Ask An Expert: Philippe Gills

Les Clef d'Or USA Concierge at Langham Chicago

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••• Photo courtesy of Philippe Gills

Life-long Chicagoan Philippe Gills accidentally stumbled into the hospitality industry back in 1998 when he was looking for a music-oriented job at House of Blues Chicago. He instead found employment at House of Blues Hotel (which is now Hotel Chicago Downtown) as a bellman, then moved over to the concierge department a year later.

Gills tells us that he never looked back, moving on to the Palmer House Hilton for several years, then on to Langham Chicago, where he can currently be found behind the concierge desk.

One of the highlights of his career, he says, was being accepted into the prestigious Les Clefs d'Or USA, the only international association of professional concierges.

According to Gills, there are less than 700 members of Les Clefs d'Or USA representing more than 300,000 rooms nationwide and less than 50 in Chicago. "The process is intense," he admits, "and I recall openly weeping once I received my acceptance letter. It is an honor to represent my commitment in this fashion and I wear my crossed keys with deep pride."

In 2014, Gills was inducted by peers into the CP Concierge Hall of Fame. It's yet another honor he holds close to heart, however, he insists that he won't let it go to his head.

"Here's the thing, guests don't care about your accolades, therefore, you're only as good as those you can assist each day," he says. "It keeps you humble, focused and optimistic because each day you are born into a new moment, so you prepare accordingly, stay curious and always give yourself the best shot to succeed."

Here are some of his best words of wisdom on how you can make the most out of your Chicago experience.

How can hotel guests make the most out of their interaction with the concierge?

Understand that it's OK to know and not to know what you want, and that we are wholly yours in the time you are in our care.

We WANT your moment to be the best it can be based on what makes you happy. What's more, we have the trained skill and ability to help you achieve that, whether in advance or on the fly. Communication is a beautiful thing, too; it's a critical component of success when interacting with any concierge. Yes, we are trained to listen, asking meaningful questions when needed. The clearer you are able to share your vision allows us to target what works best for the circumstances. 

What are some of your favorite cultural attractions outside of downtown?

I enjoy the DuSable Museum of African-American History along with the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and Frederick C. Robie House in Hyde Park. They all offer rich perspectives to life, commitment, survival, and history being made while living and history passed down. Also, if you are up for the long drive, Farnsworth House is remarkable. It's an architectural masterpiece.

What are some of your favorite places to dine on a luxury budget? Why?

When I think of dining on a luxury budget, my first thought usually is towards dining at a destination that isn't on my daily radar or which employs a dining style not typical for me on a normal occasion.

For example, 12 courses or a three- or four-hour dining experience with wine or beer pairings. I remember the first time I dined at Charlie Trotter's back in the day, it was the pinnacle then, with food exceeded by the service; simply spectacular, along with Everest, Spiaggia and Tru, respectively. The latter three soldier on to this day, of course, but the scope of what luxury dining is has widened with several top destinations no longer requiring the fabled jacket for men--formerly a staple of true top-end establishments. I love that many of our top chefs today served early in their careers under those restaurants and produce brilliantly creative food today. Some are Curtis Duffy with Grace; Alinea obviously with Grant Achatz, and Jake Bickelhaupt at 42 Grams, which shows you what happens when you scale down the dining space to Martha's Vineyard-style minimalism.

I'm also excited about Intro restaurant conceptually, with rotating chefs bringing their visions and sharing it with diners.

What are your favorite luxury boutiques and salons that you recommend to guests?

Salons: Fuga Centro brings Italian style and top technique to the Loop and sits across from Millennium Park with a view no less; Anthony Cristiano, located in Trump Tower, does brilliant work. They both have great talents working the chairs, and depending on the circumstances, have even come to my clients on location. It's a lovely relationship. Boutiques: I can't get enough of Optimo Hats owned by Graham Thompson, a master hat maker. Visiting his shop in the landmark Monadnock Building is like stepping into a time warp, with beautifully styled simplicity, and just amazing classic by hand craftsmanship with the best materials available. You can completely custom build the entire process to your liking or go traditional. It's all up to you. After buying my first hat there, I didn't take mine off for a month. I also like the quirky nature of Robin Richman in Bucktown/Wicker Park. There is an interesting variety with lots of muted color, patterns, deconstructed and high art clothing, as well as great accessories.

What are some of your most popular requests by guests?

We get a lot of requests based on seasons. For example, we are already fielding inquiries for Bulls and baseball playoffs tickets, believe it or not. Among our most consistent year-long have to do with restaurants, what's hot and brand new and Broadway theater. Second City remains a big request, tours of the city both aquatic and land-based architectural, and live music, specifically jazz and Chicago blues. It's amazing, if you really think about it, because it's a way of celebrating everything that makes Chicago a world-class destination. We literally have it all here.