Just One Drink: Ian Schrager

Legendary entreprenuer discusses his formula for success

The last thing Ian Schrager wants to talk about is Studio 54. And who could blame him? Even when you co-create the most famous nightclub in history and set the path for every imitator that followed, after three decades you'd probably want to move on as well.

Not to say he hasn't been keeping busy. Or learned anything from his experience in the nightclub world in his latest ventures, most notably for Chicagoans, Public Hotel in the Gold Coast, anchored by the legendary Pump Room.

But there's a reason it's taken this long for him to crack the Chicago market.

"I've been trying to have a hotel in Chicago for maybe 15-20 years, and I've been here many times looking for the right one, but the numbers didn't work, the deal wasn't right, and I was a little afraid of it because a lot of people come here from New York and don't do well, so until I understood why, I didn't come here," Schrager said.

He says having a wife from Chicago helped him to understand that unique Midwestern mindset before diving into a project.

"The people of Chicago are very concerned about not getting ripped off, concerned about getting value ... if it's not well-priced, they won't embrace it," Schrager said. "If I tried to do something like 20-dollar drinks here they would have run me out of town on a rail."

Which is why you'll rarely find a drink for more than $13 in the Pump Room or the cozy adjacent area called The Library, which he likens to a room that you'd find in Venice.

He believes dining experiences are essentially the same all over the world, but you need to figure out the differences inherent in whatever city you're in. It's the small details, like not playing music in a restaurant in London.

Not to say you don't follow your own personal vision, but Schrager believes it's important to guard against "not grabbing the tail of the elephant in front of you and following it around the ring."

"There is a common denominator in people, there is a kind of collective unconsciousness and if you can tap into that you can be successful here, you can be successful in Paris, New York, Madison, Wisconsin it doesn't matter as long as you make it appropriate to the area you're in," Schrager says.

Video shot by Cam Be and Summer Nettles, edited by Marcus Riley.

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