The disco king of the 1970s and Studio 54 founder, Ian Schrager, is no stranger to the right side of a velvet rope. But, with his latest ‘populist not elitist’ hotel Public New York, he’s done away with inner sanctums and quite a few traditional hotel trappings, to create a space that’s all killer, no filler. It’s goodbye to front desks, concierges and a lobby, hello shared workspace, underground arts venue, Jean-Georges Vongerichten-helmed restaurant, charcuterie and coffee joint and high-tech rooms. In tribute to Schrager’s innovative approach, we took a look at the hotel tropes we’re mad about – and kind of ‘meh’ about – and passed verdict on what we’d keep and what we’d chuck in the stays of the future…
This trusty hotel character is now the Public Advisor: a jack-of-all-trades, trained to deliver the highly personalised service modern travellers have come to expect.
Keep? A top-form concierge is the hotel’s oracle, an omniscient Golden Keys-award-winner with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the town’s hottest tickets and tables, all of which they can access as if by magic. Bewildered travellers flock to them with half-unfurled maps and unrealised desires; the concierge shows them the way.
Chuck? Self-determination has caused the dust to settle on the concierge’s desk. Savvy travellers, fuelled with niche suggestions from the social-media sphere, now arrive at hotels with fully realised itineraries. They may not know the sister-in-law of the third cousin of the owner of Berghain or have the star power to nab a last-minute table at Le Gavroche, but who cares… These digital nomads have already sought out the Next Big Thing.
Our verdict The concierge falls into the ‘comforting to know it’s there’ category, but – if we’re honest – we can’t remember the last time we dinged that bell. Sorry concierges, but we’re sending you packing.
THE HOTEL LOBBY
And Schrager did gaze upon the hotel lobby and found it lacking; so he proclaimed, ‘Let there be smoked meats, hip hangout spots and somewhere to write that screenplay while sipping kombucha,’ and it was so…
Keep? Aside from look-at-me lobbies where your gaze instantly snaps upward to admire the lavishness of it all (like the sleek caverns of The Siam, The Puli Hotel & Spa and Aman Tokyo), or those filled with instant Insta-cool (The Thief, Villa La Coste), our feelings towards the humbler entranceways are fairly ambivalent.
Chuck? Our sole concern: where do we wait for people if there’s no lobby? Outside their room? In the corridor? Might get weird.
Our verdict We like the more communal feel fostered here by converting a formerly empty space into a fun-focused shared one. Schrager, take them away: we won’t lobby against you.
THE FRONT DESK
At Public, this welcoming staple has been nixed for a sort of Mac genius bar with pseudo voting-booths where guests make their own key-cards (yes, really). Technology failed one of Smith’s own who attempted this, but a saviour of a Public Advisor swooped in to help – so they didn’t have to corridor camp in shame.
Keep? The big grins and pristine uniforms of hotel staff behind the front desk signal the beginning of your holiday. This slab of marble, wood or stone is a mast in an unstable world, where you go when you lose your key, need to order a cab or accidentally smash a very expensive looking lamp in your room and require consolation and forgiveness. We still get a thrill when keys are slid over to us.
Chuck? The future of hotel orientation is low-key staff roaming around glossy halls like free-range interns on the deck of the USS Enterprise, who manifest as you bimble about with an iDoodad. Admittedly, the thought of making our own key-card scuffs a little of the sheen off a luxury break, but we relish the idea of completing check-in on our phones before arrival.
Our verdict Like the non-existent item in the supermarket’s self-service bagging area, which the computer insists is there, we don’t quite buy this making our own room-key malarkey. Vive la front desk, until a more-spoiling streamlined solution emerges.
The demise of room service has been mooted for a while; Schrager has rung a keening death knell by installing a democratic dining shelf on each floor, where food from Louis – the healthful and hip organic café downstairs – materialises shortly after an order’s placed on an in-room iPad.
Keep? We’d miss the full-on decadence of in-room dining: eating choice dishes from a tray laden with linen napkins, heavy cutlery and cloches, while enveloped in a soft towelling robe, posteriors cushioned by sheets of the highest thread count and a soft bosom of a bed. Darting from your room to grab a paper-bagged meal, like a frightened woodland creature, denies you a little louche glamour.
Chuck? Tray charges and nether-tickling crumbs are a concern. Plus the chance of the bellhop knocking on the door at an inconvenient moment is significantly diminished. So, maybe we’re converts of the grab-and-go concept after all…
Our verdict For modesty’s sake, we’ll welcome a few small changes…
THE PILLOW MINT
Admittedly this humble hotel staple was never part of Schrager’s plan; he’s lured in guests with far juicier tidbits: rooms with custom-designed lighting, speedy WiFi and Bluetooth speakers; comedy and open-mic nights in the arts club downstairs; a ‘floating’ rooftop bar and guaranteed cool crowd. We feel it’s up for debate anyway.
Keep? Short of waking up with your face covered in chocolate and regret, there’s really no downside here: the mint on the pillow is what the proverbial cherry is to the sundae.
Chuck? On opening our door at Story Hotel in Stockholm, we found – in lieu of a chocolate – a print of a man with a black eye reposed on our pillow; it was a surprise more baffling than delightful, but memorable nonetheless – we welcome in this brave new age of edgy extras.
Our verdict A revival with a redux – Schrager, we dare you…
Next, hop across to this year’s award winners to uncover more boundary-busting hotels.