top Hotel 2020 and again in 2022 in Illinois at the World Travel Awards. Other nominees for 2022 included Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, Kimpton Hotel Monaco Chicago, Nobu Hotel Chicago, Pendry Chicago, The Langham, Chicago; The Peninsula Chicago, The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago; Viceroy Chicago; W Chicago — Downtown and Waldorf Astoria Chicago.
“We are virtually the only hotel with any of these awards that is in a suburb,” Nagle said. “I think the biggest thing that separates us from other big suburban hotels is our outdoor space, which we’ve spruced up.”
The history of the Drake at Oak Brook dates back to its original opening in 1962. In 2009, the hotel fell prey to a Ponzi scheme, closing its doors.
But the Nagles bought the hotel from the Institute for Basic Living Principles, an Oak Brook-based organization that planned to use it for seminars and as a dormitory. Before that plan fell through, the hotel, then known as the Wyndham Drake Hotel, fell victim to the recession and other factors. A previous owner, a subsidiary of Chicago-based investment firm Wextrust Capital LLC, bought the hotel in 2008 for $20 million. Wextrust was later accused of operating a $100 million Ponzi scheme, according to a Chicago Tribune report. Both directors were sentenced to serve time in prison.
“It was always our goal and our dream to get to the point where we could win an award from Condé Nast Traveler, but we didn’t think we would get to this point so quickly,” Nagle said.
“There are a lot of great hotels out there, but at the end of the day, people make people happy. And that is what our great team does every day.”
Chuck Fieldman is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.