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Ian Schrager Opens Public Hotels Concept in Chicago

Posted by Mark J. Miller on October 26, 2011 02:10 PM

New York hotelier Ian Schrager announced in May a new boutique hotel brand, Public, that would kick off in Chicago.

True to his word, the property opened this month, and has been drawing accolades from locals suspicious that he would ruin the Ambassador or its famed Pump Room restaurant, which has reopened under chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Public's website explains the brand concept as "Ian Schrager has taken the best from the luxury segment, boutique hotels and select service to create a new genre of hotel where everything has been rethought and every original idea updated. 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."

According to Blackbook, "The new chain has already closed on two properties in Manhattan and an old Crowne Plaza location in London (which will be the next Public hotel opening). They’re also looking at locations in Paris and Los Angeles, which Schrager calls important 'gateway cities' for the brand. The company is planning about $250 million in renovations and construction on 10-15 properties over the next five years."

After polling the good citizens of Chicago, along with potential guests, Schrager also (wisely) opted to keep the Pump Room name, and noted in a video (below) that the upgrade would honor its long tradition as one of the Windy City's power dining spots.

The hospitality innovator, with backing from Morgan Stanley, bought the former Ambassador East hotel for $25 million two years ago and spent $35 million to renovate it, according to the New York Times. With small rooms, Schrager’s design sensibility came in handy, including using a lot of white to open the guest rooms. 

“I’m able to take compromised conditions and, through good design, neutralize them,” he told the Times. He didn’t go overboard with the property's makeover, although he did revamp the hotel’s main restaurant, the Pump Room, a legendary Chicago hangout for many celebrities over the years, such as Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland.

“It’s not design on steroids,” said Schrager’s in-house architect of nearly 30 years, Anda Andrei, to the Times. “We wanted to keep a lot of the history there because the bones are so beautiful. It’s understated in a way but at the same time glamorous, because there is a certain glamour to clean, beautiful design.”

The main difference between this and other Schrager creations, though, is that the velvet rope seems to have fallen. He is seemingly reaching out to a larger consumer base. He partially does this through price (rooms will start at $135 a night), the Times notes.

“The idea is to have a less expensive hotel where you still have great service, great design and an exciting food and beverage concept,” he told the newspaper. “I think the country’s more complicated now. It’s not going to be so much about upward mobility in the future.”

In addition to Chicago's existing hotels, he'll also face competition from Richard Branson, who just snapped up the city's old Dearborn Bank building for a Virgin Hotel property.

Schrager is still in the process of resolving a deal with Marriott that was announced back in 2007 for the pair to create a boutique hotel chain called Edition. Only two of the places ever opened; one in Hawaii and one in Istanbul. Legal wrangling, of course, has ensued.

This time, like Sinatra, Schrager did things on his own — his own way.

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