For those who know their way around the better lobbies of the world, there is an immediate tell when entering an Ian Schrager property: a timbre of studied hubbub, the orientation of expertly feng shui-ed chairs, the hip restaurant to the left, the hipster lounge to the right. There’s even a specific scent. These are all indicators of Mr. Schrager’s obsessive and deeply studied tics. The man—who co-founded Studio 54 in 1977, invented the boutique hotel in 1984, and, last October, opened the Public Chicago hotel in the city’s Gold Coast neighbourhood—is the Henry Ford of luxury.
Although boutique hotels can be easily reproduced, there seems to be little that’s automatic about the Public Chicago. Built up in the skeleton of the Ambassador East Hotel, the Public foregoes the rococo carpeting and dark tones of the Royalton or the Gramercy Park Hotel; instead, the lobby is lily white and spartan. That scent—leathery Santal 26, crafted by Le Labo—is released via electronic diffusers. The 285 rooms are similarly airy and about as austere as Schrager gets: cream carpets; white walls; blond wood; and small photographs of Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and cows in top hats. Schrager calls this new aesthetic “sincere chic.”
Schrager, however, would not be Schrager if there weren’t some achingly current restaurant in the lobby where guests can dine side by side with the native city’s demimonde. Here, this archetype is filled with the Pump Room, formerly a hangout for Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, and David Bowie. Now, the kitchen has been taken over by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and the room is dominated by softly glowing orbs and the self-satisfaction of diners at getting a seat.