All To See

It’s Not (Just) About Sex at the Public, New York’s Hottest Hotel

Neighbors have observed guests at the Public Hotel on the Lower East Side having sex in their hotel rooms. But is it really orgy-central, or just excellent PR?

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City living has always offered a degree of exhibitionism and voyeurism, the chance to glimpse other peoples lives—fancy parties, bedtime stories, extramarital affairs—through open windows or sheer curtains. In Manhattan, where glass-walled condominiums and hotels have come to dominate the city’s architecture over the last 20 years, the private lives of its inhabitants are increasingly on public display.

To wit: Guests of the new Public Hotel on the Lower East Side have been seen having sex by tenants of a neighboring building. Some of them complained about the peep shows to local papers earlier this week.

“Guys are together, girls and girls are together. They don’t even pull the shades down,” one 68-year-old resident of the public-housing building told the New York Post. “You see them having sex all the time, hands on the window,” another remarked, adding that she witnesses these kinds of lewd acts “four times a week.” The building’s tenant leader said one resident saw a man masturbating in front of the hotel’s floor-to-ceiling windows.

Photographic evidence of naughtiness in the hotel windows is now circulating the internet, courtesy of the Post’s intrepid photojournalists.

The Public Hotel hotel opened in June to surprisingly little fanfare beyond the glossy fashion and design magazines that gushed over Ian Schrager’s latest creation.

After all, this was the man who co-founded Studio 54, New York City’s playground for the rich and famous in the 1970s, then introduced boutique hotels to the hospitality industry in the 1980s.

Now, Schrager has set out to revolutionize the industry again with his Public Hotel, which promises to bring luxury to the masses. Rates for its 270 rooms start at $150, and Schrager has compared his creation to an Airbnb-style hotel for the next generation of travelers.

True to its name, much of the space is indeed open to the public in addition to hotel guests. On the first floor, a grab-and-go marketplace and “Public Kitchen” restaurant, both run by acclaimed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten; on the second floor, the South American-inspired “Diego” bar-and-lounge (named after artist Diego Rivera) in addition to a separate, more open co-working space and lounge area with another bar; a sprawling performance arts space called “Public Arts” in the basement (“the first new idea since Studio 54 forty years ago and the embodiment of a nighttime renaissance,” according to press materials) and two rooftop bars—one open-air and one indoors—with magnificent views of the city skyline.

In many ways, the Public Hotel is the Lower East Side’s answer to André Balazs’ Standard Hotel overlooking the High Line in Chelsea, which also earned a reputation for attracting exhibitionists when it opened in 2009.

“I’ve seen women in the classic cop ‘up against the wall’ pose, only up against the window, while their man is behind them,” a man who worked at a nearby restaurant told New York magazine shortly after the hotel opened. “Lights on so all can see... I’ve seen guys [pleasuring themselves] in front of the windows. I’ve seen multiple women in the same room picking up and waving lamps to get our attention...”

Eight years later, sex-in-the-windows has become something of a legend at the Standard, a publicity-attracting reputation that Balazs fueled with a provocative ad when the hotel opened to guests before construction was finished. (“We’ll put up with your banging if you put up with ours,” it read.)

It’s unclear if the reported nude antics at the Public Hotel are a PR strategy or par for the course for a hotel with glassy, floor-to-ceiling windows.

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In an email, press representatives for the hotel said they “weren’t going on the record about the windows.” On the rooftop bar early Thursday evening, a friendly bartender shrugged when I asked about nudity and sex in the windows.

The space is designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron with an aesthetic described in press materials as “personal, provocative and flamboyant” and “COZY RADICAL CHIC that resonates with all generations.”

Enclosed escalators on the ground floor are lit by neon orange lights and surrounded by mirrors, daring visitors to get on and see where the moving mirage spits you out. It’s one of the hotel’s many Instagram-friendly flourishes (another is artist Ivan Navarro’s neon-blue installation on the second floor: a box-shaped neon tube with a mirror that creates an infinity effect).

The escalators lead to an non-traditional reception area for hotel guests: a dozen or so iPad stations where they check in electronically, with help from one of the hotel’s uniformed “Public Advisers.” Schrager has compared the concept to Apple’s Genius Bar.

Several large, plush white couches and mid-century style chairs beckon visitors to the open bar-and-lounge area on the second floor. There are sleek wooden tables, too, where people with laptops worked quietly throughout the day on Thursday (many of them were still typing away on their MacBooks at 6 p.m.).

Public Hotel guests can book large, Scandi-style conference rooms for meetings or private parties. One of the may appealing aspects of the hotel is that everyone is a guest—not just those who pay to spend the night. “There is no pretense with Public,” Schrager said in a statement.

The design is “not shabby chic, retro, industrial, reclaimed or the ubiquitous Brooklyn look... it’s simplicity as the ultimate sophistication.”

This is true for the most part, though I did notice filament lightbulbs—certainly part of the “ubiquitous Brooklyn look”—in bathrooms and hallways.

There are more plush white surfaces on the roof outside, which opens at 4 p.m. and, on Thursday afternoon, played host to a mixed crowd of designer bag-toting women and European families. It was excruciatingly hot under the afternoon sun, which made for good business at the bar. Their specialty “frosé” cocktail—frozen rosé wine topped with a vodka-and-champagne floater—seemed particularly popular. “I loooooooove frosé,” said one woman sitting to my left with several girlfriends.

During an official tour of the hotel with one of its PR agents on Friday morning, questions about whether or not guests were having sex for all of lower Manhattan to see were skillfully dodged.

“I don’t know!” my tour guide chirped while showing me one of the hotel’s “Loft” rooms, the second-largest room available, which turned out to be fairly small: queen-sized bed, closet, round marble table. Big enough for a five-person orgy, I’d venture, though flesh would certainly be pressed against the windows.

Later in the “Public Arts” space, when my guide offered that “things get crazy here late night,” I asked her to elaborate. Naked people humping on the velvet-tufted couches? As “crazy” as the tawdry scenes described by tenants in the building next door?

“I’m not sure about that,” she said evasively.

Asked if the hotel planned to do anything about sex and noise complaints, reps said that Schrager could not be reached for comment.

One twentysomething young man who grew up in the tenement building next door and also works at the hotel told me he’d heard about the nudity from other residents in his building, but hadn’t seen it himself since his apartment doesn’t face the hotel.

“People aren’t happy about it, but what are you going to do?” he told me, requesting anonymity. “They’re also unhappy because the hotel was built on a big grassy lot, which was like our backyard.”