It’s no secret that Alex Calderwood, co-founder of the edge-pushing Ace Hotel brand, has a knack for cranking out successful, innovative companies. Not only has he made a name for himself as an hotelier, but also as a distinguished event planner, concert promoter, record label owner, entrepreneur, collaborator and creator of all things cool, like experiential marketing company Neverstop and the East/West coast chain of Rudy’s Barber Shops. A self-proclaimed “cultural engineer,” he has an optimist’s eye and a true knack for innovation. Calderwood’s creativity is inspired by finds from his constant travel — Seattle and Portland included. I recently got the chance to chat with him about his adventures and his work for this month’s Salon interview.
You grew up in Seattle and you’ve spent a lot of time in Portland. What are your best-kept secrets for each city?
This weird little tucked away branch of the Seattle Public Library in Greenwood — the exterior is made of stone from Montana and all the tables are made from American red elm salvaged from Carnation, Washington. It’s a newer building, but it’s a neighborhood place — where the patrons posed for the wall murals and you feel like you could just get lost for an afternoon.
In Portland, the bluffs, but I’ll never tell you where they are.
Dream location for a new Ace Hotel? There have been rumors about Vancouver and Los Angeles…
We have a new Ace Hotel in the works in LA. It’s on the site of the original United Artists theater — really a dream project if there ever was one.
What do you love about the Pacific Northwest?
It feels like home, and the summers are the best anywhere in the world.
What do you think informs the unique Pacific Northwest aesthetic?
Rain. Months of rain. We get good at being inside, productive, making stuff and enjoying each other’s company. The rain and gray winters create an inward focus that fosters art and creative energy. The light in summer and fall is outstanding.
What are your favorite restaurants and food scenes in either Seattle or Portland? Any food truck shout-outs?
Sitka & Spruce in Seattle. Clyde Common, Ping and The Woodsman Tavern in Portland. The Nong’s Khao Man Gai cart close to our Portland studio is great.
What’s your favorite place to travel to?
Where are you yearning to go next?
Panama and São Paolo.
What are you listening to at the moment?
It changes from day to day, but today in my hotel room I’m listening to Rome by Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi, the soundtrack to Wim Wender’s Pina and Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures.
What’s on your daily blog rotation list?
I don’t have a regular blog roster but sometimes people send me things from The Moment, Wired, Cool Hunting, The Selby, Matador, Rookie, Huffington Post and Monocle.
What’s hotel have you come across recently that is doing interesting things, other than your own?
Hotel Saint Cecilia in Austin, TX.
Are there any cities or destinations you feel are underrated?
Memphis and Detroit.
What are your in-flight essentials?
A good pair of headphones and my Monocle tote, best tote in the world.
Who would you like to sit next to on your next flight?
Someone sleepy, of small stature.
At Ace you work with young artists like KAWS. Is there anyone else you’d like to collaborate with?
I mean — I think the premise of everything we do at Ace is that there are endless new friends, collaborators and creative sparklers to discover in the world. That’s the thrill — knowing you know next to nothing about the caliber and scale of inspiration that’s available out there…
What’s the last best thing you’ve watched, movie or TV-wise?
A documentary called Milton Glaser: Inform & Delight. It’s a great testimony to the positive, democratic impact design can have.
In terms of the current design and architectural landscape, is there any young talent that’s particularly stand-out to you?
We love the social consciousness and poetic framework that David Adjaye brings to his work. We’re huge fans of the design work done by Commune, who we’re working with on our new hotel in Downtown LA.
The Pacific Northwest have obviously rubbed off on New York, especially Brooklyn. What do you think about the new crop of restaurants, shops and hotels in NYC?
New York is always changing and growing. The number of influences that make their mark are too many to count. That’s the beauty of it. What I love about New York is that, when I’m here, I can crave a hot dog from a cart outside MoMA and Phoenix Eggplant from Isa in Williamsburg on the same day. New York is very much about saying yes to everything.
What are your favorite galleries to frequent?
There are a thousand galleries I’ve loved visiting, but I still wish I could time travel and go to Indica in London.
What’s your favorite quality about traveling? Least favorite?