Room With a Cue
On a Thursday night in 1978, Liza Minnelli, Michael Jackson and Andy Warhol mingle around the sofas at Studio 54. The light columns lower from the ceiling to a packed dancefloor where people join in the ‘Ooh ooh’ theme from Michael Zager’s disco classic Let’s All Chant. On a Thursday night in 2014, in the Basement club of London’s Edition hotel, 80-plus light spots swirl around the room like a rolling red wave. The crowd raise their hands as the snare drums kick in on the track German Whip by London rapper Meridian Dan. Then the bass drops; then the place erupts.
The common denominator between these two scenes is Ian Schrager, the Brooklyn-born entrepreneur who created the fabled nightclub Studio 54 in New York and then relaunched himself as the inventor of the boutique hotel. Now he has partnered with Marriott to launch the London Edition, a 173-room luxury hotel where the onus is on creating a zeitgeist experience rather than stuffy glitz. As befits a Schrager project, the nightclub once again plays a pivotal role.
“I try to make as much distance between Studio 54 and myself as I possibly can,”
Schrager told The Wall Street Journal in 2012, “but I decided to put nightclubs in all of my new hotels, so it’s the next generation of Studio 54.” The London Edition is located on Berners Street in Fitzrovia, a few minutes’ walk north of Oxford Street, where an old Edwardian hotel has been refurbished with a modern design aesthetic. The lobby and adjacent Berners Tavern restaurant are grand rooms with clay-red marble columns, heavy drapes and intricate stucco ceilings your eyes can get lost in, but the splendour is offset by minimalist design touches and contemporary art.
In the lobby and in the oak-panelled guest rooms hang works by the artist Hendrik Kerstens. His quirky reinterpretations of Dutch classics (he turns the Girl with a Pearl Earring into a photograph of his daughter with a blue towel wrapped around her head) signal the same kind of playful duality you find in the hotel design. The Edition lobby is trademark Schrager, a hotel component he has a particular ability to transform from a dull service pitstop to a buzzing hub of interaction, aspiration and energy.
The music played here veers from classical to reggae, and the room features are reflected in German designer Ingo Maurer’s giant egg-shaped silver pendulum, which hangs over the bar, pool table and green velvet sofas.
A staircase in the lobby guides you down to the club, Basement, which is encapsulated by exposed bricks and glass panels. To balance a behemoth of a sound system with peaceful guest rooms, the 220-capacity club is hermetically sealed off from the rest of the building. Air surrounds the internal club structure and the floor is suspended to avoid any mechanical transmission.
The lightning system – created by Patrick Woodroffe, who was in charge of the London Olympics – can be seen from behind the glass panels, but it’s only when you open the final door that the stomach-punching impact of the bass hits you. Here there are no booths or tables for mine-is-bigger-than-yours bottle bragging; if you are in Basement, you are in the dance. “We wanted to have a place that was fun and music-led,” says club manager Dominik Prosser. “We wanted to create a place that had a musical impact on London.”
The Basement club programme – it includes a recent Boiler Room session with Masters at Work and events hosted by record labels such as Hotflush and Young Turks – has independent promoters and guest-list-only crowds. Thursdays are home to Tax Free, a weekly night dedicated to a new urban sound ranging from trap hip-hop to house; live performances have included Vic Mensa, Sky Ferreira and Lil Silva.
“People enjoy music online nowadays, and less so in partnership with each other,”
says Prosser. “When I was growing up, we used to go to the club Subterranea in west London every Friday, because it was the place where you heard new music and that’s where you socialised. We want to give London that experience again."
With the Edition hotel, Ian Schrager has created an experience that is distinctly London, from the connoisseur pork scratchings in the mini bar, to the British ingredients on the menu in the restaurant, to Tracey Emin’s digital neon art piece playing on the room TVs. And with Basement, the city’s nightlife has a spot which brings it back to what London was all about: the music.
The Sound of a Hotel
The sound of a hotel lobby is often dictated by monotonous, vapid lounge muzak – a zombie-like drone of new jazz and polite house, with the sole purpose of whiling away the waiting time between check-in and check-out.
At the London Edition, money and time were invested in the right sound system and a curated music selection for the hotel lobby and restaurant. “You can hear anything in the morning, from classical to the Rolling Stones blaring Wild Horses,” says hotel manager Edwin Kramer. “The music is very present but it’s never overpowering."
The hotel works together with US company Gray-V, which generates playlists based on a track selection made by the hotel. “In the hotel, where the playlist is on 24 hours a day, it can run into hundreds and hundreds of tracks, so you don’t want to start looping the music,” says Dominik Prosser, club manager at London Edition. “We choose 60 or so tracks for the lobby – then Gray-V controls it from New York and fills in the rest of the music.”
On a Friday afternoon, as the lobby filled up with a post-work cocktail crowd and pre-dinner guests, a sample hour of music included Marlena Shaw’s Woman of the Ghetto and the instrumental retro-soul of Brooklyn’s Menahan Street Band. There were classic Studio One reggae productions and lush harmonies from an Australian girl group with a Spector'esque sound.
It all added up to a soundtrack of urban cool that made perfect sense amid the lavish Edwardian features and futuristic art installations.
“The music should be timeless, classic and sophisticated, as befits a beautiful hotel,” says Prosser, “but I like the surprise selections which appeal to real record diggers and people who know their music."
|WORDS: LARS HINNERSKOV ERIKSEN
PHOTOS: NIKOLAS KOENIG & NOBODYS BUSINESS
Current city: New York City
Education: Syracuse University, 1968; St John’s University School of Law, 1971
Founder and chairman of the Ian Schrager Company. Prior to establishing the company, he created the legendary nightclub Studio 54 in 1977, with Steve Rubell, with whom he further co-founded Morgans Hotel Group in 1984. Since the ’70s, he has achieved international recognition for concepts that have revolutionised the entertainment, residential and hospitality industries.