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January 4, 2012

Public Chicago

Ian Schrager, the man who first pioneered the boutique concept three decades ago with Morgans Hotel, is back with a new brand.

PUBLIC Chicago, which opened in October in Chicago’s fabled Ambassador East, is in keeping with the Ian Schrager standard of yore: grand, draw-dropping public areas where lobby, bar and restaurant bleed into one another, coupled with a spare, minimalist approach to guestrooms.

This time, though, Schrager has cleared the clutter in a whole new way: out goes bedside lamps, alarm clocks and other unnecessaries. Instead, there are custom-designed John Pawson beds, 300 thread-count Frette linens and 42-inch flatscreen TVs.

These days Schrager claims to be “anti-design” but based on a recent stay, it was difficult not to wowed by the high-end comforts, each one of them, I’m sure, meticulously thought out as a design statement: exquisite porcelain cups for the toothbrushes; snow-white Mongolian lambswool throws; a waggish series of cow photo portraits — with each bovine sporting a Gucci or Chanel hat.

The truth is Schrager understands hospitality’s fine tradition of seduction — and nowhere is this more apparent than in the Pump Room, the Jean-Georges Vongerichten recreation of the hotel’s legendary 1926 restaurant. For years, this place was the capital of cool in Chicago and a major stage for the belle monde — from Marilyn Monroe to Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman to Dustin Hoffman, and Charlie Chaplin to Richard Pryor. Both John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were guests, while Sinatra used to have his own booth (which still remains intact).

To say the Pump Room’s new incarnation is buzzing is an understatement. At one point during my stay — around one in the morning on a Saturday night — it felt like the whole of Chicago had come in from the cold to party there. (That’s another thing about PUBLIC — unlike some of Schrager’s previous properties, this one is all about inclusiveness.)

But beyond the Pump Room’s indulgences (did I mention its lighting from 500 hand-blown orbs custom-made in Milan, or the bar’s double-vaulted gold-leafed ceiling?), the hotel pulls off its most exquisite trick of all: it’s affordable.

PUBLIC’s guiding ethos is “cheap chic,” with rooms starting at $135, and an “Express” room-service menu of Vongerichten’s gourmet meals at non-luxury prices and with no room service charges.

Also central to the Express concept is speed and simplicity: When I ordered my organic egg breakfast sandwich with jalapeno-jack cheese, spinach and bacon, I was told it would arrive in eight minutes. The $11-delivery — which included Harney & Sons tea, fresh orange juice and fruit — arrived in exactly eight minutes.

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read more: 02. Sleep | boutique | historic | 05. Eat | 06. Drink

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