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FOR MANY YEARS YOU'VE BEEN CREDITED WITH CREATING THE BOUTIQUE / LIFESTYLE HOTEL INDUSTRY. COULD YOU HAVE EVER IMAGINED WHEN YOU OPENED MORGANS THAT IT WOULD REVOLUTIONIZE THE LODGING BUSINESS?
When Steve Rubell and I opened Morgans in 1984, we were simply trying to do a hotel that we liked, to fill a void, to fulfill our wishes, not those of our parents, one that was about my generation and reflected my social values and culture. It was a very personal statement. We didn’t even know what we didn’t know. We had no idea what it would be, what impact it would have or whether it would even be successful. We were just trying to rethink things because there hadn't been a new idea in the hotel industry since Statler invented the modern American hotel in the early 20th century. It is, however, very rewarding at this point to realize that there are thousands of versions of what Steve and I started in virtually every major city of the world.
WHAT'S THE BIGGEST CHANGE YOU'VE SEEN IN THE INDUSTRY IN THE PAST COUPLE OF DECADES?
I've seen the rest of the industry finally understand the need to elevate the importance of the experience that a hotel gives, an emphasis on the way it makes you feel rather than the way it looks or the efficiencies of execution, the reservation system, location, and prices. It seems to be that everybody finally realizes that the only thing that matters is the product. I think this is good for the industry because the public benefits.
YOU'VE ALSO BEEN CREDITED WITH MANY ITERATIONS OF THE LIFESTYLE HOTEL: URBAN RESORT, CHEAP CHIC, LUXURY LIFESTYLE, WHAT DO YOU THINK COMES NEXT?
I think that simplicity and value will be the new watchwords for the industry. I created a Frankenstein monster with design-on-steroids by people who didn’t really love it or understand it. They just did it because they thought it would make them more money and they tried to replicate the success of others. All people truly want is to stay in a really great place that has great style, great service, a unique experience, is accessible to all, and provides great value. The point being, you don’t sacrifice anything to stay in a hotel that also offers a great price.
IN MY OPINION THERE WAS A PERIOD OF DREADFUL ATTEMPTS TO COPY YOUR FORMULA, BUT THINK FINALLY THERE ARE SOME VERY INTERESTING THINGS HAPPENING IN THE LIFESTYLE SPACE. IS THERE A COMPANY OR INDIVIDUAL WHOSE WORK IN THE INDUSTRY YOU ADMIRE OR RESPECT?
Since 1984, there’s now finally a bunch of people who are doing good things in the industry. Unfortunately, there are too many to mention and I'm afraid that I might offend someone if I miss them. I am, however, still waiting for somebody to come along with their own new idea rather than a good execution of the same lifestyle idea.
THE 'VELVET ROPE', THE LOBBY AS A SOCIAL SPACE FOR GUESTS AND LOCALS ALIKE, THE BROWN PAPER BAG EXPRESS BREAKFAST, ALL PRETTY INNOVATIVE IDEAS. WHERE AND HOW DO YOU GET YOUR BEST IDEAS?
All of my ideas come from the street and popular culture. There are signposts out there. There is a collective consciousness. People do move in unison. It's just a question of seeing it before other people do, and interpreting it.
DO YOU REMEMBER THE MOST OUTLANDISH OR OVER-THE-TOP REQUEST TO HAVE COME FROM A GUEST?
Somebody wanted to get married in a suit of armor once.
YOU'RE ORIGINALLY FROM BROOKLYN. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE CULTURAL BOOM HAPPENING THERE, AS IT'S NOW CLEARLY THE CENTRAL HUB FOR NIGHTLIFE, AND WITH GREAT HOTELS OPENED AND PLANNED?
I think it's great that things are really happening in Brooklyn right now. It doesn't surprise me because new ideas and innovations and a willingness to take a chance usually come from young people. And young people usually look for less expensive places to live with great value. It's happened before in Greenwich Village, SoHo, Tribeca, South Beach in Miami, SoMa in San Francisco, Shoreditch in London, the Marais in Paris, and I'm happy to say it's now happening in Brooklyn.
YOU'VE INSPIRED A NEW GENERATION. AS YOU KNOW IT'S MY DESIRE TO CREATE A LIFESTYLE HOTEL/BRAND. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO BUDDING HOTELIERS?
Don't be afraid of failure. Don't be afraid to try something new. Follow your heart, be relentless in pursuit of your dream, and in the pursuit of excellence.
DO YOU HAVE A HOTEL/TRAVEL ANECDOTE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE?
I got into the hotel business by complete happenstance. I sold Studio 54 and took back some promissory notes. When the person couldn't pay the promissory notes, I traded him those notes for interest in the hotel. I was suddenly in the hotel business.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE HOTEL IN THE WORLD?
Of course, PUBLIC Chicago.