I just returned from a brief holiday which included a stay at Portland's Ace Hotel (locations also in Seattle, New York & Palm Springs).
While most hotel lobbies are dead zones - with very little community or activity aside from the drab lounge or utilitarian Starbucks bar, the Ace Hotel in Portland breaks the rule, providing a warm community space across two levels (some pics here, here and here).
The Ace Hotel Lobby has an open doorway to Stumptown Coffee and a large comfy U-shaped sofa to sit, sip, socialize or relax on. It's regularly populated with well-caffeinated hipsters. There's free wi-fi for all comers. The lobby also offers an old fashioned photo booth and easily accessible public restrooms. The check in desk is actually way in the back corner - but the staff is still friendly and helpful.
Upstairs, there's a quieter comfy reading area with a shared work table, free postcards and a shared Mac with Internet access (which wasn't working on our visit).
Instead of trying to move people through a space and keep the public out, the Ace creates a space for the community to gather, drink coffee, browse the Web and hang out. It's welcoming. If Americans had more spaces like this to gather in, we'd watch less TV and come together to change the world.
Now, I want to check out its lobby in Seattle :)