WRITER | RACHEL WHITE
PHOTOS | THE SHINOLA HOTEL
As a kid growing up in Michigan, there was a pride that came from Detroit. We made cars, and we made music, and we were the best at both. There was nothing better than the Motown sound except maybe the exhaust note of the ‘67 Chevy Camaro. We were tough, too; we had Joe Louis and Gordie Howe, and we watched the Tigers play baseball all the way to the pennant. We powered the war effort. Detroit had an undeniable swagger.
Then, with the downturn of the economy came plummeting property values and deteriorating schools. Detroit became a punchline and was among the FBI’s most dangerous places to live. The city went bankrupt.
But Detroit remembers. The city is scrappy. The people of Detroit are vanguards, and we move the world. When the luxury manufacturing brand Shinola (named after a now-defunct shoe polish company) opened in Detroit in 2011, it brought with it jobs. Today the company employs over 500 Michiganders. Earlier this year, adding to the bicycles, leather goods, and, of course, watches that the brand manufactures, Shinola added hotelier to its resume.
Located on storied Woodward Avenue, the Shinola Hotel renovated two historic buildings — the old T.B. Rayl & Co. sporting goods and hardware store and a former Singer sewing machine store — and built three new ones with a nod to the architecture of Detroit’s past. These five buildings take up most of a city block, including the 16,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. The hotel is within walking distance of Comerica Park, Ford Field, and Little Caesar’s Arena and is a trolley ride away from the theater district, including the Fox and the Fischer Theaters.
The lobby, and indeed the entire hotel, is a warm and inviting place harkening back to the buildings’ original design. When you walk into the reception area, four walls are stunningly adorned floor-to-ceiling with Detroit fiber artist Margo Wolowiec’s custom woven panels. A scrap of wallpaper discovered while renovating inspired the marbelized wallpaper in the hotel today. A Detroit art gallery — The Library Street Collective — curated art from local and international artists. In particular, Nick Cave’s Tondo, a sequined wonder, bedazzles in the Living Room. The light-flooded Birdy Room features an iron and glass vaulted ceiling. But a business is only as good as the people who work there, and the Shinola employees are as friendly and helpful as you’d expect Midwesterners to be.
Another Midwestern quality: No one will go hungry at the Shinola Hotel. Guests can choose from an Italian eatery, San Morello, for pizza and pasta by James Beard award-winning chef Andrew Carmellini, or The Evening Bar for cocktails and bar fare. There is The Brakeman, a beer garden serving up Midwestern craft brews. For those in the mood for some comfort food, Penny Red’s has fried chicken and honey-butter biscuits. Finally, in the Living Room located right off the lobby, you can dine in or enjoy full-service in-room dining. All of the restaurants are open to the public.
Parker’s Alley is the hotel’s unique shopping center, worth a visit even when you’re not staying at the hotel. The name Parker is a tribute to Thomas Parker, one of the first black landowners in Detroit. The retail area includes stores like Drought, an organic juicery; Posie Atelier for fresh florals and jewelry; and, if the Mid-Century style has got you in a mood for all things vintage, check out Velvet Tower, a resale boutique.
The 129 rooms, like the watches and Detroit itself, are a mix of craftsmanship, luxury, and cool. The keys come on custom Shinola leather fobs engraved with the room number. The Mid-Century design feels homier than a hotel (they’re pet-friendly!), with comfy couches and loft-style windows flooding the rooms with light. The Michigan touches, though, are what make the rooms so special. Sumptuous made-in-Michigan mattresses. Stone finishes courtesy of Booms Stone Company. Some rooms have a Shinola record player with a curated classic vinyl selection. The minibars are stocked with Great Lakes potato chips and Vernor’s ginger ale.
Walking through the front doors of the Shinola Hotel, our steps become a little lighter as we push our shoulders back. The Lions are not looking too bad this year. We still make the coolest cars in the world. We make watches and build hotels – and we’re the best at both.
The Shinola Hotel
1400 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48226
(313) 356-1400 l ShinolaHotel.com