Detroit simply isn’t what it used to be. Depending who you ask, that may not be a bad thing. It may even be a great thing, if the continuing spread of gentrification and trendy amenities make life in the once grim, yet beautifully decrepit, urban landscape more livable.
After all, twenty years ago, after parties for the Detroit Electronic Music Festival (DEMF) meant pitching in and rolling sod across the blown-out mezzanine level in a downtown hotel while high school proms and hairdos rolled deep on the surrounding floors. Detroit’s global export du jour was a thriving, yet ferociously underground, music scene. Grassroots collectives like Detroit Techno Militia, and a small handful of more forward-thinking record labels, like Carl Craig’s Planet E and Interdimensional Transmissions, were the low-key, buzzworthy brethren to Detroit Rock City’s second coming on the heels of The White Stripes and the local garage scene.
Made in Detroit t-shirts and vintage clothing were about the most fashionable things in sight. But even then, most faces were not ones recognized in daylight.
Today, of course, DEMF has long since been hosted by local music events production outfit Paxahau and was renamed Movement Festival, with sponsors like Ford to keep its machinery well oiled. Several casinos opened their doors in the city, and we all know what became of Jack White. Problem was, he skipped town.
At about a halfway point between half-exploded warehouse parties and today, local luxury goods company Shinola rolled onto the scene, focusing on a Detroit life more aesthetically pleasing. Most importantly, the brand committed itself to do a proper job of building Detroit’s future. Starting with watches in 2011, then going on to create everything from bicycles to jewelry, their first actual store opened its doors in 2013 – with outlets quickly spreading across the country. Now they’ve just opened the doors on the Shinola Hotel, located at 1400 Woodward Avenue, in the onetime TB Rayl & Co. department store and former Singer sewing machine store.
Partnered with Detroit commercial real estate group Bedrock, Shinola spared no connections and attention to detail in the new space, bringing together some of the country’s greatest minds in the culinary, art, hospitality and design worlds to collaborate.
The brand tapped New York’s Gachot Studios – whose portfolio includes New York’s Smyth Tribeca Hotel, Brooklyn’s Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club, Marc Jacobs and Shinola flagship stores in New York and LA – to envision the hotel. Bedrock turned to Mac&Lo Hospitality to man operations. The founders, Sergio Maclean and Audrey Laurent, actually moved to Detroit to immerse themselves in Shinola and the city.
Detroit’s Kraemer Design Group, both a world leader in architectural consulting and historic renovation, served as Architect of Record and Historic Consultant on the hotel. While Detroit-based gallery Library Street Collective has curated a provocative mix of art pieces, with a broad representation of both local and international artists.
Starkly stylish, understatedly chic rooms have generous windows framing the cityscape. And for the gorgeous bathrooms, Waterworks’ custom fixtures go as far as taking cues from caseback details of Shinola’s luxury watches.
When it came to the drinks and eats, they brought in the big guns: NoHo Hospitality Group partners Andrew Carmellini, Josh Pickard and Luke Ostrom (The Dutch, Locanda Verde, Westlight) will oversee San Morello, a Southern Italian restaurant that serves authentic dishes using local, seasonal ingredients. Expect Evening Bar, with its seasonally crafted cocktails and bar bites, to be the city’s creative-class scene-of-scenes in the coming months (though don’t look for Jack White there), followed this spring by The Brakeman, an American beer hall, and Penny Red’s, a dedicated fried chicken spot (Is that a thing in Detroit?).
While the city may still be synonymous with urban decay, and a Motown / automobile-building paradise lost, the hotel does represent a new sort of optimism. And while more change will come in carefully measured steps, Shinola could be considered as representing a new era of the can-do spirit that built this once-great town. Expect to find us there often, helping to move it along.