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New York icon Ian Schrager has seen the high-end hotel future: We’re carrying our own bags


When New York City is at its bleakest, that’s when Ian Schrager tends to shine.

There was 1977, the Summer of Sam. A serial killer prowled the boroughs. Times Square was a cesspool. Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” might as well have been a documentary film. After dark, people were terrified to go outside. That’s the year Schrager and partner Steve Rubell decided to open a nightclub on Manhattan’s forlorn West Side.

“The West Side was like no-man’s-land, like bombed-out London in the ’40 and ’50s,” Schrager recalled. “Just an unseemly, dangerous place where nobody wanted to go. One of the reasons we went there was because there wouldn’t be any problem with the neighbors.”

Studio 54, they called their club, and New York nightlife would never be the same.

“When times are bad, people always seek out an escape — always,” Schrager said, the Brooklyn in his voice only partly sandpapered away by decades of Vanity Fair adulation and gossip-worthy friends. “I opened my first hotel under Ronald Reagan when interest rates were 21, 22%. So, I learned very quickly what Tiger Woods said about golf, that winning takes care of everything. The vagaries of the economy just don’t matter when you go to market with a good product.”

With his first flurry of New York hotels — Morgans, the Royalton and the Paramount — Schrager invented the modern boutique hotel. With the Delano in Miami and the Mondrian in West Hollywood, he defined urban resort. After selling his expanded Morgans Hotel Group in 2005, he turned his attention to high-end residential buildings including Manhattan’s 40 Bond and 50 Gramercy Park North, then began rethinking hotels all over again.

Just in time for New York’s latest slap upside the head.

Battered by COVID-19 and squeezed by empty offices, missing tourists and rising crime, even some lifelong New Yorkers have started sputtering: “New York is over! Who needs it anymore?”

“Ridiculous!” Schrager scoffs. “New York is forever. And I don’t believe in paradigm shifts. We haven’t had one of those since Noah and the Great Flood. We always go back to living the way we lived before. Always. I don’t have any data. I can’t tell you when. But I felt that way in March of last year, despite what all the experts and pundits were saying. No. We will absorb this shot. We will move on. Even 2008, when we almost went into a financial meltdown, a few years later, what happens? Everybody goes back to what they were doing.”

It’s all just a matter of riding the wave.

Schrager’s current wave is something called the PUBLIC hotel, which he describes as a new approach to luxury hospitality, a luxury almost anyone can afford, at least every once in a while.

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The 367-room PUBLIC Hotel New York, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron with minimalist interiors by British designer John Pawson, is a contemporary 28-story building at 215 Chrystie St. on the Lower East Side near the Bowery, another New York district not always known as a tony destination. As at most hotels, the rates bounce around a bit depending on occupancy. But they’re hovering in the $200s, not the $500s and $600s that some high-end New York hostelries demand.

“You know luxury is not only for rich people,” Schrager said. “Luxury is a state of being, a state of mind. It’s about feeling comfortable and having the freedom of time and being treated very kindly and in a very friendly way, rather than being inundated with all these telltale things from the past. White gloves. Gold buttons. Bone china. Who needs all those luxuries from Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries? That doesn’t cut it anymore.”

Today, Schrager said, hotel guests want to check in quickly and get up to their rooms. They want the cappuccino now and don’t care if it’s served in a china cup and saucer. They want fast Wi-Fi. They’re happy to carry — or more likely roll — their own suitcases to the room. “Suitcases have wheels now,” Schrager said. “Why do you need one person to unpack your car for you and someone else to bring your luggage to the room, when you’ll have to tip both of them $5? We’d rather focus on the service that matters.”

One of Ian Schrager’s latest projects, the 367-room PUBLIC Hotel New York.


Nikolas Koenig

Now that the post-pandemic visitors are finally returning to New York — vacation and business travelers — his hotel is buzzing again, Schrager said. “I do think the pandemic has made people think about what’s important to them. There is a more spiritual understanding of what matters.”

Schrager is also in business with Marriott International
MAR,
-2.52%
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having partnered with the company on its new luxury-lifestyle line of EDITION Hotels. “We’re doing about 40 of them around the world,” he said. “I don’t build them. I don’t purchase them. I just create them.” 

Also see: Inflation data says hotel prices are skyrocketing, but you can still find deals

But the PUBLIC is his. “I think this is the future of the industry, to be able to provide a really sophisticated product with exciting food and beverage and entertainment options and great service that’s available to anybody. People aren’t stupid. They know the real thing when they see it.”

The plan, he says, is to “do 10 of them over the next five years and then sell to someone who can do a hundred.”

Then, Ian Schrager can go create something else.

Ellis Henican is an author based in New York City and a former newspaper columnist.



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Reviews

‘The World in a Selfie’ Review: The Trouble With Tourism


Two years ago, Rebecca Mead of the New Yorker published a long article, “The Airbnb Invasion of Barcelona,” that addressed some of the challenges of unfettered tourism. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Barcelona, year over year, found itself steadily drowning in foreign visitors. Short-term rentals on Airbnb, often illegally operated, filled the city’s apartment buildings and depressed the local housing supply. Barcelona’s main tourist draws, including Park Güell and the Sagrada Familia Church, were thronged by enormous quantities of visitors.

In the summer of 2014, spurred by the drunken antics of holiday-makers, protesters took to the streets to bring attention to “the pestilence of young visitors who came to Barcelona not to sample the local culture but to enact internationally recognized tropes of partying.” Three years later, 60% of Barcelona residents claimed in a survey that the city had reached or exceeded its capacity to host tourists.

Hating tourists is nothing new, as the Italian journalist Marco D’Eramo notes in “The World in a Selfie,” translated into English by Bethan Bowett-Jones and David Broder. Mr. D’Eramo quotes a British magazine article from 1848 lamenting that, for all their merits, the advent of the railroad and the steamboat had “afflicted our generation with one desperate evil; they have covered Europe with Tourists.” Adam Smith, in his “Wealth of Nations” (1776), heaped mocking scorn on the vogue of young men gallivanting around the Continent on so-called Grand Tours.

“The World in a Selfie,” first published in 2017, has been updated in this English-language edition to account for the pandemic, which shut down international travel for a year. Mr. D’Eramo highlights tourism’s paramount role in the world economy, smartly observing that Covid “proved the centrality of tourism through tourism’s omission. Once this industry ceased, not only airlines and shipping companies but aircraft manufacturers and shipyards found themselves on the verge of bankruptcy.” The book, “an inquiry into the tourist age,” is somewhat disjointed, moving distractedly at times from topic to topic and losing the thread in the philosophical weeds. But in its more focused moments, “Selfie” makes for a bracing, provocative examination of an all-too-human pastime.

One recurring theme here is our futile search, through travel, for the “authentic.” Mr. D’Eramo saves his most biting commentary for UNESCO and its “World Heritage” listings, which he likens to a “kiss of death.” “Once the label is affixed,” he writes, “the city’s life is snuffed out; it is ready for taxidermy.” That’s hyperbole, no doubt, but his commentary on the unintended consequences of preservation is compelling.



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‘Nobody’ Review: New Blood for an Old Genre


If you happen to be a psychopathic Russian drug lord with a yen for extinguishing human lives, the takeaway from “Nobody” might well be to think twice before you antagonize a mild-mannered American suburbanite who has rediscovered his inner

John Wick.

That’s the matchup in this bloody mashup of ultraviolent tropes. The film stars

Bob Odenkirk,

of all the unlikely casting choices for action hero—he’s pretty darned good—and was directed by

Ilya Naishuller

(“Hardcore Henry”) from a script by

Derek Kolstad,

who happens to have created the John Wick franchise and written three installments thus far, all of them notable for their elegantly stylized violence. No one can accuse “Nobody” of elegance, apart from

Pawel Pogorzelski’s

cinematography. This is punishment as entertainment, a short and sour saga of a pacifist turned vengeful brute in order to win back his self-respect. (The film is playing in theaters.)

The good news here is Mr. Odenkirk’s performance, not to mention his endurance in strenuous action sequences that must have taken a real-life toll on his physique; he certainly doesn’t look computer-generated. The body and soul of “Better Call Saul” was already famously versatile. Still, who could have guessed that the next stop on his artist’s journey would have him playing Hutch Mansell, a killing-and-maiming machine with a Dirty Harry scowl-and-growl in a movie where almost everyone spits out teeth if they’re still able to spit?

Hutch’s escapades don’t begin right away. He may be a nobody in the grand scheme of things, but he’s a quietly charming family man with a lovely wife, Becca (

Connie Nielsen,

absurdly wasted on an off-the-shelf housewife role), and a couple of kids—earnest Blake (

Gage Munroe

) and adorable Abby (Paisley Cadorath). His first personality shift comes after a home invasion that recalls “Straw Dogs,” except that Hutch, unlike

Dustin Hoffman’s

David, does not manage to cover himself in gory glory. Yet his failure of courage—at least that’s what those around him think it is—energizes him to go forth and inflict vigilante justice on bad guys in order to feel good about himself.

RZA, Bob Odenkirk and Christopher Lloyd in ‘Nobody’



Photo:

Universal Pictures

You needn’t know much more than that to decide whether to spend 92 minutes of your time on Earth watching the film, and you shouldn’t know much more if you’re going to open yourself to its grindhouse charms. Suffice it to say that mayhem begets mayhem, Hutch unwittingly incurs the wrath of Yulian, a Russian drug lord played with popping

Klaus Kinski

eyes by

Aleksey Serebryakov,

and a new cycle of violence is provoked—not by thugs from a Russian crime syndicate invading a home and killing a cute puppy named Daisy, as in John Wick’s story, but by Russian thugs relieving poor Abby of her Kitty Cat bracelet.

“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good,” goes the song from the Animals on the soundtrack. Maybe so. We’re given reason to believe that Hutch’s behavior during the first round of home invasions is less a matter of cowardice than a fear of reverting to who he was during a shadowy paramilitary past. Participants in that history pop up in the person of his father, David (a zestfully funny performance by

Christopher Lloyd

), who is not the nursing-home dodderer he seems to be; and in the voice of his mysterious brother, Harry, who is only heard on a radio link until he finally appears as a brother-in-arms played by the hip-hop artist and actor

RZA.

And larger questions of identity are hinted at when Hutch, fully and lustily back in action, says to his wife, “Just like old times, huh?” and Becca responds, “I’m ready, Hutch.”

Bob Odenkirk in ‘Nobody’



Photo:

Universal Pictures

What is that all about? Who knows? The only thing certain is that, good intentions notwithstanding, Hutch is thrilled to be a wolf in wolf’s clothing once again. He and John Wick might both be hitmen, but the latter’s onscreen slaughters were always in the service of good, while Hutch’s appetite for inflicting—and sustaining—punishment is insatiable. As “Nobody” ground on, I thought not only of Wick, plus Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but of one of my favorite movies, “The Incredibles.” Hutch could be the dark side of

Bob Parr,

restless and robbed of purpose until he regains the superpower of rage, and makes the world uglier.

Write to Joe Morgenstern at [email protected]

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the March 26, 2021, print edition as ‘‘Nobody’: New Blood for an Old Genre.’



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‘The Amateur Hour’ Review: Hire Teachers for Higher Education


As the pandemic has forced most colleges and universities to adopt remote instruction, it’s worth remembering that more than 50 years ago some schools voluntarily experimented with remote instruction via televised classes. That did not go well either. Students did not feel the same connection to their instructors and that, in turn, made a difference in what was learned. “It’s better to have a poor instructor in the classroom,” said one unhappy professor in 1967, “than to have a good one on TV.”

The vignette comes from

Jonathan Zimmerman’s

“The Amateur Hour: A History of College Teaching in America.” Mr. Zimmerman, an education historian at the University of Pennsylvania, has braided together a smooth narrative from many short pieces of thread, consisting of glimpses into the experiences of faculty members, students and administrators from the early 19th century up through the 1990s, and encompassing two- and four-year institutions, large and small, elite and not. The book is economical in its presentation of materials, gathered from 60-plus archives, and even-handed in presenting the gripes of instructors and students.

The book’s clever title refers to the way that higher education, when hiring, evaluating and rewarding faculty, gives most attention to research productivity and little to teaching effectiveness. Partly this is due to the difficulty of measuring effectiveness in the classroom, but it is also due to the resistance of faculty members to having their teaching reviewed by peers—something that would, Mr. Zimmerman says, “make their teaching truly professional.”

“The Amateur Hour” begins with the recitation model of college teaching, which was near universal in the early 1800s. Students were asked to read an assigned passage and then, at class time, recite either a summary or, some professors might insist, the passage in its entirety. When lectures began to displace recitation, some college presidents worried aloud about the problem of keeping students actively engaged throughout the class session. The Yale Report of 1828 wondered whether the student attending a lecture “may repose upon his seat and yield a passive hearing . . . without ever calling into exercise the powers of his own mind.”



Photo:

WSJ

The Amateur Hour

By Jonathan Zimmerman

Johns Hopkins, 294 pages, $34.95

As more students enrolled in higher education, hiring did not keep pace. Class sizes grew, and students had less contact with professors. Previously, faculty members at small liberal-arts colleges knew every student on campus and could demonstrate personal concern for them. By the late 19th century, however, many American faculty members were trained in Germany and brought back with them a passion for research, as well as more interest in libraries and laboratories than in students. In 1887,

Julius Seelye,

the president of Amherst College, lamented the changes: “Education is a wholly personal work. It is not gained by books, or by instruction alone, nor by anything in place of the living inspiration of the living teacher.”

By 1900, the demotion of teaching in institutional priorities was so pronounced that the headline for an editorial in the Nation magazine declared, in uppercase letters, “THE DECLINE OF TEACHING.” Ten years later

David S. Jordan,

the president of Stanford University, conceded that “the young instructor has been urged to place as many printed pages as possible to his credit” and “encouraged to look with scorn on the ‘mere teacher’ who cares for the intellectual welfare of the students.”

Worse, the better an instructor was at teaching, the less standing he had in his discipline. An Ohio State dean wrote that same year that “there is a rather wide spread notion in American Universities that a man who is an attractive teacher must in some way or other be superficial or unscientific.”

The leitmotif that runs through Mr. Zimmerman’s narrative is that class sizes continued to grow and grow and grow: The economics proved too compelling even for liberal-arts colleges, the last bastions of small-batch instruction, to ignore. The largest classes have been at universities, of course, and since the early 20th century these institutions have been trying to counterbalance the worsening student-instructor ratio with honors seminars, independent study, small-group tutorials and other more personalized formats. But these programs also required assigning many more students to very large classes. “If the colleges are to ask society to support a more individualized type of instruction,” wrote

Homer L. Dodge,

a physicist and dean at the University of Oklahoma, in 1932, “college professors must be willing to learn the technique of handling large groups of students.”

Foundations funded many 20th-century initiatives to improve college teaching, but a lack of knowledge of what was needed for excellence stymied these efforts. “We perhaps can recognize it when we see it,” said one University of Minnesota professor, “but we cannot draw up a bill of particulars beforehand.”

New technology, at various junctures, has briefly promised a means of giving every student personalized instruction—and freeing the amateur instructor to pursue research in his discipline. Mr. Zimmerman brings to light the evangelism of psychologist

Fred S. Keller,

who in the early 1960s developed a template for self-paced college courses that he called the Personalized System of Instruction. But self-paced classes required considerable self-discipline of the students, and though PSIs enjoyed a vogue in hundreds of places in the early 1970s, course completion rates were dismal.

Mr. Zimmerman has been honored for his teaching and is an active participant in a teaching-improvement initiative at his home institution. But even he fumbles for words when trying to describe what makes a great college teacher. It requires a “distinctive rapport” with students, he says, but also “a kind of mystical presence that cannot always be defined but also cannot be denied.” Also worth noting for our Year of the Plague: He believes that the ineffable, energizing spark of education cannot be conveyed via computer connection, but only face-to-face.

Mr. Stross is the author, most recently, of “A Practical Education: Why Liberal Arts Majors Make Great Employees.”

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8



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