Widely credited as the founder of the boutique hotel (Morgans, Delano and Royalton are just a few), which he came up with in prison whilst doing time for tax evasion, Ian Schrager knows a thing or two about hospitality. Of course, before turning his hand to hotels, the industry veteran first reinvented nightlife with Studio 54 in the ’70s, where elitist hedonism happened behind a velvet rope. Schrager is essentially the man responsible for colour block feature walls, for hotel lobbies with DJs that double-up as cocktail bars, and for the 21st century designer hotel experience, with all the exclusive swishyness that it entails. But Ian Schrager’s latest big idea is accessibility, or, as some would say, populism. Schrager himself calls it “accessible luxury”, and this is what his latest hospitality venture, Public, is all about.
The ethos of Public is “luxury for all”, whereby forgoing superfluous touches (such as a traditional check-in, bell boys and room service) enables Schrager to still offer all of the facilities and high-end design that his properties are known for, but at an affordable price.
Six years ago, the first Public opened in Chicago, but since it was an existing building, Schrager was limited as to what he could do. He has since sold it. This time, the new-build New York property gave him a clean slate to further refine and develop the brand, resulting in a slick yet pared-back 367-room hotel (topped with 11 luxury residences), tucked away in New York’s emerging Lower East Side in downtown Manhattan.
Designed by long-time Schrager collaborator Herzog & de Meuron, the concrete exterior with expansive windows gives way to a palette of modest materials used in clever and refined ways. A dramatic entrance escalator surrounded by mirrors and made of polished steel creates an intensely theatrical feel. The bedrooms are all window and pale wood, with blinds that go full black-out at the touch of a fingertip. You can check in online and download your room key to your phone. While there are advisors around to help, there’s no one waiting to move your luggage.
When it comes to eating and drinking, Public is essentially a microcosm of the best that New York has to offer. The entrance walkway cuts through a small park. The ground floor is home to a retail store, as well as two new concepts from prolific chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten – Louis, a grab-and-go market, and Kitchen, boasting an open kitchen with three white marble tiled ovens and outdoor garden seating. There is a basement multimedia performance space plus four different onsite bars, the crowning jewel of which is the rooftop where it’s all about the views.
In a city where people use their lodgings as a base from which to explore, Public is one New York hotel that you may never want to leave.