CHICAGO—Pure genius. It’s a guest reaction SMASHotels’ President/CEO Scott Greenberg is likely hoping becomes the standard takeaway for everyone who comes through the newly opened doors of Hotel EMC2.
Debuting here in downtown in late May, the 195-room lifestyle hotel exposes guests and locals to the confluence of science and art throughout the property, from its largely transparent facade of glass and metal to quirky guestroom accents to its restaurant named Albert’s, a not-so-subtle nod to Mr. Einstein, the brain behind the theory of both general and special relativity highlighted by the famous equation E=mc2.
However, there’s nothing “square” about the hotel, which Greenberg will hasten to inform is known as Hotel EMC Two. There’s also no equal sign, which plays well against the developer’s expectations the hotel will be without peer in its comp set.
The vision behind the hotel, part of Marriott International’s Autograph Collection, was driven by Greenberg’s embrace of the area, considered one of the city’s major tech corridors (A KPMG survey recently tagged Chicago itself in the top 10 of tech innovation centers).
“Part of the idea was to create a place that fit into the community of people that are of high intellectual octane—thinking and creative people. It fits into the area and where people are today in terms of change. Everything is about innovation and technology, so the idea of the hotel was that it would speak to that,” said Greenberg.
And that voice is heard throughout the property, from its glass-and-metal facade that allows views to the hotel’s interior to its guestroom and public space design to the cuisine that guests can make part of their overall experience.
Rockwell Group designed the interiors, and locally based KOO LLC created the architecture for the 21-story hotel. (KOO also is responsible for theWit Chicago – a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, another SMASHotels’ property.)
“We say we’re at the intersection of art and science and in going about the design and what the hotel was going to be in its spirit, it’s this place where, at every corner and every turn, it’s sparking peoples’ imagination and curiosity,” said Greenberg. “I know a lot of hotels do that, but we think we do it in a way that’s fresh. At the same time, we have bookcase art that sort of travels through the hotel with 12,000 volumes of books and most of the books are between 75 and 140 years old. It’s like an old European library.”
The bookshelves also contain antique microscopes.
Visitors get a sense of what’s to come when they enter the hotel, which is located at 228 East Ontario St. A quote from Leonardo da Vinci urges guests to “Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses—learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”
Mid-century modern art along with commissioned art can be found in the public spaces while guestrooms have the sheen of a 1920s laboratory, with vintage-looking lighting, casegoods and a magnifying glass to help “discover” the room.
In tandem, there’s Amazon’s intelligent personal assistant Alexa in every guestroom, an acoustic amplifier and, at bedside, there’s TV and film producer Brian Grazer’s tome, A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life.
“So, there’s old technology in the rooms that people can smile and rediscover ‘What is that?’ and they have new technology that people think is cool. It’s a blending of things,” said Greenberg.
The hotel also features two Savioke robots named Leo and Cleo.
The executive said the property is “a serious luxury hotel. Very serious food.”
Hotel EMC2 brought on board Executive Chef Brandon Brumback, formerly of local restaurants Blackbird, Ria and Grace, as well as Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry in California, to helm the hotel’s 120-seat restaurant, the Albert, which features a seasonal menu. Rebecca Royster is serving as the hotel’s director of F&B, and is the creative curator behind the beverage menu.
The space features a 20-seat chef’s table and a custom chandelier-like structure known as the “infusary,” which pours house-made infused liquors.
“The ideas behind the hotel, there’s some intellectual rigor behind them but it’s completely whimsical. Everything that’s serious in it is paired with something that’s whimsical and playful,” said Greenberg. “It’s not a science museum. It’s a milieu for the creative type.”
It’s also skewed toward a younger demographic and a psychographic that leans in that direction.
For example, as part of the room design, there’s a shower in the middle of the room that is transparent 270 degrees (of 360 degrees). “I mean, that’s like: ‘What?!’” said Greenberg. “So, I’m thinking I’m going to turn off a lot of more traditional people coming in… Yes, you can put a curtain around it and get privacy, but there it is. We refer to that sort of as our ‘wet lab.’”
The hotelier acknowledged 1-2% of guests have said it’s not for them. “They say, ‘It’s not my luxury experience; send me back to the Ritz-Carlton; send me back to the Conrad. This is not what I call luxury. The shower that exposed gives me the heebie-jeebies.’ Then the robot shows up at the door and they freak out,” said Greenberg.
“When you do a niche product like this, some people are going to be turned off,” he continued. “We’re not a hotel for little children, either. We knew we were not the family place. We knew we’re not for somebody who’s looking for what I call traditional luxury. We’re not that. It’s for people who are curious and open-minded and looking for luxury.”
In coming under the Autograph Collection umbrella, the developer said he “recognized the value of having the best of both worlds, which is having a strongly branded property—a brand of one; highly distinctive and not like anything else—and you combine it with a reservations system like Hilton or Marriott. So I get there’s global leverage but I’m giving them a unique experience. So it was natural for me to go to Marriott Autograph and say, ‘Hey, this is what I’m doing.’ As soon as I showed it to them, they went wild with excitement.”
In addition to theWit and Hotel EMC2, the long-time real estate entrepreneur has several other lodging properties under SMASHotels, including a Hampton Inn (his foray into the hotel space nearly two decades ago) and a Fairfield Inn & Suites. He also indicated there are more hotel projects to come, but none would be like anything he’d done before. HB