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Chicago’s hotel doormen always ready to lend a helping hand

Francisco Jaramillo is  Chicago hotel doorman who works  entry Ritz-Carlt 160 E. PearsSt. Monday January 7 2013.

Francisco Jaramillo is a Chicago hotel doorman who works the entry to the Ritz-Carlton at 160 E. Pearson St. on Monday, January 7, 2013.

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Updated: April 13, 2013 6:02AM

Every good hotel doorman has an open mind.

Francisco Jaramillo has been at the door at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago for 14 years. Jaramillo thought he had seen it all until the day a guest walked out of his car with his monkey.

Alan “A.J.” Oehme fetches complimentary vintage beach cruiser bicycles for guests at Public Chicago (formerly the Ambassador East). And while Oehme, at age 23, is one of the younger doormen in Chicago, Patrick O’Sullivan has been opening doors for 20 years at the Palmer House Hilton.

“We have an average of 500 check-ins daily,” O’Sullivan said during a post-shift conversation. “In the summer we get 1,000 check-ins daily.”

This guy is worth checking out.

The Palmer House has majestic entrances on Monroe (the main entrance) and Wabash (a.k.a. “The Convention Door” for airport buses and limousines because of better traffic flow). The State Street entrance does not have a doorman.

“Wabash is my door,” said O’Sullivan, who wore a thick polyester and wool jacket. “I say, ‘Welcome to the Palmer House Hilton, we’ve been expecting you.’ I’m the last one to see them when they leave, and I give them a warm goodbye.”

O’Sullivan is 59. The native of County Kerry, Ireland, takes the train to the Palmer House from his home in LaPorte, Ind. He met his late wife in Ireland. She was from the South Side of Chicago. “Guests from Europe bring 12 to 14 pieces of of luggage,” he said in a thick Irish accent.

Jaramillo also has his hands full.

“I once had two carloads of luggage for a three-day stay,” he said. “I was looking at 16 and 18 pieces. It was just me. I provided tags for all the items. I directed them to the 12th floor [lobby] and let them know our bellman will take their luggage for them.”

The Ritz-Carlton is a favored spot for rock bands “hubbing” out of Chicago, but hotel policy does not permit employees to talk about specific guests. Public Chicago is more of a hideaway location nestled in a ritzy Gold Coast neighborhood.

“The people who came here when it was the Ambassador East are still coming,” Oehme said. “We’re not in a business district. We have a lot of dog walkers, and we have treats for them.

“Being a doorman is about forming a relationship with the people around you.”

A native of the Mount Greenwood neighborhood, Oehme works 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. He has been a Public Chicago doorman for a year. “My father grew up in the hotel industry,” said Oehme, who will start nursing school in the fall. “He does a lot of work with commercial draperies and does a lot of installing drapes.”

Oehme’s youth represents a changing of the guard in the world of doormen. “People feel less intimidated coming up to a younger individual,” he said in a uniform of jeans and Nikes. “We’re not wearing stuffy doormen outfits.”

A doorman can also take on the role of a concierge. “People ask directions, suggestions for dinner,” Oehme explained. “You want Italian food? Take a right out of the hotel doors, left on State Street after Division you see all the restaurants open up.”

Jaramillo, 40, worked in overnight valet parking at the Ritz before being promoted to doorman. “When I was being trained, people came up to the doorman who trained me,” he recalled. “They’d ask about a place and he would turn around and give them the address. He told me it takes about a year to know your places and, sure enough, it took me a year.”

Married 18 years, with 16-year-old twins and a 3-year-old, “I don’t get out that much because of my family, but I get feedback from our guests.”

Jaramillo is now the morning (7 a.m.-3:30 p.m.) doorman at the Ritz-Carlton — 160 E. Pearson — at Water Tower Place.

Visitors know Jaramillo for his bright smile. His retired father, Francisco, was maintenance supervisor at the Water Tower Place and the Merchandise Mart. Jaramillo grew up in Albany Park. “That smile definitely comes from my Dad,” said Jaramillo, who wears a big black wool coat, officer’s hat and black pants in the winter. “I got here from Brownsville [Texas] when I was 8 years old. And I’m not leaving.”

As you leave a hotel, what is the proper way to tip a doorman?

Oehme answered, “It depends on the services. Bringing luggage up to the room would be about $5. Hailing cabs would be two to three dollars. When people see that you actually like working at the hotel and you’re not working for a tip, that’s the best way to go about it.”

This concept has worked. After some prodding, Oehme admitted he once received a $100 bill as a tip. “It was somebody who I had been working with all week,” he said. “It wasn’t just for hailing a cab.”

Some of those tips surely came for hailing a cab. Oehme has a great whistle. “If guests have little kids, I let them hail their first cab,” he said. “A lot of them aren’t from the city, and they don’t see cabs that often.”

Jaramillo said, “Tips vary. We give the same service to everybody. Some people are very generous. Some are not very generous at all.”

“We treat any celebrity the same as anyone else. I don’t get starstruck.”

He was starstruck, however, by a brand new Lamborghini driven by a very young lady. “The car still had temporary plates.”

At the Palmer House, O’Sullivan has taken care of Mel Gibson and Muhammad Ali. “John Travolta was great,” said O’Sullivan, who previously was a manager at the Union League Club. “He came out and took a picture of the staff by my door. He was here for the World Cup.”

O’Sullivan keeps a keen eye out for large groups of guests.

“Sometimes there’s a group of six people, and I get them a minivan,” he explained. “I go to the corner of Monroe and Wabash and flag down a minivan. A lot of the cabs today are really small.”

It’s the Chicago doormen who maintain the big hearts.

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