Underneath hospitality legend Ian Schrager’s latest venture, the hip Public Hotel on New York’s Lower East Side, is his first nightclub since he opened Studio 54 in 1977 (with partner Steve Rubell, who died in 1989). Christened Public Arts, it’s a performance space/bar that Schrager launched in June with nightlife entrepreneurs Matt Kliegman and Carlos Quiarte.
“They remind me of me and Steve,” says the 71-year-old, whose 1980 tax evasion conviction was pardoned in January by then-President Barack Obama. Recent and upcoming shows include Patti Smith, Grizzly Bear, Rostam and “anything else in the mind and imagination,” says Schrager.
Why are you getting back into nightlife?
People always wanted me to do a new nightclub, and I never wanted to because I didn’t have anything new to say. It’s a young person’s business. I found it boring and tedious, everything that was being done.
How is this different?
You come here to be entertained, stimulated, be expanded and to try to get under one roof all those things that you previously had to go to many different venues to get. When you do a nightclub with just dancing, it has a shelf life. This doesn’t because of the variety and nature of the events. I would love to be able to have stadium performers perform in an intimate way [so] that you can actually reach out and touch the audience.
Why do you think Studio 54 continues to capture the public imagination?
It’s a human ideal to achieve an absolute freedom, to be able to have fun without the fear of any kind of repercussions or ramifications. There wasn’t anything you could do at Studio that you couldn’t wake up the next morning and walk away from.
What did being pardoned by President Obama, in one of his last acts as president, mean to you?
It brought closure to a very painful situation. It was something I was embarrassed about for my children. I wanted acknowledgement that you can make a mistake — and boy, did we make a mistake — but what’s important is that you pick yourself up and dust yourself off and go on.