There is something about cows that makes you wanna smile… but what is a cow doing in a luxury hotel? Well, this chic young lady, all dressed up in her Sunday-best hat and all, is doing what both Latoya Jackson and Rihanna have, separately, done lately. They have headed for PUBLIC in Chicago. Yes, admits the gal, there might be a problem asking a cab driver to take you there, but if you say Ambassador East absolutely no problem. Everyone knows that iconic hotel of Chicago’s Gold Coast area, and soon everyone will know its new name, PUBLIC. This is yet another Ian Schrager concept, and this is that guy, still of Studio-54 reputation, grown up.
Ian Schrager used to work with Philippe Starck on design but since IS has matured, he does not seem to need PS. What is now a 285-room hotel is absolutely right for today’s world. Take each of those bedrooms. There is a cow on the wall, looking at you as you sit at the simple desk-ledge jutting out, at right angles, from a long bank of pale-wood shelves and drawers. Champagne is probably the right colour, for walls and carpet. On the low-platform all-white bed is a single mushroom-coloured throw, kind of Fortuny crinkled fabric. Every room, cleverly, has a clock set right into one wall – such a practical and good-design idea.
The lobby downstairs is basically the tall-arched neo-classical concept of 1926, when the hotel first opened, but now as much as possible is simply white. Ceiling-high columns are encased in rough wood planks and, on these, are hung lifesize photo-art portraits. Oh wow, here is one Lovely, her hair in curlers, but they are empty cans of tonic water or another soda.
Here is another Lovely, this time her hair swept up in a turban – of bubblewrap. Another wears a black turban of plastic sheeting. They all hang near the real-look log fire, the centerpiece of the lobby. No, that is not the only centerpiece.
Another magnet is the 24-hour bar, in front of a multi-coloured stained glass window. Tea or coffee whenever, for free, but pay for alcohol. Spend hours playing chess or table-racing (little horses go round in circles, at alarming speed). Spend yet more hours working one of the many free Macs, or merely watching something or other in the adjacent screening room, where all seating is big L-shaped loungers, pale champagne again, that you can configure as you want. Perhaps a guy in striped waistcoat (vest), white shirt and tie, and tightest blue jeans, will help. Treat him nicely as he is staff, believe it or not.
PUBLIC, according to Ian Schrager, is open to anyone, everyone. PUBLIC is the opposite of exclusive. The hotel could possibly be called not only PUBLIC but The Pump Room, with hotel attached. The Pump Room is as it has ever been, since the 1940s when regular guests included Judy Garland (her daughter Liza Minnelli is on the left), Marilyn Monroe, and Frank Sinatra. Photos of past habitués line the walls of the restaurant’s foyer, ceiling-high. Talking of ceilings, the restaurant itself is simple wood, floor and tables, but hanging from the ceiling are hundreds of illuminated electric bubbles, to give a champagne effect.
The locals, who have been coming for ever, come in regularly (the Gold Coast area is high-income residential). Others are drawn by the fact that Jean Georges Vongerichten runs the restaurant, and the hotel’s unique ten-minute room service, called PUBLIC EXPRESS. Who knows, indeed, which celeb may be sitting at the next table?