Schrager launches Public brand, to debut at Chicago’s Ambassador East

CHICAGO Ian Schrager has finally gone Public with his plans for revitalizing Chicago’s iconic Ambassador East Hotel.

Schrager intends to make the 285-key Ambassador East the flagship and debut of a new hotel brand called Public, which he describes as “accessible luxury” with an emphasis on service. The Public concept borrows from the luxury, boutique and limited-service segments to create a brand that is simultaneously aspirational and affordable. The new brand will debut this fall.

Calling himself in a press release “anti-design,” “anti-flash,” “suspicious of the ‘wow factor’” and “completely sick of slick,” Schrager wants Public to appeal to both upscale bargain hunters and traditional budget consumers looking to trade up. “This is a huge opportunity to create a new genre of hotel that is not pigeonholed into a specific and traditional business classification,” Schrager says.

In today’s press release, which is purportedly written by Schrager himself, he says that Public “may well represent the revitalization of the hotel concept itself and another worldwide wakeup call for the entire industry.”

The man often called “the father of boutique hotels” says the rapid worldwide expansion of boutiques has trivialized the concept. The Public brand seeks to reconnect with the boutique movement’s roots while making it accessible to a new class of consumers. “The idea behind the boutique, as I saw it, was meant to touch people emotionally and viscerally and offer guests a truly unique experience,” Schrager says. “The idea has been lost with the huge number of watered-down versions. I want to bring it back in an updated version and elevate it to a cultural experience for the modern day traveler. These travelers now expect truly unique experiences, and not merely a place to sleep.  Public will punctuate this with great value and service as well.

“My hotels were never about design. They were about an attitude, an approach and an experience. It’s something the industry never understood,” he says.

Service excellent, not superfluous

Excellent service will be a cornerstone of the Public experience, but the brand will not deal with “superfluous” services. For Schrager, this marks a new approach devoid of excess and a rejection of old-fashioned definitions of luxury. “Luxury is no longer about spending the most money; it is about getting the best value and being made to feel special,” Schrager says. “This is not in response to difficult economic times; it is a true paradigm shift.” 

Public’s design team is being headed by Schrager’s longtime partner, Anda Andrei. The brand’s design will be restrained, refined and classically cool, devoid of pretense and hipness. “It’s a new simplicity. A ‘new chic.’ A ‘sincere chic.’ Tasteful and understated without attitude where quality and comfort are paramount. It is a really personal, authentic, confident style, and authenticity can’t be faked. Genuine, understated good taste is a universal language, yet hard to find,” Schrager says. “There is no pretense here, just effortless, timeless, purist design providing a relaxed vibe and familiar atmosphere that feels like home. We are trying not to be hip—we are, in fact, anti-hip— and therefore, by definition, we are.”

Plans for Public Chicago include Chef Vongerichten

Guestroom at Public Chicago
Guestroom at Public Chicago

For Ambassador East Chicago—henceforth known as Public Chicago—Schrager has maintained the existing structure and architectural details and infused the interior with modern aspects to evoke a warm, personal style. The interior design features a smart mix of modern pieces in unexpected combinations.

Public Chicago’s Living Room and Library will be nicknamed “chat rooms,” juxtaposing comfortable, intimate seating areas with communal work tables and computer stations. Reminiscent of 1950s coffeehouses, The Library will house a coffee bar during the day, and by night transforms into a sexy lounge and bar offering plated exotic food by Chef Jean-George Vongerichten. Off of The Library is a candlelit Backroom that doubles as a screening room and hosts comfortable lounges and intimate seating for enjoying private screenings, video installations, poetry readings, original performances, relaxing and entertaining.

The hotel’s famed Pump Room is undergoing a complete renovation and will be helmed by Vongerichten. The restaurant will offer reasonably priced, delicious favorites in a relaxed, comfortable environment. Vongerichten will support local purveyors, regional flavors and offer a “farm to table” experience, as well as a daily special chef’s tasting menu of the most unique creations.  At night, the restaurant’s bar will be transformed into a supper club recapturing the glamour of the 1930s and ’40s with a modern twist.  Offerings will include light tapas style food including Asian specialties, exotic cocktails and great music.