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Lords of the Chambers

Can a pair of outer-borough boys who cut their teeth on a Ramada Inn in Newark turn an asphalt parking lot into the next arty downtown hotel? In Midtown?


The plan is making perfect sense, up to the point where you run across that first guy without trousers. And the second.

Ira Drukier, one of the bigger, if quieter, powers in the Manhattan hotel world, is standing in the immaculately white Museum Editions gallery on Vestry Street in TriBeCa. He's thumbing through a downtown art magazine while describing his vision: a high-end midtown hotel that also functions as a "living museum," a showplace for real art by serious, "edgy," of-the-moment painters, sculptors, and installation artists.

The magazine he's perusing, trolling for talent, features a provocative series of images by Williamsburg painter Tracy Nakayama, who's 26. Nakayama takes photos from the seventies of guys in aviator shades cavorting with Farrah-haired women in hip-huggers and renders them in moody, expressionist watercolors.

But there's edge and then there's edge. Drukier flips a page and sees the next series of watercolors: hard-core gay-porn magazine images of a variety of mustached Dirk Digglers, sans trousers, staring coolly back at the viewer, looking as bored as if they're waiting for a bus.

Drukier, his eyes widening in surprise, shakes his head. "No, I don't think we'll use these," he says with a smile. "Even we have our limits."

"They won't be out there taking bows," says Ian Schrager. "But their hotel will be as successful as anybody's."

But certainly, Drukier and his partner, Richard Born, are working to stretch those very limits. The work in question -- the stuff with the clothes, that is -- is scheduled to debut not in the Whitney but on the walls of guest rooms in the soon-to-open Chambers hotel on West 56th Street. The Chambers is one of the most ambitiously fashion-forward hotels to open in New York since the Mercer three years ago, and that's not entirely coincidental, since Born and Drukier were André Balazs's quiet but invaluable partners in building that SoHo temple of chic.

The Chambers, with the industrial feel of an art-filled SoHo loft, is also the clearest expression of an emerging second wave of boutique hotels in Manhattan. Its opening follows by a month the launch of Ian Schrager's newest Manhattan outpost, the Hudson. But unlike the Hudson, the Chambers is the brainchild of developers -- of backroom guys, suits -- not nightlife Barnums and scenesters. Born and Drukier are attempting to import the downtown aesthetic into the backyard of the Sheraton and the Grand Hyatt. Every room at the Chambers will function as an exhibition space, featuring original works by local talent such as Ruth Root, Bill Fick, and Alyson Shotz, all veterans of
P.S. 1's "Greater New York" show.

In addition, each of the hotel's twelve corridors will double as an installation space. Guests will step out of the elevator on the fourth floor, for example, and wander into a cocoon of fluorescent pinks and oranges, the walls and the ceiling soaked with undulating Day-Glo colors by Berlin-based painter Katharina Grosse. Visitors to the ninth floor will confront deadpan "instructions" -- make your own car; dip records in chocolate -- swathed across the walls by the subversive British duo Bob and Roberta Smith.

To be sure, the Chambers' commitment to underground art will be mitigated by the crowd-pleasing poppiness of the overall design, as rendered by David Rockwell. Still, it's an ambitious effort, considering that hotel art -- be it Motel 6 seascapes or the faceless pseudo-Rothkos that dominate the chain hotels of America -- is an art-world punch line, so banal it couldn't inspire a Jeff Koons parody.

A $32 million project, the 77-room, fifteen-story Chambers will open in late November next to the Norma Kamali flagship. It marks a graduation of sorts, a giant step into the fabulosphere for a couple of low-key guys from Queens -- one a former electrical engineer, the other a former surgeon.

Inside the gallery, a couple of assistants haul out for Druckier's perusal a narrow, seven-foot rectangular photographic frieze by an "emergent" Baltimore artist otherwise known as filmmaker John Waters. Waters will festoon the sixth floor with his "Mark" series, a collection of shots of actors' feet hitting their "marks" -- taped-down X's -- on the set of his film Pecker.

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