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Public Hotel Chicago

Low-cost luxury in a renovated Chicago landmark

by Josh Rubin in Travel on 09 December 2011

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Fed up with the overpriced minibars and underacheiving service standards that plague the American hotel industry, Studio 54 co-founder Ian Schrager recently unrolled Public, an affordable luxury hotel in downtown Chicago. Schrager reclaimed the walls of the Ambassador East Hotel and its classic restaurant Pump Room, imbuing a shock of new life into the historic structure. With value and simplicity as the stated ethos, Public marries upscale luxury travel with almost unbelievably affordable prices.

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I was a guest of the Public on a recent trip to Chicago and was immediately impressed by the hotel's pared-down look and flawless service. With austere lighting and dark interiors, the new appearance is a departure from the glitz and glam of the Pump Room of bygone days, which hosted celebrities of all walks from the Queen of England to Richard Pryor. For the restaurant, Schrager kept the name, ditched the dress code and over-priced entrees, and brought in chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten to head up the kitchen. Needless to say, the food is delicious.

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The Public's 285 rooms are individually furnished with an uber-clean, but still slightly eclectic aesthetic to appeal to people of varying tastes. The new direction for Schrager signals a change in demand from travelers, who are willing to trade terry-cloth complimentary robes for a more economical experience. The Public defines its own brand of luxury in the simplicity, efficiency and convenience that the hotel offers. The Public Express—a short menu of healthy meals crafted by Jean-Georges—was a high-speed version of room service that I enjoyed almost immediately upon arrival.

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In addition to great suites and common spaces, the hotel also has a few more add-on amenities to boast about. The meeting spaces are ideal for creative workshops, a real boon considering Chicago's centralized location that makes it a perfect meeting point for businesses. The downstairs library and coffee bar offers international java drinks, so you can have your pick of café con leche, caffé latte or café au lait depending on your European lean. The fitness room is located on the upper floors and features an amazing view of the Chicago skyline, something greatly appreciated by health-conscious frequent flyers tired of exercising in dismal hotel basements.

Public is open for reservations with rates starting at $135. The company has confirmed that their next location will be opening in NYC in 2012.

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