- Emma Greenberg
- Photography by
- Adrian Gaut
THE NEW YORK EDITION
Just when everyone began to think the snow might never melt, spring—or, rather, an early summer—swept New York City last week, and with it came the New York EDITION, the latest collaboration between hotelier Ian Schrager and Marriott. Ben Pundole, vice president of brand experience for EDITION Hotels, surveys the scene before him on friends-and-family opening night before the doors officially open to the public.
“It’s all about the opportunity to make mistakes,” he says by way of explaining the reason for a soft invitation-only opening. “It’s nice to see the food coming out, real lighting, real people, some of the girls who don’t have much experience, [making sure they are] getting down to the tables and not spilling on people.”
Luckily, the girls—clad in stringy black dresses, sky-high heels, and wide smiles—teeter expertly on their stilettos while serving special cocktails in brass cups (or “vessels,” as Pundole calls them) that are shaped like owls.
“One dollar of every [owl] cocktail sold will go to the Wild Bird Fund, which goes to protecting birds in New York State,” Pundole explains a bit later to Eric Anderson, Wes Anderson’s quirky, canvas-bag-carrying brother who designed the logo (and who also illustrated maps and covers for his brother’s movies, including The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Darjeeling Limited) and to me. A hotel manager offers to take the bag from Anderson, but Pundole explains that it’s an essential part of him—which Anderson himself reiterates, clutching the bag to his side.
“So you’ve saved some birds,” Pundole returns the conversation back to the owls.
A moment later, with Pundole out of earshot, Anderson tells me he thinks that Pundole is exaggerating his influence on the owl design, but I’m not completely sure: Pundole has a way of speaking to people—to guests, customers, staff, and journalists alike—that makes them feel like they’re the only person in the entire landmark building whom he would like to be talking to at that very moment.
Pundole got his start at a very early age—he admits he was practically the Eloise of his father’s small hotel in the countryside in England. His parents were separated, but when he and his sister would visit his father, they would stay at the hotel and experience hotel life from the inside out.
“One minute we were talking to strangers on walks with the dog in the forest and the next moment we were taking them to antique shows. My dad was the chef at the hotel. I just thought how he curated these weekends and stuff for the guests”—Pundole looks around the scene before him in the lobby—“I just thought how that was cool, how he determined how these guests would enjoy [themselves].”
When asked if he was as mischievous as Eloise, Pundole readily admits that he was, and begins in on a story about the first time he got drunk when he was twelve years old, but is soon interrupted by an old friend (who happens to be Warby Parker cofounder Neil Blumenthal), who congratulates him, thanks Pundole for having him. In fact, everyone that Pundole encounters on our expedition around the first two levels of the hotel thanks him for having them—the vibe is more like a cool cocktail party or cozy dinner party (some guests dine in the three-room restaurant on the second floor—among them restaurateur Stephen Starr).
We end up in the restaurant rather accidentally—we run upstairs when Pundole is told that the music is the same upstairs in the dining room as it is in the downstairs bar, which of course won’t do at all. Pundole remains calm when a hotel employee somewhat frantically conveys that the music is all wrong in the dining room. Pundole locates a controller and explains that the playlist for downstairs (“which should be a little more upbeat and a little flamboyant”) was accidentally playing in the dining room as well. He switches the music, and we move through the dining room, with its original floors, cabinetry, and fireplaces.
“It’s a landmark building,” Pundole says of the clocktower building on Madison Square Park in which we stand. He explains that it was only ever the MetLife building from 1909 until about eight years ago—he can’t believe he’s created a hotel in an iconic building “in the center of the center of the world.” While the lobby is sleek, white, candlelit, and comfortable, the dining room is warm, old-school, with walls full of “iconic American shots and iconic Americans”, Pundole says, putting an emphasis on the last syllable of the world. The original herringbone oak floors, dark mahogany wainscoting, high ceilings, velvet banquettes, and glowing fireplaces converge to create a space that is at once grand and cozy.
We finally make it through the three dining rooms—Pundole is greeted by each of his guests with warmth and gushing compliments—and find ourselves in a billiard room with a bar of gold leaf. For a moment I completely forget that I’m in a hotel owned by Marriott. Part of the reason for this is that the vibe of the hotel is so distinctly New York. But Pundole explains that each of the EDITIONS—so far, London, Miami, and New York, but soon to include Barcelona, Paris, Los Angeles, Bangkok, Shanghai, and others—will not feel like a chain, but be representative of its hometown.
“We like to think this [EDITION] is very New York. It’s chic, it’s sophisticated,” Pundole explains.
And what does he expect the crowd to be like?
“The uptown of downtown, and the downtown of uptown. It’s a perfect location…[and will draw] a really foodie crowd because we have Eleven Madison Park across the street, Shake Shack. We’re so lucky to have Jason Atherton as our chef too.”
While Pundole is excited about the partnership with Marriott, he wasn’t always without doubts.
“At first I was a little skeptical [about the partnership with Marriott]. I’ve worked with Ian [Schrager] for fifteen years,” Pundole explains. “I was nervous about diluting the creativity. Then I realized that [Marriott was] incredibly resourceful, strategic. They have more data than we ever could. And when you have those kinds of resources,” he continues, “it makes the creativity [easier], because you have a better platform for which to work. So now I’ve gone the other way, this is incredible.”
Pundole’s journey up until this point is nothing short of incredible either.
“See that guy, Elijah?” he asks, pointing to a well-dressed man with slicked-back hair and red-soled shoes, “He’s twenty-two years old, he’s so happy to be a part of this. That makes it all worthwhile. When I was his age, I was that guy, I was the happiest guy. I just wanted to be a part of creating these experiences.”
And now at forty, Pundole still appears to be that happy guy—that guy that was introduced to Ian Schrager by Madonna when he was only twenty-four, at a time when “all I wanted to do was work for Ian Schrager.” “I’m calm today because Ian’s happy today,” he explains of his wide smile. “I worked with Ian Schrager for fifteen years, it’s not any less stress now, I just know it’s going to be stressful.”
Pundole reiterates throughout our time together how lucky he is to have landed his dream job in his twenties. Soon after he met Schrager, he began working for him “as his runaround kid” for six or seven years. The two parted ways for a bit in 2010, when Pundole opened Montauk hotspot Ruschmeyer’s, but rejoined forces for the EDITION hotels.
“I feel like I’ve grown up in this industry, and this is the most exciting thing I could do,” Pundole says. We’re now in the back staircase, having just found the box of the hotel’s custom broadsheet newspapers. “Oh my god, here they are! Oh my goodness!” Pundole exclaims as he rips open a box. After he proudly hands me an edition of the Edition, Pundole takes me through the stairwell and points at a mural on the back wall.
“If you take care of things back of house for the people who take care of you in front of house, then you’re always going to be one step ahead,” he explains, pointing towards the mural. “That’s how much we care.”
The New York EDITION is now open at 5 Madison Avenue, New York.
Emma Greenberg is a freelance culture writer based in New York. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in English and creative writing.