Photo Courtesy of Ambassador East
If Ian Schrager’s invention of the boutique hotel concept in 1984 signified "The Big Bang" in the hotel industry, we may well be in store for another with his new brand, PUBLIC. Always the rebel, Schrager leads the pack and sets trends, never follows them.
Now in his fourth decade of creating magic with groundbreaking experiences in nightlife, hospitality and residential living, Schrager has nothing left to prove; but he still has something to say. With the transformation of the famed, iconic Ambassador East Hotel and its legendary Pump Room into PUBLIC Chicago, this endeavor will be more than just a rebirth of a Chicago institution - it may well represent the revitalization of the hotel concept itself and another worldwide wakeup call for the entire industry.
PUBLIC is a new class...a new breed of hotel. Its fundamental attributes are innovative, sophisticated, authentic style (something we have come to expect from Schrager); spot-on, personalized empathic "essential" service that makes people feel special; lasting comfort with complete functionality, all at a tremendous value. For the first time, this type of hotel experience will be available for everyone and anyone who wants it. What is unusual is that it is inclusive, rather than exclusive.
Ian Schrager has taken the best from the luxury set, the best from the boutique/lifestyle set and the best from the limited service model and created a new kind of hotel where everything has been rethought and every original idea updated. This brand will be defined by the unique experience it creates rather than by a business classification or price point.
At PUBLIC service matters most. But the key point of differentiation is in the kind and quality of services it offers. The brand will only offer services that matter, those that guests really want and need rather than an array of superfluous services they do not use. For Schrager, this marks a new approach devoid of excess and a rejection of the old-fashioned idea of what defines "luxury" and what it actually means to people.
With PUBLIC, Schrager is responding to what he feels is a stagnated, anachronistic and sleepy hotel industry that has become predictable, banal, conformist, marbleized and computerized. It has lost touch with its customers, again. Its traditions and formulas have become outdated. It is the same dislocation and void in the market as 25 years ago which led Schrager and his late partner, Steve Rubell, to conceptualize Morgans, the first boutique hotel.
The partners reacted to cultural shifts that were emerging at the time. "This is a huge opportunity to create a new genre of hotel that is not pigeonholed into a specific and traditional business classification," says Schrager. Additionally, in Schrager’s estimation, boutique/lifestyle hotels have become trivialized in their explosive growth. "The industry has created a Frankenstein," says Schrager.
"The idea behind the boutique, as I saw it, was meant to touch people emotionally and viscerally and offer guests a truly unique experience. The idea has been lost with the huge number of watered down versions. I want to bring it back in an updated version and elevate it to a cultural experience for the modern day traveler. These travelers now expect truly unique experiences and not merely a place to sleep. PUBLIC will punctuate this with great value and service as well."
With no traditions to uphold and a new set of priorities, the always experimental, always original Schrager will start again with a blank canvas and push the industry into a new direction.
PUBLIC addresses today’s sophisticated, smart and savvy customer who knows what matters most. "Luxury, says Schrager, is no longer about spending the most money. It is about getting the best value and being made to feel special. This is not in response to difficult economic times, it is a true paradigm shift." The brand is the hotel industry’s answer to the "cross-shopping" phenomenon that has exploded in the retail marketplace. In today’s world, the bargain hunter elite seek out value and affordability when purchasing a quality product, while traditional budget conscious consumers are trading up for that same great quality product. PUBLIC, appealing to both types of consumers will have an unexpected new, mix of guests and hit the market’s bull’s-eye.
"My hotels were never about design. They were about an attitude, an approach and an experience. It’s something the industry never understood," says Schrager. Having seen far too many over-designed and overly self-conscious hotels currently saturating the marketplace, Schrager has opted for a restrained, refined and classically cool approach to PUBLIC’s design. "It’s a new simplicity. A 'new chic.' A 'sincere chic.' Tasteful and understated without attitude where quality and comfort are paramount. It is a really personal, authentic, confident style and authenticity can’t be faked. Genuine, understated good taste is a universal language, yet hard to find," says Schrager.
Schrager, who is now anti-design and anti-flash, suspicious of the "wow factor" and completely "sick of slick," has pared down and edited the design for PUBLIC Chicago. It is confident, self-assured, genuine and grounded, with no tricks or gimmicks. The new approach was spearheaded by his longtime design team headed by partner, Anda Andrei. "There is no pretense here, just effortless, timeless, purist design providing a relaxed vibe and familiar atmosphere that feels like home," says Schrager. "We are trying not to be hip, we are in fact anti-hip, and therefore by definition, we are."
PUBLIC Chicago is a transformation of the fabled, 285-room Chicago institution, Ambassador East, built in 1926 in the heart of the exclusive Gold Coast neighborhood. In its hey-day, the esteemed hotel and its world famous restaurant, The Pump Room, played host to world-renowned celebrities such as Frank Sinatra (who had his own booth), Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Judy Garland, John F. Kennedy, Natalie Wood, Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford. Later on it was a favored destination of rock legends such as Led Zeppelin, Sid Vicious, The Sex Pistols and David Bowie. The hotel was the centerpiece for films like Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and albums such as Phil Collins’ "No Jacket Required."
Schrager, who transformed the Clift Hotel and its historic Redwood Room in addition to the legendary Gramercy Park Hotel, is no stranger to balancing heritage with innovation. For PUBLIC Chicago, Schrager maintained the existing structure and architectural details and infused what he felt was new and modern aspects to evoke a warm, personal style.
The spacious guest rooms and suites, as well as all of the public spaces, exemplify the "sincere chic" Schrager refers to. In "no color colors" and a smart mix of modern pieces in unexpected combinations, the hotel reflects an aesthetic that cannot be classified because it is so personal. Schrager rethinks even the smallest detail. For example, positioning the desks in the guest rooms to face either the window or the interior of the room rather than the wall to create a more fulfilling working environment.
"Lobby Socializing," a phrase Schrager coined when opening the Royalton back in 1988, indicated that lobbies were the center of social activity and attracted locals in the city as well as guests. It is an idea that was copied countless times and one that has changed the industry. At the time, it only applied to night time.
With the instant messaging and social media boom along with our fast paced-high tech lives, our means of communicating have forever changed. Today, 25 years later, what was once meant only for night and for play, "Lobby Socializing" is now for work and day as well.
Schrager responds to this cultural shift by creating public spaces within the new Chicago hotel that accommodate this ever-present need for social interaction. PUBLIC Chicago’s “chat rooms” known as the Living Room and the Library will juxtapose comfortable, intimate seating areas with communal work tables and computer stations. Reminiscent of 1950’s American and European coffee houses and French patisseries, The Library will house a coffee bar during the day, offering Stumptown coffee with an array of coffee selections from around the world.
By night, the Library is transformed into a sexy lounge and bar offering a full bar, draught beer, international bottled beers, specialty cocktails and small plated exotic food by Jean-George Vongerichten. The Library will also be the perfect spot to enjoy dessert after dining at the new restaurant.
Off of the Library is the candlelit Backroom which doubles as a Screening Room and hosts comfortable lounges and intimate seating for enjoying private screenings in an unique and comfortable way, video installations, poetry readings, original performances, relaxing and entertaining.
Although the famed Pump Room is undergoing a complete renovation, it will still be Chicago’s beloved restaurant, but better! The new food concept by world-renowned, chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten will be inspired by his 2011 James Beard Best New Restaurant award winning, ABC Kitchen in New York City, but tailored for Chicago. The restaurant will offer reasonably priced, delicious favorites in a relaxed, comfortable environment.
Jean-Georges will also support local purveyors, regional flavors and offer a "farm to table" experience as well as a daily special chef’s tasting menu of the most unique creations. At night, the restaurant’s bar will be transformed into a supper club recapturing the glamour of the 30s and 40’s with a modern twist. Offerings will include light tapas style food including Asian specialties, exotic cocktails and great music. For the first time, guests will have all of their needs for dining, drinking, relaxing, working or entertaining under one roof for both day and night.
PUBLIC EXPRESS, located at the front desk, is an exciting new concept that will allow guests to customize their mini bars at check in as well as "grab and go" with snacks, toiletries and other convenience items 24 hours a day. PUBLIC Chicago also features 10 state-of-the-art meeting rooms; a full service business center; a fitness center and exclusive access to David Barton gym.