Hospitality innovator Ace Hotel blazes a new trail as it turns 20.
Two decades ago the Ace Hotel Group and its founders – Alex Calderwood, Wade Weigel, and Doug Herrick – re-envisaged hospitality for a new millennium. Ace disregarded many of the tenets of traditional operations: favoring idiosyncrasy over uniformity, focusing on communal experiences, energizing public spaces, and ultimately applying the kind of brand-building principles that were more commonly associated with jeans than hotels. The ‘hotel as lifestyle’ idea is now common currency but, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Ace’s independent spirit was both a challenge to the major players and something to be studied and assimilated. Now, with 1,718 rooms across 11 properties (including newly launched sibling brands, Sister City and Maison de la Luz), it is an influential force in the sector.
Ace’s consistent shirking of the convention is a reflection of the brand’s unconventional beginnings, of course. The first Ace, in Seattle, was arguably more social enterprise than a business endeavor. With just 28 bedrooms, the property was intended to provide an affordable base for the founders and their friends – primarily gigging musicians. From a commercial perspective, there was nothing by way of blueprint or established model. Calderwood had previously established Never stop, an ‘experiential agency’ that pioneered guerrilla marketing and pop-up concepts, and in many ways, Ace Seattle was another project to be appreciated on its creative merits.
‘He was not necessarily a hotel visionary, but a hospitality and cultural visionary,’ says John C Jay, consultant to the Ace Hotel Group and long-time friend of Calderwood. ‘Ace was based on a democratic gathering of interesting people. Alex’s background was not in architecture, but rather the art of bringing eclectic and creative people together.’
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