Can you hear that? A delirious tangle of jazz notes, a girl band jauntily recalling a break up through layers of crackle, amiably discordant dance tracks: these are the songs of the Siren, a hotel that’s turned the volume back up in downtown Detroit’s 1923 Wurlitzer Building (where pianos, organs and jukeboxes were made and played). Hoteliers Ash NYC rescued the Italian Renaissance Revival marvel from the demolition crew and looked to its glory days while decorating. Swagged velvets, grandiose antiques, fringing and tassels, heavyweight chandeliers and a bar pinker than Miss Piggy’s wardrobe – and just as fun – have redoubled the glam. While purposeful partnerships – with a record store, karaoke bar, barber, artists and more – and conceptual and casual dining have captured the city’s soul.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from €187.48 ($200), including tax at 12 per cent.
Rates don’t usually include breakfast: grab-and-go pastries and coffee at the Siren Café or a full Irish or Mediterranean at Karl’s.
The hotel boutique is a seriously curated space where you can buy cult books and magazines from [email protected], limited-edition photo prints by Detroit artist Bill Rauhauser, fragrances, jewellery, clothing and apothecary potions. And, you might see more pieces from the recipients of the hotel’s Artist in Residence program, where during the pandemic creatives were given space to work in peace here. There’s a fascinating roster, including Lancer Casem’s scene-feeling photography, Marcus Morris’s queer documentation, Nabeela Najjar’s ethereal costumery.
With a rooftop hangout in the works and Paramita Sound currently tuning up, the Siren has a few more opening bars to come.
At the hotel
Rooftop, vinyl bar and shop, barbershop, piano-karaoke bar, garden courtyard, boutique, café, charged dry-cleaning service, ice-machine and ATM in the lobby, free WiFi. In rooms: flatscreen TV, selection of bottled cocktails and gourmet snacks (turkey jerky, candy bars, nuts, granola) American Medicinal Arts bath products.
Our favourite rooms
The rest of the hotel might be frilled up to the gills, but rooms are kept relatively simple, with just a handloomed throw there, a small vintage picture there, and perhaps a spray of flowers. Although jazzy red, blue or green terrazzo makes the bathrooms pop. However, if you do want a to-the-maximalist space, choose the Penthouse, which has an enormous bird sculpture, deep-pile rugs, velvet chaises, and a chandelier. Or one of the duplex suites (Parlor or Chamber), which have adequate fringing, frippery and strokable fabrics, plus some ‘oh, Canada’ views.
There’s no spa, but gents can get a little TLC thanks to ‘cultural emcee’ Sebastian Jackson, founder of the Social Club, which aims to bring the camaraderie and community feel back into barbershop grooming. He built his first salon using timbers from blighted Detroit homes, distributes hair clippings to local parks to use in fertiliser, and sells ‘anti-racist’-branded clothing, but above all, he’s good for a natter. Get settled in one of the two retro seats he’s set up here and learn a lot about Detroit then and now as you get a trim or classic straight-razor shave. And, guests can use their key to enter the YMCA gym next door for free.
Just have your boy bring in the steamer trunks and hat boxes… If you can resist surfing on the old-time-y luggage cart then you’re a stronger person than us. However, if you’re staying in one of the lower category rooms, they can be on the snug side and a little lacking in storage, so give the boy a break and pack a weekender.
All public areas are accessible and eight of the guestrooms.
The hotel has packaways and bunk rooms, but the fun is all adult.
Before super-cool hoteliers Ash NYC bought the Wurlitzer building it was due for demolition, but now – after a thorough refurb – the 1926 Italian Renaissance Revival marvel has become a part of Detroit history in the best possible way. And the city’s multifaceted past hasn’t been papered over – rather embellished and celebrated, while making meaningful connections with the city’s new groovers: barber and activist Sebastian Jackson, music obsessives Paramita Sound, chic chef Kate Williams, in-the-know curator Sarah Ayers. And, to keep the building in good shape, there’s an energy-saving HVAC air-conditioning system.
It’s a ballsy move to make food less than a couple feet away from the person who you’ll see eating it – but it’s this kind of confidence in the craft that we respect – slide up to Albena’s counter and doff your cap.
Dial it down for Albena in deference to the very serious cooking. Then all the way back up for the Candy Bar where things get much sillier.
In a hotel that flirts with flamboyance at every turn, Albena seems straight-laced in its monastic white vault with a staid eight-cover counter where diners perch upfront and chefs busy themselves behind. But, think of it as a refreshing palate cleanser, one that recalibrates your tasting zones in exciting ways with the sort of dishes that will make you curse seasonal turns as the chefs chop and change ingredients. But, even those who’ve rued the fleeting existence of just-found favourites here – the holiday menu with its sticky-with-honey-and-clove pork rib found many a now mournful admirer – keep coming back for plates that bring out the potential of humble parts. Say, the ‘caviar’ made of fermented eggplant and okra seeds, a ‘garden sorbet’ galactic with bright heirloom tomatoes, or a cream of strawberry and sumac topped with teeny edible flowers. Of course there are the less humble eats too – we’re looking at you, foie-gras-cream stuffed pastry horn and chocolate cake layered with maple buttercream – as a decadent counterpoint to the minimalist mien. Or, maybe you just want to chow down on chicken tenders, banana pudding and something called a ‘cookie smash’ that we want to be acquainted with. Karl’s does comfort food but elevated enough to make it feel grown up. The grilled cheese comes gooey with apple butter, the beef melt is slick with steak-sauce aioli, the chicken and waffles have scallions, hot maple and a dunking of blue cheese… The whole menu, and the Detroit ephemera lining the walls, is as heartwarming as its backstory; it was inspired by chef Kate Williams’ great-great grandparents, Anton and Elizabeth Karl, who owned an East-side bakery which never did well because Elizabeth would sneak loaves to those who couldn’t afford them. Have a bash at the Wurlitzer jukebox before you leave. And, downstairs the Siren Café has trays of tempting pastries – best washed down with a stirring mug of joe from Populace Coffee of Bay City.
‘Come on Barbie, let’s go party’ has rarely rung truer than at the Candy Bar, which is where you’ll find the pneumatic dollface when she needs to get out the dream home for a bit and pound a few pink martinis. You enter past a pink-velvet curtain, settle into a rosé-hued booth, crossing a blushing checkerboard floor; everything – the panelling, the palm-tree struts holding up the corners, the marble tabletops – is a shade of cotton candy, and the disco ball and conspicuous chandelier glamorously presiding over a semi-circlet of bar serve an extra helping of froth to this giddy concoction. As for drinking, think pink: the Oaxaca Sunrise with mezcal and watermelon and Ruby Sour with vodka Aperol and raspberries both come up rosy. And at fabulously throwback Sid Gold’s Request Room (open on weekends) – entered from the alley behind the hotel – budding power balladeers can belly up to the piano and belt out karaoke classics. And, the hotel has partnered with beloved West Village gig venue Paramita Sound (right next door), a bar, cafe and venue resonant with city noise: the bellow of a Wurlitzer organ; Motown soul, jazz and rhythm and blues; techno and new beats. Stop, look and listen – grabbing a drink and some vinyl as you go – and see who’s taking to its stage.
Albena runs from 5pm to 10pm, the Siren Café serves from 7am to 4pm and Karl’s (open Wednesday to Sunday) from 10am to 11pm. The Candy Bar wraps things up at midnight in the week, till 2am Friday and Saturday.
The Siren sits downtown, just due north of the river, on fittingly theatrical Broadway Street, a block from main drag Woodward Avenue, and close to all three of the city’s main sporting stadiums.
Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport is a 25-minute drive from the hotel.
Detroit’s Amtrak Station is a 10-minute drive as the crow flies, along Woodward Avenue. The high-speed Wolverine trains travel to Chicago, Michigan and Ann Arbor, or the QLine tram will take you north. The People Mover, an elevated monorail that goes in a loop through the city, can be caught at Broadway Station, pretty much on the hotel’s doorstep.
Well, this is Motor City, and it’s a sprawl, so some wheels will make life much easier for you. If you plan to stay downtown – and there are distractions for days – you can rely on the People Mover; but once you leave its loop, transport is limited. The hotel offers valet parking for £34 a night, or the Z Park Garage is very close by.
Worth getting out of bed for
Where do we start? Detroit – AKA Motor City and ‘the D’ – has lived many lives and had whiplash turns of fortune. A French fur-trapping colony and key stop on the underground railroad for refugee slaves, it’s survived fires, race riots and bankruptcy while also being a titan of industry thanks to Henry Ford, and birthed several major musical zeitgeists due to the juggernaut that was the biggest black-owned label Tamla Motown, and the Belleville Three, who propelled techno and afrofuturism forward. Not to mention scuzzy rockers MC5 and Alice Cooper, weirdniks the White Stripes and giving Eminem plenty to rap about. Its play-it-safe motto ‘We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes’ could be copied and pasted onto various events, but, from ‘ruin porn’ and Robocop’s prescience, it’s very much back in business and the Siren is central to the action. If there’s not a show playing at Paramita Sound, head down the street to the very grand Opera House, Fox Theater, or the Gem Theater, known for its quirky stagings. Close by you have Ford Field for football (go Lions!), Comerica Park for baseball (go Tigers!), and Little Ceasar’s arena for ice-hockey (oh my). Alongside the hotel’s highly ornate skyscraper, there are plenty of striking structures to tour in the ‘hood: the Penobscot Building, Guardian Building with its cathedral-esque frescoed ceilings, One Woodward (built by Minoru Yamasake, architect of the World Trade towers), and the Detroit Masonic Temple, a Gothic beast saved from closure by none other than Jack White, where you can tour its shrines and lodge rooms, bowl or catch a gig. Get schooled with stops at the Motown Museum (AKA Hitsville USA) and the Charles H Wright Museum of African American History, and get to know the art scene that put the city back on the map. A few blocks away you’ll find the Lisa Spindler Studio, David Klein Gallery and the Library Street Collective, and the Detroit Institute of Arts is further north, or you could wander the Grand River Creative Corridor where graffiti artists have been given free rein. Crow Manor is a lively arts collective who throw offbeat parties (Crownival is quite the ride), and the McNamara Terminal Light Tunnel is trippy as hell. If you must do some urban exploring, you could try the now-slightly-less Grande Ballroom, or St Agnes Church – but you didn’t hear it from us, it’s a dangerous and legally shady pastime. Intead, why not just grab a drink and relax to some music; art deco club Cliff Bell’s is in keeping with the Siren’s vintage allure and its jazz is finger-clicking good, Deluxx Flux’s searing neons might bring on a seizure or an awesome night but it’s worth risking it, and the UFO Factory is gleefully fun with dance parties and karaoke. Walk off your hangover through Belle Isle Park, a – um – beautiful island with a beach, aquarium, conservatory, museums and more.
Due to the city’s vastness and diversity, Detroit’s dining scene can be hard to get a handle on. Yes, the rectangular and very deep-dish pizza is easy to find, but otherwise, the city’s a constantly refreshed buffet of brilliant eats. Where to start? How about Wright & Company, just a few steps away. Its dining room is a post-industrial vision of thick metal beams and exposed brick, and its menu is a thing of beauty too, with cinnamon- and coriander-cured pork belly with tequila-braised onions and an outrageous heaping of chipotle-de-leche; burrata with yuzu, tahini, melon and a peanut-and-prawn pesto, and innovative meat-free fare, like the potato pavé with garlic cocoa butter, dried strawberry and marrow cream. About a block away is elegantly appointed Italian San Morello who’s liable to incite passions with dishes such as Tuscan liver mousse with hazelnut brittle and rhubarb mustard; black pasta shells filled with red shrimp, octopus and confit tuna; and roasted-strawberry tiramisu. At this point you might need a lie down, but no – it’s off to Mootz for pillowy pizzas and a slice of limoncello cake, and Leila for a smorgasbord of flavour-bomb small plates. If you like your steaks like your pizza (thicc that is), head to Prim & Proper for meaty slabs, chicken-fried lobster tails, blue-crab salad and some caviar, cos why not? And for a side of spectacle, dine at Highlands, set on the 71st and 72nd floors of the Renaissance Center; the steaks are succulent, the scallops with braised oxtail in a sweet onion and foie gras jus are chef’s kiss, the wines well chosen and the city sprawl sparkles after dark.
Many outfits in Detroit sprung from more lo-fi sources – take Paramita Sound, the hotel’s neighbouring gig venue and wine bar, which came about through a group of DJs throwing raucous house parties. Trinosophes started ephemerally with acoustic bands on street corners coming together, until it moved into a former spice warehouse to become a super-cool hangout. They have a record label (Two Rooms Records) and a quarterly arts and literary journal (Three Fold Press), and tasty snacks (asparagus with taleggio, chimichurri and pistachio on toast, flowery salads, rice bowls, vegan sandwiches) to go with the live music. For coffee head to Mad Cap, just down the road, where the owners have whittled down their selection of beans from thousands tried around the world.
A short stagger from the hotel, Vertical wine bar will have you horizontal after sampling from the by-the-glass wine list it’s packing, with new and old appellations to travel. It does also have some elegantly composed charcuterie and cheese boards, and dessert cocktails such as the Lady in Red with vodka, red-velvet cake, chocolate, cherries and whipped cream, which we’d count as a balanced meal. Evening Bar is indeed fit as a stay-up-late hangout with a very long bedtime story of a cocktail list. We recommend the close-your-eyes-and-point-at-random approach, but for a calculated choice, the Mai Pai with blueberry bourbon, apricot, pecan and lemon is an appealing concept. Alfresco drinkery the Skip is good vibes only, with tiki cups, a totally tropical look and boozy slushies. And sort-of-but-not-really secret speakeasy Cafe d’Mongo is an odd duck with decor that treads a fine line between hipster and hoarder, but it might be the friendliest bar you frequent here – retired owner Larry D’Mongo still jams on gig nights, the kitchen pumps out gourmet grilled cheeses, and barkeeps are charismatic as they come.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this Italian Renaissance re-revival skyscraper in downtown Detroit and unpacked their photo prints by artist-in-residence Bill Rauhauser and selection of cult books from the in-house boutique, a full account of their strikes-the-right-note break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside the Siren…
We’ve always imagined the mythical siren’s song as a sort of lilting Enya-esque folk ballad, but in Detroit it’s – of course – a lot cooler. It might be a smooth gospel tenor sliding silkily in through vintage vinyl crackle as you sip a glass of wine, a melodious jazz-piano meander to unleash the night, or an obscure Motown ‘45 clicking into place in the jukebox for cocktail hour. A ravishing new hotel, moved into the restored 1923 Wurlitzer Building, the Siren’s lures are hard to resist. Heed, and you’ll find yourself back in top-of-its game Detroit, where the Italian Renaissance Revival interiors and architecture are radically colourised and brimming with life – there’s fringing and tassels, reams of rainbow velvets, palms and eye-popping paints, diva-esque chandeliers, and ‘what the hell’ statement antiques. The Candy Bar is a flamingo-hued Barbie dream drinkery just the right side of sickly, and the lobby and its lounge look like they’ve been styled by Victorian hoarders (but in the best possible fashion). It’s not the post-industrial girder-and-brick look that newly rescued Detroit buildings are famed for, more as if the Grande Ballroom or Michigan Theater dialled back the clock. If it weren’t for Ash NYC hoteliers (who’ve proved their refurb chops with New Orleans’ Hotel Peter and Paul), the Wurlitzer – once ‘the World’s largest music house’, with stores, a repair shop, school, studio and concert space – might be one of those gracefully decaying relics, or totally destroyed; and part of its restoration has been reintegration into the community. A network of natives have helped to inject soul into the place: say regarded street photographer Bill Rauhauser; cultural emcee and sociable barber Sebastian Jackson who trims and strims gents in the lobby; record shop and gig venue neighbour Paramita Sound, who’ve partnered for live music seshes; and chef Kate Williams who’s carrying on her great-great grandparents’ legacy and has lovingly turned diner Karl’s into a city homage, amassing memorabilia. And, its downtown location has a front-row seat to all that’s coming up. Altogether it's a hotel in step with a city that’s always moved to its own beat.