If anyone can reinvent a hotel brand, or the hospitality industry as a whole, time and time again, we're placing our money on Ian Schrager.
The man largely viewed as a pioneer of the boutique hotels movement in the U.S., and who became famous as the owner of the iconic Studio 54 nightclub before that, is a media magnet.
And the opening of Public Chicago signaled another significant chapter in his career as a boutique hotelier.
That property, located on Chicago’s Gold Coast, was a $60 million reinvention of the beloved Ambassador East and it was to embody Schrager’s vision of what “affordable luxury” could be. It was Schrager’s first new project as an independent hotelier since 2005, when he sold Morgans Hotel Group and began his own eponymous company.
Fast forward six years, however, and the Public Chicago is still there, but it’s no longer affiliated with Schrager, although it still bears the brand name. Schrager sold the property in 2016 for the same amount of money he spent to renovate it to Hong Kong-based Gaw Capital Partners.
Schrager, however, hasn’t given up on the Public brand and on June 7, his next reiteration of the brand is scheduled to open in New York City’s Lower East Side.
A call to the Public Chicago’s sales office on May 11 confirmed that hotel is still known and marketed as the Public Chicago. Alex Cuccia, sales director, told Skift, “Nothing is confirmed at this time,” regarding a name change for the property. “We have no affiliation with Public New York.”
A representative for Ian Schrager, however, said Wednesday that a name change for the Chicago property was “imminent.”
The Evolution of the PUBLIC Brand
Regardless of whether the Public Chicago changes its name, it’s clear that with the new Public New York, Schrager is evolving his original vision for the brand.
Speaking to the The New York Times in September 2011 when he opened Public Chicago, Schrager called it “a paradigm shift” and said he intended for it to be the first of a new chain of boutique hotels. Schrager and his partners purchased the Chrystie Street property, the home of the new Public New York, in 2012 for $50 million.
“The idea is to have a less expensive hotel where you still have great service, great design, and an exciting food and beverage concept,” Schrager told the Times. “Because I think the country’s more complicated now. It’s not going to be so much about upward mobility in the future.”
Interestingly, while Public was designed to emphasize value and luxury for all, Schrager’s earlier work with Marriott, under the Edition brand, is decidedly much more luxurious and upscale.
Public’s original concept of providing value will continue in New York, where the entry-price for rooms starts at $150 per night and the motto remains, “luxury for all.”
“Public is the people’s hotel,” Schrager said in a press statement. “It’s about inclusivity, not exclusivity. And all of the different elements that we are bringing together in one place: great service, great style, great fun, at a great price, in totality create tremendous value.”
Building on that, the hotel will have Public Advisors providing personalized services for guests, and the lobby is being designed as a “community space encouraging work and social activities.”
Additionally, there will be Public Arts, which is described as a “modular, multimedia venue that can serve as a nightclub, art gallery, cultural center, performance space, screening room or intimate concert venue,” as well as a nightclub and terrace and an outdoor garden.
“… The technology, you’d think it adds contact and community, and it does in a certain way, but it isolates you from the actual face-to-face human contact,” he said. “So I think people are seeking that in their work, and seeking that with the way they live, and that’s why I think that happens. It just doesn’t happen for no reason. And that’s what I think, for me. I mean I’m not data-driven, I’m intuitively driven, and that’s what I think.”
“The Public hotel [in New York City] we’re working on right now, that we’re opening in May/June, is a luxury hotel that just happens to be very reasonably priced,” he said. “That is a major social/cultural implication. I think this one-, two-, three-, four-, five-star system is an antiquated system. I think that’s what interests me — disruption. Disruption — not having a thousand hotels, not executing grades — but disrupting, and doing something that stands out.”
For food and beverage, the hotel will offer a main restraurant, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Public Kitchen, and a grab-and-go concept, Louis, both emphasizing healthy and organic fare. The hotel will also be home to three bars.
Pritzker Prize award-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron were responsible for the hotel’s design, and the hotel’s opening date is set for June 7.
“I am always looking for a new and better way of doing things … to upset the status quo and shake things up,” Schrager said.
No doubt the hospitality industry, which Schrager lamented as becoming a “me too industry,” will be playing close attention to the hotel’s opening to see how just how far Schrager has evolved his vision for Public.
What Does the Future of Lodging Look Like?
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Photo credit: A rendering of the entrance to Ian Schrager's soon-to-open Public New York hotel, which will have rooms starting at $150 per night. Ian Schrager Hotel Co.