Timeless lodging branded after a watch: Detroit’s Shinola Hotel

A cheeky sign in a watch shop window suggests: “There is no present like the time.”

Shinola Hotel is a gift to the Motor City – and opened not a moment too soon.

Shinola Hotel Detroit

Shinola Hotel’s location is dead center in dynamic Downtown Detroit. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


“I was initially worried about the phrase that usually accompanies the word ‘Shinola,’” said Claude Molinari, Visit Detroit’s CEO, when asked about the city’s most prominent hotel lodging experience. But the Shinola brand name – Detroit-made watches, bicycles and leather goods – has come to represent timeless quality, style and dependability. “Shinola products are ambassadors for Detroit – as is the Shinola Hotel.”

Indeed, the Shinola Hotel’s windowed, art-filled lobby full of furniture off Grand River Avenue at Woodward, is dubbed “Detroit’s Living Room.”

“We socially activate the ‘Living Room’ to welcome the community by presenting showings for local artists; poetry readings; launches for authors who’ve written books about Detroit; and music,” said Sergio Maclean, a Spaniard, by way of L.A. and N.Y. who consulted on the snazzy hotel’s development and now directs its management with his wife Audrey Laurent Maclean. They’re company, Mac & Lo, makes the hotel operate like clockwork.

While previously operating in New York the couple looked around the country for a city with intriguing, fertile growth opportunities. After considering Pittsburgh, Portland and Austin, they pushed the accelerator on the Motor City. “We visited and quietly sat in hotel lobbies, bars and restaurants listening to and observing people,” revealed Maclean, who began his career in show business. “And everyone we met with professionally greeted us with open arms and was helpful.”

The eventual thruple of Mac & Lo, Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock company, and Tom Kartsotis’ Shinola brand gave birth to the boutique beauty of an art deco hotel that knows its “S” from Shinola.

Blonde wood, subtle, indirect lighting, comfortable crannies, dark corners and huge windows overlooking architecturally intricate Downtown Detroit are a few of Shinola’s soothing specialties. For a hotel named after a watch, it has a timeless feel – with no screentime needed. No front desk I-pads, apps, or even digitally lighted alarm clocks in the rooms (Sleepers see Shinola’s old-school clock face hands, instead.) “We want guests to enjoy being in the present moment with us. We don’t want them having to work to connect for any of their needs.” Maclean explained. Even the telephones are old-school and simple, with a label reading: “push zero for anything.”

San Morello, Shinola’s streetside brasserie-type bar and restaurant, mixes locals and hotel guests, including Gilbert himself – and, for instance, visiting NBA teams (Gilbert, after all, owns the Cleveland Cavaliers.) It’s nice symmetry that Gilbert’s ambitious Hudson’s Building project is across the street…and an adjacent Shinola shop is on the hotel’s north side.

What lessons have the Macleans learned after three years of looking after Shinola Hotel?

“The annual Movement Electronic Music Festival in late May was much bigger than we anticipated,” Audrey Laurent Maclean admitted. “On Sunday’s check-out day we had, at noon, a hotel full of doors with ‘Do not disturb’ signs hanging on them. Housekeeping now knows to come in late on that weekend.”

Room 208 is the most coveted for Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The tall, expansive corner windows seem to place the guests right in the parade!

The Macleans, now living full-time in midtown Detroit, are, themselves, shopping for a new vacation escape.

“We used to escape to relax in Tulum, Mexico, but it has become very busy now,” Audrey explained. Sergio countered, “We work in luxury hospitality every day, so we seek totally simple, quiet solitude with no frills.”

Shinola Hotel is a handcrafted, masterful combination of calm in the middle of town with both luxury and simplicity.

Contact Michael Patrick Shiels atMShiels@aol.com His radio program may be found at MiBigShow.com or weekday mornings from 9-noon on WJIM AM 1240

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