A destination restaurant from Jean-Georges Vongerichten. A happening rooftop bar with some of the best views downtown. Marquee-name design. A hidden garden with a magnolia tree, Japanese maples and rhododendrons. A progressive, avant-garde multimedia performance space that’s meant to reinvent nightlife. Bose wireless Bluetooth speakers in guest rooms and the fastest (free) wifi in the city.
These do not sound like things that you find when you’ve booked a (decent-size!) hotel room in New York City for $150.
But Ian Schrager is on a mission to change our minds about that. The godfather of the boutique hotel—a fairly major innovation—believes his concept for the Public Hotel may be the most important idea he contributes to the industry.
“It’s more than a game changer,” he says of the hotel, which opened on the Lower East Side in June. “Making luxury available to all is important new idea. Taking the pretension out of luxury is important new idea. Hopefully it’s something that will change the industry.
“I always liked the idea of making cool things, sophisticated things, available to everybody,” he continues, pausing to acknowledge that his first claim to fame was the velvet-roped Studio 54. “I like to do things that everybody understands and can participate in. Andy Warhol did it with art. Terence Conran did it with furniture. They made it available to all.”
Schrager took a step in that direction in the 1990s, when he opened a hotel in Times Square with the aim of offering good style—they called it “cheap chic” then—to everybody at lower price. He took another with the Hudson, but the Public is by far his biggest commitment to the idea of making a luxury hotel—one with inviting design, top craftsmanship and exciting dining and entertainment experiences—with non-luxury prices.
Arriving at the building, which was designed by Herzog & de Meuron, is certainly a luxurious experience. The gateway is a Tuileries- and Italian-inspired garden with a privacy fence covered in English ivy. Behind the revolving door are two mirrored, neon-lit escalators that quickly became a darling of Instagram. Maybe you’ll notice the absence of a bellman, but did you really want to tip someone for rolling your roll-aboard?
Behind the Donald Judd-inspired escalators is a lobby with a café, fast casual restaurant, communal tables, tiered seating with Hermès cushions, and a custom tournament-size billiards table in solid hand-rubbed bronze. The buzzing Jean-Georges restaurant is in the rear (louder than buzzing, actually). The upper lobby has a long cocktail bar, all sorts of big-name-designer furniture and an area with couches and communal tables that is set to become one of the most serene coworking spaces in the city, successfully drawing the locals that every hotel now talks about drawing. The materials, such as exotic Brazilian ziricote wood and imported linen, are quietly sumptuous. (I recently stayed as a guest of the hotel.)
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Clearly, no expense was spared in constructing the place. Running it is another matter. While the goal was to build a less-expensive hotel that isn’t stripped down, there are things that were removed. Like a front desk. Instead, a few “advisors”—young, comely and clad in studied-casual black—encourage guests to check in or out with an iPad. Someone shows you to your room only if you ask. (It doesn’t affect guest experience, but many jobs, such as housekeeping, are outsourced and filled only on demand.)
There’s no room service, but you can call downstairs to place an order and pick it up within five minutes, according to a spokesperson, though I didn’t test that speed promise. There are no butlers to call if you need ice or extra towels, but there’s an ice machine and linen closet near the hallway on each floor. (I did manage to get drinking glasses sent up—there were none in sight in my room, and the promised bottled water wasn’t anywhere obvious—when I called.) And there’s no turn-town service, but who really needs it?
Those are easy sacrifices to make, if they even qualify as sacrifices anymore. (Haven’t we all been wanting to lose the frippery?) And there’s little sacrifice in the 367 rooms themselves. They’re as efficiently and sumptuously designed as the shared spaces, and not that tiny by New York standards—plus, the views from floor-to ceiling windows make many of them feel spacious. Even the smallest is 205 square feet, enough to hold two adults and a reasonable amount of luggage, and more than three times as big as some of Manhattan’s “pod hotel” rooms. This is something Schrager is adamant about: “The Public is not a micro hotel or a pod hotel. This is going into the select-service space,” in which the true luxuries remain.
“It’s the same as we did in three- and four-star space with boutiques 25 years ago,” says the hotelier, who intends to open more Publics soon. “We brought panache into space that had been commodified.”