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One On 1: Ian Schrager Fights To The Top, Again

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There's an old line from the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald that "there are no second acts in American lives." Not so for hotel entrepreneur and New York-native Ian Schrager. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One on 1 report.

How's this for irony? Ian Schrager, the hotel entrepreneur who once co-founded the most famous disco in the country, came out against the opening of a bar near his new downtown residential building, 40 Bond Street.

"How times change, right?" said Schrager.

What times they've been for him -- a man who knew the dizzying heights of success as co-founder of Studio 54.

"It's like holding onto a lightning bolt," said Schrager. "It's the most exhilarating thing imaginable."

His success was then followed by the downfall of going to prison on tax evasion charges.

"I lost everything," he said. "It took 10 years away from me, you know, with them fighting it."

Then, he came back with then-business partner Steve Rubell to succeed with a new idea -- the boutique hotel.

"It made me realize how fleeting success really is, and when you have it, it's really precious," said Schrager.

For the last 25 years, Schrager has bought and designed boutique hotels like the Gramercy Hotel, and residential projects, including his latest, 40 Bond Street.

During a walk through the Gramercy Park Hotel, his attention to detail was always evident, from the artwork, to the fabric on the billiards table, to the color scheme.

"Between the blue couch, the red curtain, and the jade, just you know, [it's] very rich," said Schrager. "These colors came from when I went to the Vatican and I saw the Raphael painting."

Schrager likes his design just so, as his friend, Vogue Editor Anna Wintour, apparently found out.

"She was having a party here and she wanted to remove the bar stools," recalled Schrager. "Well, we don't want to remove them. We like the color of it, it's part of what the room is, and you know I'm always interested if the room looks as good as it is. I probably, in the end, moved them because it was Anna, but I'm sure we had a dialogue about it."

So how does Schrager decide what designs will be in his buildings?

"I don't have that much confidence in my intellect," he said. I have more of my instinct, almost like an organized chaos that sort of comes together. You are not sure where you're really going to wind up with it, but when it does comes together it creates like an energy about it, like almost a spark is created, and that's what gives the place its real meaning to me."

However, Schrager is also a businessman.

"If you do a place and it's beautiful but it doesn't make money, or the people don't understand it, it doesn't matter," he said. "It's the people, they are the judge, they are the ultimate judge, and if they don't like, it's not good, or if they don't understand it, it's not good. Or, if you've gone too far and they feel challenged, it's not good."

Schrager admits that his hotels are not for everyone, that he's not creating a brand for the masses. But they are not, as has been charged, elitist.

"I'm doing something that I like and it doesn't appeal to everyone, but it appeals to people that have a like kind of sensibility," he said.

Schrager has fought this battle before, with the Studio 54 door policy.

"It wasn't elitist," he said. "We were trying to really allow people to go into this nightclub that we thought would enhance the party. That would make it fun for everybody that was inside. It wasn't about, let's get the richest people or let's get this; that wasn't the criteria. But I think people thought it was and got a lot of people aggravated at us."

Schrager is too busy to spend much time reflecting on the Studio 54 years. But he says one of the hardest aspects of it came years later, explaining to his daughters that their father went to jail.

"It would have been terrible, I think, if they found out about it by themselves or somebody at their school would have said something to them, and so it is something I sort of agonized over, and we sat down, and when I told them, they wanted to understand, but it wasn't a big issue for them," said Schrager.

Long before his design ideas would create a stir in hotels and upscale apartments, Ian Schrager noticed that his family's East Flatbush home was different from others in the neighborhood.

"It had more of panache to it; it had a style to it," he said. "People used to come in and say it was beautiful. It wasn't about fancy or expensive pieces, it was just independently done, their own aesthetic, and that probably had an effect on me."

Schrager describes those years as the happiest of his life, but he was still young when both of his parents died.

"If my parents were alive, they never would have let me go into the nightclub business, that I can say," he said. "My father died when I was 19, so it sort of took my youth away 'cause I sort of had to step up and help the rest of the family."

Schrager went to Syracuse University and then graduated from St. John's Law School in 1971.

He practiced law for three years. Although he says he wasn't unhappy, he could not see himself practicing long term.

"I wanted to be more than an advisor," he said. "I wanted to be the principal making the decisions rather than advising people what was rational or appropriate. I used to drive around and see people waiting on line to get into discotheques and nightclubs and they were selling air, and I thought, that's a business that I want to get into."

So he did, with his friend from college, Steve Rubell.

"We shared every decision," said Schrager. "He was the first person I talked to in the morning and the last person I talked to at night. And it was a 'one plus one makes three' situation."

The duo reveled in Studio 54's success together, went to jail for tax evasion together, and came out in the mid-1980s to tackle a new frontier, the boutique hotel.

"If every other hotel was like a department store trying to be all things to all people, you know, we were going to be boutique with a specific point of view and much more narrowly focused," he said of his vision.

Rubell died in 1989, and suddenly Schrager became more of a public figure.

"I'm not a people person," he said. "I'm an introvert and don't necessarily enjoy it. I do it because it's important to me to get out what we're trying to do with the work. It's always about the work, always."

There's been a price for that. Schrager says he didn't have balance. His main priority was his work and it probably ruined his marriage.

He says he has a good relationship with his two daughters, and is putting some thought into his new home -- the penthouse of his new building at 40 Bond Street. But there is still the desire for another challenge, and the sweet smell of success.

"I'm looking for new mountains to climb because that exhilaration is really something incredibly special," he said. ClientIP:, UserAgent: CCBot/2.0 ( Profile: TWCSAMLSP