It’s 6:30pm on a Wednesday. I’m sitting at a long black communal table in an industrial grey open space, surrounded by fellow twenty-somethings working on their Macbooks.
Occasionally a sneakered, black-clad waitress floats past to replenish a cup of coffee, or perhaps a cocktail. Evening sunlight filters through a wall of ferns fronting large Crittall windows, and ‘Dancing in the moonlight’ sifts through the speakers (somehow, it works.) A whippet on a loose leash saunters by, followed by an impeccably dressed woman in blue suede heels. Did I mention I’m in the lobby of a hotel? London’s Ace Hotel, (http://www.acehotel.com/) to be exact.
The design hotel chain, which describes itself as ‘a collection of individuals — multiple and inclusive, held together by an affinity for the soulful’, first opened its first doors in 1999 in Belltown, Seattle. Since then, outposts have appeared in Portland, downtown LA, midtown New York, Palm Springs and most recently, Panama City alongside London, which opened last year. Since then, the hotel has been a bastion of culture in its Shoreditch neighbourhood for not only its guests, but by virtue of its foyer, it also provides locals with a relaxed, social place to catch up on the morning paper, meet a friend for coffee, or plug in a laptop to get some work done.
Alongside the hotel’s restaurant, Hoi Polloi (http://hoi-polloi.co.uk/), the lobby houses Bulldog Edition café (http://www.acehotel.com/london/dining-and-drink/bulldog-edition), Hattie Fox’s florist (http://www.thatflowershop.co.uk/), and Lovage (https://twitter.com/wearelovage), a cold-pressed juice bar. In the evenings, the foyer might play host to a DJ set, magazine launch, and various other parties. Whatever the time of day, the Ace provides the ideal place to linger, get some work done over a coffee (or a tipple), and engage in discreet people watching This is a hotel that comes alive at street level – in its own words, ‘a friendly place, continually new’.
The Ace’s lobby epitomises what Urban Sociologist, Ray Oldenburg termed a ‘third place’, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_place) a space where people come to spend time other than work or home. In an episode of Monocle’s The Urbanist podcast (http://monocle.com/radio/shows/the-urbanist/) dedicated to this concept, Victoria Hayward, the Ace’s ‘Cultural Engineer’ explains that the space was designed to appeal to, and break down the boundaries between, the niche City (south), tech (Old Street, to the west) and creative (east towards Hackney) communities that work, live and play in Shoreditch.
It’s easy to forget that the hotel site once took the shape of two drab concrete blocks that housed the Crowne Plaza Hotel – and before 1935, as Universal Design Studio (http://www.universaldesignstudio.com/) discovered in their research of the site’s redesign – home to the Shoreditch Empire, a cinema designed by Frank Matcham, and once graced by Charlie Chaplin. This rich heritage helped to inform UDS’ aesthetic direction in their redevelopment of the Ace’s lobby, manifesting in a grey brick exterior that gives way to warm slate walls inside. The resulting feel is industrial; but warm rather than austere, evoking a sense of ease and even familiarity.
In this regard, the Ace’s look and feel are perfectly matched, as the hotel extends a friendly hand not only to the individuals plugging their laptops into the lobby’s centrepiece – a 20-person Benchmark–designed (http://www.benchmarkfurniture.com/) table – but also to a wide variety of local businesses, with whom it collaborates with on different aspects of its offerings. Custom staff uniforms include duffle coats by Gloverall, Rayner & Sturges shirts and John Smedley knitwear. Coffee beans come from local roaster Square Mile (http://shop.squaremilecoffee.com/), bikes for hire are provided by local bike shop, Tokyo Bike (http://tokyobike.co.uk/), and local start-up, Technology Will Save Us (http://www.techwillsaveus.com/) occasionally holds soldering workshops on the aforementioned Benchmark table.
The most current of the Ace’s collaborations is with the imminent London Design Festival (http://www.londondesignfestival.com/), for which the hotel is an official Shoreditch Design Triangle ‘festival hub’ location. From September 16th onwards, the lobby will house to magazine Modern Design Review’s ‘Super Stimuli’ installation (http://www.acehotel.com/calendar/london/london-design-festival-super-stimuli) and Italian-based research studio, Fabrica’s ‘Extra-Ordinary’ gallery, (http://www.fabricafeatures.com/2014/extra-ordinary-gallery/) a tribute to the beauty of the ordinary things and routine actions of everyday life. These two exhibitions will provide locals and passers-by yet another excuse to experience the Ace without having to check in.
It’s hardly been a year and already, a building has been reinvented, locals welcomed in, and a community revived. The Ace is has proven itself as so much more than a place to sleep: a purveyor of and contributor to culture. At once self-assured and adaptable, generous in its services and fun in its attitude, it is the quintessence of cool.
Post by Anna Kerr, London