Tips & Tricks

The Search for Hipness in Hotels

Warrick Page for The New York Times

The bar at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch in East London. The hotel is aiming for young professionals looking for sophisticated, hip and affordable places to stay.

By ALEX TUDELA
Published: November 14, 2013

LONDON — As the trendy East London neighborhood of Shoreditch emerged as the city’s hub of technology and social media companies, it was inevitable that bars, restaurants and hotels would adapt to serve the young cosmopolitan types who work at such businesses.

One of the newest examples of this transformation is the Ace, the international debut of an American boutique hotel chain that has revamped a former stuffy Crowne Plaza business hotel here.

Gone is the banal beige interior. In its place are copper fixtures, glass-and-steel screens and exposed brick — all references to the neighborhood’s industrial and artisanal past, but attuned to its entrepreneurial present.

The Ace Hotel London Shoreditch is one of a new breed of lodging establishments that aims at budding young professionals, people who are well past their days of youth hostels but still far too frisky to spend their business travel budgets on subdued surroundings better suited to executives their fathers’ ages.

“Shoreditch is one of our favorite neighborhoods anywhere in the world,” said Brad Wilson, president of the Ace Hotel Group. “And right now, it’s in a landmark moment of vibrancy, community and intellectual exchange.”

Sprouting galleries, thrift stores, and pop-up restaurants, Shoreditch has become the epicenter of a rising creative class that besides tech entrepreneurs has a thriving population of artists, craftsmen and fashion designers.

“We’re just one thread in a fabric of a changing economy,” said Alex Calderwood, 45, founder of the Ace Hotel Group. “The businesses that are surfacing in the neighborhood share the same type of company personality as us.”

Mr. Calderwood’s group opened its first hotel in Seattle in 1999, with additional locations established shortly thereafter in Portland, Oregon; Palm Springs, California; and New York.

With a hipster coffee shop and a DJ night in the lobby, the new Ace in Shoreditch aims to be a destination gathering spot, not only for travelers but also for locals.

“The hotel industry has often been about delineating a clear distinction between the business hotel and the hotels that allow for a type of escape — think about the resort that fosters a sense of escapism,” said David Brody, a professor at Parsons The New School for Design, in New York.

“However, properties like Ace ask us to rethink that model,” Mr. Brody said. “Ace has created well-designed spaces that permit guests to combine business and pleasure.”

In bar section of the hotel’s English-modernist brasserie, Hoi Polloi, a group might be having a casual business meeting over cocktails while at a nearby table two people might be conducting a job interview.

The brasserie is a product of the Ace’s partnership with two local restaurateurs, Pablo Flack and David Waddington, whose popular Bistrotheque was one of the first East End restaurants aimed a similarly hip clientele.

“Usually these ideas grow from friendships and personal relationships with people we admire,” Mr. Calderwood said of creating the niche world inside his hotel. “It’s personal for us, so it seems to resonate a like-minded appeal with our guests.”

Mr. Calderwood said each Ace hotel was different, designed to be part of its neighborhood and local culture. The idea is to make guests feel as if they are staying with friends who are plugged into the local scene.

“We obviously have to get the basics of hotel accommodation right, but what is slightly different with our hotel is our service perspective,” Mr. Calderwood said. “It’s more peer-to-peer, friends-taking-care-of-friends.”

While hardly alone in its approach, the Ace Hotel Group is considered a trend-setter by some others in the industry, like Ari Heckman, 30, who runs a design firm, ASH NYC.

“Ace is certainly an inspiration for me,” Mr. Heckman said. “It’s the most pioneering hotel model in the last 10 years.”

Mr. Heckman’s firm is at work on a new hotel, the Dean, which will open at the end of the year in his hometown, Providence, R.I.

“Hotels these days need to be more than a place to sleep,” he said. “They must be much more experiential.”

Providence, whose elite educational institutions include Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design, has some of the same vibe as Shoreditch. It is a “cool, funky town,” Mr. Heckman said, that has a mix of quirky academics, bohemian artists and scrappy entrepreneurs.

“Most of the hotels here are so corporate,” Mr. Heckman said of Providence. “That doesn’t really describe the people who visit.”

Mr. Brody, the Parsons professor, who is working on a book about hotel design, said the approach of companies like Ace recognizes the role that hotels can play in the modern business world: social hubs that can accommodate various forms of interaction, whether casual dining or communal working. They should be places that “facilitate conversations, spontaneous interactions, and, we can hope, a spark of creativity.”

“The hotel,” he said, “has become a living room and office.”

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