NEW YORK — The man who upended the hotel industry more than 25 years ago with the introduction of the boutique hotel is back with a new concept that he claims will shake up the hospitality world yet again.
Under the somewhat socialist and very posh slogan of “Luxury for all,” pioneering hotel magnate Ian Schrager opened the 370-room Public hotel this month on New York’s Lower East Side. This is Schrager’s version of 21st century luxury, starting at $150 a night. More importantly, he sees this as a business model that can fight Airbnb, the home-sharing company that is a major threat to hotels.
“The industry is in denial about what Airbnb represents to the hotel industry,” Schrager said while hosting a series of flashy dinners and parties to celebrate the hotel’s opening. “This is an effort to respond to that threat.”
He’s hoping to draw customers with low rates in a city known for its exorbitant lodging prices. In return, customers get a 190-square-foot room that Schrager describes as a minisuite. These spaces are minimalist studies in high design. Undulating walls curve sensually around the room. The bed looks as if it floats in a space-age light box in front of the window.
“Our approach was that we wanted it to feel like a cabin on a yacht,” he said. “Something very refined and sophisticated.”
Schrager knows refined and sophisticated quite well. He initially made his name as co-owner of the legendary nightclub Studio 54 with Steve Rubell. The pair redefined the club experience and provided a fantasy world where Andy Warhol took pictures of Liz Taylor and Liza Minnelli, and Truman Capote rubbed elbows with Mick Jagger.
When the club fell into decline after tax evasion charges, Schrager and Rubell (who died in 1989) began applying their glamorous touch to hotels, which, up until that point, they mostly viewed as sterile and dull. They coined the now-ubiquitous term “boutique hotel” when they started Morgans Hotel in 1984. Schrager then began refining the boutique experience with the Royalton in New York, which introduced the concept of the hotel lobby as a place to see-and-be-seen. That model has since become a fixture at most boutique hotels. More recently Schrager entered a partnership with Marriott to design the rapidly growing Edition chain of hotels.
The very youthful looking 70-year-old Schrager, who says he has no plans to retire, is using the lobby and common spaces in Public as another weapon in his fight against Airbnb. There is a market, luncheonette, restaurant, bars, and a performance center.
“It’s everything you need under one roof. It’s the one thing Airbnb can’t offer,” he said. “It can’t offer the social and community space.”
The arts center is Schrager’s first foray into nightlife since Studio 54, and he describes it as a flexible space that will host movie festivals and screenings, comedy, live music, and DJs. A rooftop bar with sweeping views also hosts DJs.
Although he carefully pointed out that the hotel is not aimed at a millennial market — remember, luxury for all — his approach to offering luxury at low prices sounds suspiciously millennial in nature. Housed in a newly built 28-story concrete building, its primary interior finishes are concrete and plywood, but all rendered in a manner that looks impossibly expensive for such inexpensive materials.
Another way that Schrager said he cut costs in the hotel was to do away with “things that people used to care about, but don’t care about anymore.”
“We wanted to change those old-fashioned notions of luxury,” he said. “We want to provide great service, but without the obsequious gold buttons and gold epaulets on uniforms. Or having to tip bellmen in the lobby, or the bellman that puts someone in a cab.”
The check-in process involves entering your information via a touch screen and creating your own room card. There’s no need to talk to a clerk at registration, unless you need help managing the machine. It’s a concept that’s already used in micro hotels such as citizenM.
Schrager will have no problem attracting guests to his buzzed-about hotel. The biggest challenge will be sticking to the $150 price tag. Rates for this week start at $285 a night. A price that doesn’t sound like luxury for all. But given Schrager’s track record, there is a high probability that other hotels will adopt the Public model, and with competition comes lower prices, hopefully making the hotel world a more luxurious place for all.