Ace Hotel and the “War on Anything Inauthentic”

Written by

DJ Jason Eldredge says his generation’s rebellion has been to “wage war on anything inauthentic.”

He analyzes Ace Hotel in New York, which he considers a home away from home, and Ace Los Angeles, from the perspective of a quest for “authenticity.”

Jason EldredgeSchoolNight The most overused term these days is “hipster.” It is a noun and an adjective and applies to everything from men’s facial hair to entire neighborhoods.

But it gets used insistently because it is so hard to find a word that is equally encompassing and immediately understood.

At DnA we’ve discussed substitutes for the word and one that pops up is “authentic.” It seems that “hipsters” seek “authenticity” — anything artisanal, handcrafted, organic, perfectly imperfect (though we wonder if those hipster beards are natural).

Often the quest for the authentic means reaching back into the past, and borrowing and mashing up desirable aspects of it with desirable aspects of the present, thereby, and paradoxically, creating inauthentic authenticity.

Ace Hotel Downtown LA - Model Room - Photo by Spencer Lowell - 025 (2700...Christopher Hawthorne touches on borrowing from the past in this recent article, in which he cites among examples the newly opened Ace Hotel on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, “occupying the ornate 1927 United Artists tower by the firm Walker & Eisen, with interiors (right) remade by the Los Angeles design collective Commune as a loving tribute to 1920s architecture, with nods to Rudolph Schindler, Frank Lloyd Wright and the Viennese modernist Adolf Loos.”

Commune mashes up these nods to the past with contemporary art and design pieces by local designers, most of them, in “authentic” fashion, handcrafted.

The compellingly inauthentic authenticity of Ace, and the extent to which it creates a sense of place, is one of the intriguing aspects of the design of  the hotel chain, envisioned by its late creator Alex Calderwood.

It is one that has charmed Jason Eldredge. Jason (above left) is a former DJ at KCRW who has spun tunes at Ace in Palms Springs, also designed by Commune, and, for two years in the New York Ace, designed by Manhattan-based Roman & Williams.

In the following essay he analyzes the lobby of Ace Hotel in New York, which he considers a home away from home, and  compares it with Ace Los Angeles.

He believes the design speaks to his generation, a generation that was “raised by parents who came out of the idyllic 1950’s, ’60’s and ’70’s where manufactured food, clothes, tract housing, and the suburbs were born; it would seem that the current generation’s rebellion has been to wage war on anything inauthentic.”


Ace New York

It was the day before Halloween in New York City and as I dragged myself out of bed to find no internet, no radio, no TV, and no hot water, I suddenly realized that I had experienced Hurricane Sandy the night before. I had made it through Hurricane Irene the previous year completely unscathed, so I rightfully assumed that I would find Gotham in tact on this morning and that it would be back to business as usual. I was wrong.

On a quest to re-charge my phone, I made my way onto the streets of the West Village and found trees uprooted, and stores shrouded in darkness.

A rumor was circulating that there was electricity above 23rd Street, so I headed uptown. Somewhere around West 20th Street I knew exactly where I was headed: my home away from home. A little haven that I seem to always return to whenever I need a place to feel safe and warm. I was going to The Ace Hotel.

9 ACE HOTEL_2009_HIRESJPEG_ERIC LAIGNEL (14) Home Away From Home

The Ace Hotel in New York City opened in 2009. I know this fact intimately because its completion coincided with my arrival as a newly transplanted resident of NYC. Fresh off the plane from LA, I found myself with a gig at the new branch (I had DJ-ed at their property in Palm Springs earlier that same year and loved it) and was fortunate enough to be a part of the establishment’s first two-and-a-half years with a weekly DJ residency. It is still one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.

My first night playing was memorable. When I entered the space for the first time, I immediately felt at home. From the moment you walk under the vintage “HOTEL” marquee lights above the entrance outside, you become instantly transported to another world that somehow feels intimately familiar and yet, completely fresh.

The white tiled floors and large copper doors in the glass-encased foyer act as a portal to this other realm, wherein you are faced with an expansive and welcoming room that is filled with large white pillars, leather couches, Scottish-plaid upholstered chairs, and unassuming rugs.

A giant American flag hangs above the wood paneled bar in the back of the lobby. It’s not meant to be patriotic, nor ironic. There’s something about the use of this fabric, a piece otherwise heavily laden with mixed messages, that becomes completely stripped of its symbolism and broken down to its bare essentials. Here at the Ace NYC, an American flag acts as decoration, haphazardly draped across the wall, yet simultaneously representing its purest intention: freedom.

This freedom is reflected in the clientele that the hotel attracts. Seemingly likeminded people are scattered across giant library tables that adorn the center of the room. Creative types, travelers, young professionals, the modern jet-set, hipsters, and an occasional dog… all co-mingle in a relaxed sense of belonging and unspoken connection. There’s a collective statement being made here from the people who frequent this Ace Hotel. It’s a people who value quality and permanence, who appreciate style, and above all ascribe to certain mode of authenticity.


Narrative Design by Roman & Williams

The design team behind this cavalcade of atmosphere is husband and wife duo, Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, otherwise known as Roman & Williams. The two started as production designers on a variety of films, including Zoolander and Practical Magic. It should therefore come as no surprise that an awareness of narrative plays a key role in their public spaces as well.

The cavernous lobby is a womblike den that I usually can’t wait to retreat to. It is darker inside that space than any of the other Ace properties, not to mention darker than most other boutique hotels. This absence of light adds to the timeless atmosphere of the room. Days can slip away while inside that lobby and it’s generally difficult to know whether it is one o’clock in the morning or one o’clock in the afternoon.

The lobby also epitomizes a quintessentially New York experience. Sitting at the large tables in the center of the room evokes an environment that one might expect from a British public library, but the way in which disparate individuals are encouraged to confine themselves to their own laptop ‘laboratories’— seemingly isolated, yet in communion together— is pure NYC. Robin and Stephen tend to draw a lot of comparisons between The Ace and their own personal homes. This is probably why the hotel feels like a home to so many others.

ACE HOTEL_DATE_MEDRES_NIKOLAS KOENIGIt is obvious that a great deal of meticulous planning has gone into the creation of this space, but such an attitude seems to somehow also be combined with a sort of reckless abandon, giving rise to a bevy of juxtapositions that carry over beyond the lobby and restaurants on the ground floor of the hotel to the guest rooms upstairs.

Initially, I just thought that The Ace was a fun place to hang out, but as I stood in the lobby on my first evening DJ-ing, there with the hotel’s entire corporate team seated before me at the now nearly iconic library tables, it immediately brought an aspect of family to the place and I was hooked. I spent most Wednesday nights playing music in that lobby and it became my home.

Here I was allowed to be vulnerable and share an extension of myself with a diverse group of people. The lobby’s atmosphere constantly influenced my music selections as well. As a DJ, I try not to lose sight of the space I’m playing in and what the room represents. It is an open conversation between the myself, the room, and the guests.

On any given night at the Ace I would play Bowie, or the Stones and somehow lead that into an early-nineties hip-hop track, or into Chicago deep-house, through to Les McCann or Thelonious Monk and then Lady Gaga by request mixing somehow into the Ramones and then back again. Literally any style of music went well in that space and my DJ sets, like the design, were both recklessly eclectic yet meticulously crafted.

Other Roman & Williams designs don’t affect me in the same way that The Ace NYC does. There is a weightiness about this hotel that unapologetically announces is permanence. In a city where everything changes so quickly and every day is brand new, the physical weight of the Ace Hotel and its apparent fixed attachment are comfortable to me. I also love the history of the building itself. I love imagining one of my favorite photographers, Alfred Stieglitz, in the early 1900’s staying at a neighboring building. One of the great tricks of Roman & Williams’ design at the Ace is that you could see the space looking exactly the same way in 1904 (when it was erected as the Hotel Breslin) as it does today. It maintains that historicity with a contemporary flare.

Ace Hotel New York one bright computer screen Faux Authenticity Feels Real

The Ace NYC lobby is simultaneously about individuality and shared experiences. It is a reflection of the streets of New York City. It would seem that we have come to a point where the concepts of quality and authenticity have become interlaced. The phenomenon of ‘Rough Luxe’ design, which Roman & Williams epitomize and arguably created, occurred out of need. Raised by parents who came out of the idyllic 1950’s, -60’s and-70’s where manufactured food, clothes, tract housing, and the suburbs were born; it would seem that the current generation’s rebellion has been to wage war on anything inauthentic.

We celebrate the organic and the pure, which has also somehow become synonymous with the rare. The idiosyncrasies of a Roman & Williams space, defined by exclusivity and not by expense, an absence of premeditation, and a blatant disregard for appearing perfect— these are all welcomed traits in their design vernacular.

Some might argue that the choices are in their own way cleverly inauthentic, creating a faux patina of authenticity. But, I would say that the designs aren’t inauthentic in terms of fakery, but are more a way of telling a fictional narrative that seemingly outlines a time and a place that may or may not really exist. Any faux patina of authenticity is so effortlessly intermixed with legitimately historical or vintage objects that perhaps it fools one into believing that there is a true authenticity present. For me, part of the joy of Roman & Williams’ designs is that we know we are being guided, that it isn’t exactly real, but it feels real, and perhaps that is real enough.

(All photos of Ace New York lobby are by Eric Laignel, with the exception of the image of the bookcase, above left, by Nikolas Koenig; and the dark, crowded lobby, right, by Frances Anderton.)

Ace Los Angeles

Ace Hotel Downtown LA - Exterior - Jesus Saves Reverse - Photo by Spencer Lowell (4050x2700)

Now, all eyes are now on the new Ace in Downtown Los Angeles.

To some extent, one can perceive a difference within a unifying approach. Whereas the design of the Ace Hotel in NYC by Roman & Williams appears to operate on the level of narrative, the design of the Ace Hotel in Downtown LA by California-based design collective Commune focuses more on materiality.

Emphasis on Naturalism

Commune also seems to place greater emphasis on naturalism. Magnificent exposed cement walls and pillars surround one of the loft guest rooms I visited, with bare fiber boards attached to absorb some of the room’s sound.

Just like at the Ace NYC, popular textile mill Pendleton has provided exclusively designed wool blankets on every bed, but unlike the gray and black plaid design at the east coast branch, the DTLA blankets are woven in a Piet Mondrianesque pattern containing warm southwest earth tones of mustard yellow, brown, orange, and green.

Tanya installingAs a further nod to naturalism, custom pencil cedar “tree trunk” tables by Joshua Tree sculptor Alma Allen are perfectly placed at the rooftop bar (where one can also experience majestic views of the city), along with a live Naked Coral tree which serves as a reminder that the DTLA Ace is quintessentially California.

There is a dance happening here, a cross-section of a simultaneous invasion. Nature is invading the city via these carefully chosen objects in the same way that the city has invaded nature. Yet both interruptions are welcomed in a perceivable cohabitation.

It’s not that Roman & Williams negate the usage of natural materials in their version of the Ace, it’s that Commune chooses to showcase such elements, placing objects on display as if each are contained within their own exhibits rather than parts of a piece of staging.

The DTLA and NYC hotels offer different versions of “authenticity.” One seems to be on the basis of story and the other on the basis of material. Although each design comes from a seemingly contrasting approach, it’s interesting to note that a similar outcome appears to be achieved for the experience of each property’s occupants.

The NYC branch of the Ace Hotel will always hold a special place in my heart, but I was presently surprised by the fact that I felt the same sense of being “at home” in the DTLA location as I do on the East Cast.

Both hotels have the potential to act as a touchstone for a brand of sincerity, personal history, and a specific type of permanence that is hard to find anywhere else.

(Left, artist Tanya Aguiniga hangs a large textile wallhanging in the upstairs bar; photo by Mallery Roberts Morgan.)