Will the Ace Hotel embrace the innovation community?

Almost overnight, the Ace Hotel lobby has become something of a phenomenon.  On any given day, you’ll run into an actor, a fashion designer, a model and—randomly enough--an tech entrepreneur. 

Just this week, as I was taking meetings in my relatively new role on the First Round Capital investment team, I got to meet Charlie Rose, spotted Tobey Maguire, and most notably, Boxee’s Avner Ronen and Jetsetter’s Drew Patterson.

With a long study hall style table, comfortable couches, and wifi whose codes are the worst kept secret since USV’s Foursquare funding, the Ace had attracted a growing following from the New York City startup world.  The Stumptown Coffee right off the lobby doesn’t hurt the geek pull either—everyone knows high quality caffeine is the fuel that makes code go.

I discovered the Ace Hotel thanks to a coffee invite from Nick Bilton.  As it turns out, Phin Barnes, my colleague at First Round had known about it for a while, and on any given day you’re likely to run into one of us taking meetings with entrepreneurs here. 

The question is whether the Ace Hotel will embrace its newfound friends in the Big Apple’s creative class.  While the waitresses aren’t pushy with getting people to order—yet—little cards have started showing up reminding folks that these seats are “guest only”.  I’ve yet to find a guest among the Ace’s laptop nation yet, but I’m currently sitting within spitting distance of Malcolm Gladwell as I write this.  I’m pretty sure he’s not staying at the hotel either.

There’s certainly an argument that attracting the local tech scene’s “cool kid” crowd, like Zach Klein, who I ran into the other day and passed on an office space tip to, is good for business.  Being community friendly will help the Ace become the go to place for innovators from the creative class.  I mean, wouldn’t you like to be the place where the next Google or Facebook was hatched?  That’s especially the case since many of the young innovators are also the trendsetters in music, food, clothing, etc.  I doubt anyone wants someone to build a router at the study hall table at Ace, but they should certainly extend an open invite for Anthony from Hype Machine to come hack here with his tech team. 

To look at a similar story, you can go back to when the local NYC tech community adopted the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park as its unofficial social hub.  That’s a good example of a business totally embracing the community.  Mentions of the Shake Shack on Fred Wilson’s blog date back to the summer of 2004, when foodie entrepreneur Joshua Schachter and del.icio.us had a little office at 915 Broadway.  Since then, the venue has hosted two of the best tech events in NYC and an epic snowball fight that featured Shake Shack employees participating and free hot chocolate.

The Shake Shack further fostered their relationship with the local tech community by letting a couple of hackers claim and build off of the @shackshack Twitter account.  By powering it with a retweet bot, they created a way for local “insiders” to skirt the line by seeing who they knew was already there.  Now, much of that functionality can be found on Foursquare, but still, the fact that the folks from Danny Meyer’s burger paradise in the park didn’t attempt to block the account speaks well to the kind of relationship they want to have with the community.

So the question is, will the employees from the Ace Hotel be ready for the West 29th Street snowball fight with local entrepreneurs or will we soon get booted for being wifi and table moochers. 

Video from last year’s Shake Shack snowball fight.


UPDATE:  I got this message via the little Plugoo chat window on my blog: 

“ACE NEW YORK LOBBY SIGNS > "Thanks for pointing this out. We want to balance the needs of our guests & the community - both are very important to us. NY lobby signs are down & we hope this flows naturally & organically. – Ace”

That’s really the best response I could have gotten.  It makes me want to go there more and to make sure I’m spending a little money and recommending them, too.