Studio 54’s Ian Schrager relaunches Public Hotel with a new twist

By | June 16, 2021

It was a pisco party last night at the Lower East Side’s Public Hotel.

Following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that nearly all COVID-19 restrictions were being lifted,  mask-less revelers strutted up to the Public Hotel’s bar for the first time since it closed its doors in March 2020.

The opening party — attended by VIPs including Zoë Kravitz, Helena Christiansen and Julia Fox — packed out the hotel’s new ground-floor Peruvian fusion concept Popular, helmed by chef duo Diego Muñoz of Lima and John Fraser (who took over East End gem, North Fork Table & Inn, last year).

With an all-pisco menu of cocktails flowing, a Latin band and salsa dancing, the hotel’s owner, Studio 54 legend Ian Schrager, said the celebration was more of a rebirth than a reopening for his downtown hotspot.

“It feels good to be back in business [but] people’s ideas of luxury have changed,” Schrager — who was dining with his family on his new restaurant’s menu, which includes ceviche, papa a la huancaína and sticky prawns — told The Post. “[The relaunch of Public] is about a new concept of luxury that is egalitarian and democratized.”

The splashy relaunch featured VIPs, pisco cocktails and salsa dancing.
The splashy relaunch featured VIPs, pisco cocktails and salsa dancing.

Schrager recently announced the rebranding of the flashy see-and-be-seen, 28-story inn with the heady logo: “Luxury for All: A new ideal for a new age,” as The Post previously reported.

To that end, expertly thought-out cocktails at his new flagship restaurant start at just $ 14 — a relative discount from the increasingly normalized $ 20 hotel elbow bender. The ambitious, all small-plate menu items at Popular range from $ 10 to $ 32. Rates for the hotel’s 367 newly renovated start at $ 200 per night — compared to the city’s pre-pandemic average nightly room rate of $ 269.

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With so much hunger for the return of downtown nightlife, however, scoring a reservation may be a somewhat less-democratic process.

Malignant market forces also continue to affect the hospitality business citywide. New York lost some 225 hotels over the last year, according to Vijay Dandapani, president and CEO of the Hotel Association of New York City. Even with a handful of splashy reopenings, the hotel business is still holding its breath for the return of en mass tourism.

Chef John Fraser (left) and Chef Diego Muñoz (right) are behind the Public's new restaurant Popular.
Chef John Fraser (left) and Chef Diego Muñoz (right) are behind the Public’s new restaurant Popular.

Hoteliers, including Schrager, are also suffering from chronic staff shortages.

“New York won’t come back until people come back to work,” Schrager said. “It’s hard to find good employees who will stay. It’s the biggest obstacle to the hotel business right now.”

Despite those lingering challenges, Schrager, who also recently reopened the Times Square Edition, isn’t the only real estate player bullish on New York’s recovering hotel business.

Leviathan retail investor Joe Sitt made his first NYC hotel play this year, renovating and reopening the $ 66.3 million James Hotel in Soho as ModernHaus in May.

Hotel brands including Arlo, Ace, Margaretville and Pendry are also making their first investments or expanding their footprints in New York this year.

But Schrager said to compete in the new post-pandemic environment hotels will have to adapt.

“100 years ago, people flocked to the great hotels, like the Plaza,” he said. “It was where you ate, drank and held special family events. When the real estate industry got involved, they didn’t know how to operate, so that was all lost. We realized that a hotel’s bars and restaurants should be geared to the people of the city first and foremost.”

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