The hotel brands that changed the game, and the hotels with which they did it.
In the years since we launched Tablet the landscape’s changed a lot — from the early days when it was more or less Ian Schrager vs. the world, to the situation today, where a thousand independent hotels and dozens of strong, well-differentiated boutique chains cater to every conceivable type of traveler. Here’s a look at the hotel brands that changed the game, and the hotels with which they did it.
The name was always meant to be somewhat ironic; the Standard hotels have certainly lived up to their name, benchmark-wise, while simultaneously proving their properties anything but standard-issue. That’s André Balazs in the driver’s seat, a wizard of the risqué with a penchant for upending received wisdom to a chorus of gasps. From their upstart days in Los Angeles to their more recent expansions into Miami and the Big Apple, the Standard hotels combine a mid-century design influence with a present-day tastemaker’s eye and a flair, always, for the dramatic.
The budding American chains always had competition from south of the border. The brainchild of Moisés Micha and Carlos Couturier, the Habita group has built an impressive empire of flawlessly hip city hotels, modeled on the Mexico City flagship Hotel Habita. From there they’ve spread all over their native country, and lately they’ve been setting up shop in places like New York and Chicago as well.
Kit Kemp’s interior style is instantly recognizable, and the Firmdale hotels as a whole may have been the first independent boutique hotels to offer a product that’s genuinely every bit as luxurious as the biggest of the big chains. The London originals are still sentimental favorites, but we’re grateful to have Crosby Street and the Whitby right here in town so we can get our Firmdale fix without passing through Heathrow.
When we first heard of Austin’s Hotel San José, there was nothing like it in Texas. And when Liz Lambert followed it up with the magical Hotel Saint Cecilia, it was clear it was more than beginner’s luck. Since then the Bunkhouse group has expanded across the Lone Star State and even into Mexico, and they’re showing no signs of flagging. Keep ’em coming!
It’s almost hard to believe, now that the Ace juggernaut has grown powerful enough to set the agenda for all the world’s hip hoteliers, that it all began as one defiant little oddball of a hotel in Seattle. (Come to think of it, maybe that’s not so strange, if you remember your ’90s rock history.) It’s not just the impeccable taste in neighborhoods, or the always-on-point design — it’s the dedication to the idea of a hotel as the hub of a real-life social network.
Sean MacPherson’s Hotels
It’s an association so loose, it doesn’t even have a name, but we’d know that pastel button-down anywhere: Mr. MacPherson’s New York creations evade neat summation, much like the man himself, though somehow they keep you coming back night after night. The Maritime has long been a delightfully retro fixture on the West Side nightlife scene, and now, along with the Bowery, the Marlton, and the Ludlow, it’s the place to get in touch with the spirit of old New York.
21c Museum Hotels
“Bold” is an understatement when it comes to describing 21c’s choice of locations. When the original opened in Louisville, boutique hotels between the coasts were more or less unheard of, and Kentucky may as well have been Jupiter. But the success of their art-meets-hospitality model was smashing — and has since been replicated in several other seemingly unlikely cities.
Spare a thought for Alexander Vik, who, along with his wife Carrie, does the hard work of establishing impossibly luxurious small hotels in Uruguay and Chile so that you don’t have to do it yourself. Each one of them is architecturally distinguished and packed with a first-rate art collection, and the Chilean wine is looking promising indeed. The Viks have certainly raised the stakes in South America.
The manic energy of the 25hours group is hinted at in their name, and their design sense, too, is electrifying. They’re a cosmopolitan brand, looking outside of Germany for inspiration — which has contributed, ironically enough, to making the German-speaking countries rather more attractive for modern, design-hungry travelers.
Avi Brosh’s trio of L.A. hotels has us sitting up and paying close attention — not an easy task in such a big and bewildering travel market. These hotels are notable for the way they combine classic style, contemporary design, and budget-friendly prices, all without feeling like a second-best compromise. They’re not the biggest name in hospitality, but they’ve been quietly influential all the same.
After literally decades of designing some of the highest-profile boutique hotels in the business, Philippe Starck finally struck out on his own as a hotelier — with some help from the Trigano family, of Club Med fame. This is a hotel group that knows its audience, with everything perfectly measured for maximum youth appeal; that includes the design, of course, which is Starck at his most playful and down-to-earth.
Ron Burkle and Andrew Zobler helm this sophisticated brand in tandem, expertly situating their headline hotels in urban neighborhoods with the streetscapes and foot traffic to suit their high-design proclivities. They rope in cream-of-the-crop talent spanning interior design, fine dining, fine art, and retail, with particular skill in fashioning must-see bars and eateries that somehow manage to dispense with the velvet rope: desirable and accessible at the same time.