Detroit Has a New Pilgrimage-Worthy Hotel Bar
The Hotel St. Regis and its newly renovated B L V D Lounge are bringing back Detroit's midcentury glamour.
Detroiters are headed back to the bars. And the bartenders at Detroit's legendary Hotel St. Regis are bringing back its historic relevance.
"People are returning to more traditional cocktails, vodka, and whiskey drinks—classic mixtures that our parents loved are resurfacing," says Steve Ellis, head bartender of the St. Regis Hotel, where the newly renovated B L V D Lounge has been serving cocktails since the fall of 2020. According to Ellis, people are returning to traditional ingredients and appreciating the bar's local flair.
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After being home for a year, cocktail fans developed more of an appreciation for old-school high-quality ingredients. Things like bitters, fruit infusions, and liqueurs that have been around for decades are bringing back old cocktails like the Tom Collins, Negroni, and Salty Dog and giving the classic drinks a new twist.
The Hotel Saint Regis has nostalgic importance to a city that prides itself on being vital in the history of Black entertainment; Detroit is known as the resting place of Aretha Franklin and birthplace of the Motown sound. When the St. Regis opened in 1966, it was the most expensive hotel in America, boasting 24-gold walnut paneling and color televisions in every room. It was designed to be an elegant home away from home for General Motors executives traveling to and from GM world headquarters, which was then located across the street from the hotel. It hosted a string of celebrities, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Mick Jagger, George Clinton, Billy Dee Williams, and Jay Leno.
After the boom, like much of the city, it fell on hard times. In 2018, a group of investors that included former GM Executive Roy S. Roberts and members of the O'Neil D. Swanson family, Detroit royalty, reopened the historic hotel. When sisters Linda and Kim Swanson, two of the St. Regis owners and daughters of the late O'Neil Swanson, became hotel owners after years of running a funeral business, they felt it was another way to serve the city of Detroit. "We come from a family that's intrinsically deep in community, and these core values that both of my parents instilled in us exist in all that we do," says Kim Swanson.
When there was an opportunity to make updates, owners focused their efforts on a new bar and B L V D Lounge area while giving the hotel restaurant, La Musique, a facelift and a rooftop patio. The bar's floor-to-ceiling window overlooks a quiet street that was once buzzling with theater patrons. Golden suede-covered chairs dot the area. It's the kind of bar that conjures thoughts of eyeing new Cadillac accessories and enjoying a refreshing cocktail on a warm spring evening.
"It's a gorgeous building with a lot of history, and when you look at all of the energy that's shifting into a new season, we feel our bar has the potential to be an anchor of historical relevance," Ellis said of its opening in 2020. "The fact that it is located close to the last stop on the Q Line adds to its attractiveness and the impact it can have on the area. We are looking to create dynamic cocktail experiences that will keep people coming back for more."
The St. Regis also created its own signature cocktail, one that includes some of the key ingredients for Motown's glamour. Called the Native, the cocktail showcases local vodka from Two James Spirits, alongside a splash of sparkling water and pineapple simple syrup.
"Tasteful improvements will pay homage to the hotel's midcentury origins," says General Manager Oz Sheikh. Original historic archways and lanterns adorn the entrance hall to the hotel's Grand Ballroom, while sleek, modern touches will breathe new life into the cultured property."
Starting this spring, customers can find these special Detroit cocktails on the menu: The Last Word—a real Detroit original—was rumored to have been invented at a posh members-only club during Prohibition and calls for equal parts gin, fresh lime juice, chartreuse, and crystal-clear Luxardo maraschino liqueur, and the Grand Traverse is spin on the classic Champagne cocktail, with a blend of Michigan's own L. Mawby sparkling wine and cherry bitters. "We are excited by the potential that the St. Regis brings to the future of Detroit," said Linda Swanson, president of Swanson Funeral Home and a co-owner of the hotel. "We share in the vision for updating its facilities yet believe that its historic relevance will really achieve the goals that my family envisioned when we took an ownership position several years ago."
More information about the Hotel St. Regis and the B L V D Lounge can be found here.