Sipping black coffee in the lobby of The Siren Hotel—and it’s actually her third cup. “Another, please, mister barista,” she asks, without removing her sunglasses, in an accent that’s definitely Italian. The young guy behind the Populace Coffee counter isn’t sure if she’s serious or joking. But then she laughs, he smiles, and she says, “Yes, another!”
As she gets her fresh pour, a new guest and his luggage are ushered through The Siren’s golden, mermaid-handled doors and into the eccentric splendor of this 14-floor, 106-room hotel. He walks up to the reception desk, looks for a bell to ring, and then notices there’s already a clerk smiling at him. He hurriedly completes his check-in and inquires, “Where’s a good place to get a drink?” The clerk points across the lobby to a doorway with a pink velvet curtain that’s drawn open just enough to reveal the darkened glow of a cocktail lounge. “The Candy Bar opens in nine minutes, sir.” He checks his watch—3:51 PM—and hustles off to wait, seated on the middle cushion of a pink clamshell sofa.
There is also the Social Club Grooming Company if you might need a haircut or straight-razor shave. Or perhaps some flowers for your bedside, arranged by local floral artist Lisa Waud of Pot & Box and available in The Siren Shop? Oh, and if you are feeling peckish or bookish, there is Albena, a very exclusive, reservation-only, eight-seat tasting menu in a private room from Chef Garrett Lipar, as well as a grab-and-go library of The Siren staff’s favorite reads, including Terry Southern’s Blue Movie, biographies of Charlie Chaplin, and The Social Climber’s Handbook.
So, can you believe this place was an abandoned wreck just a few years ago? The now-bustling building at 1509 Broadway Street in downtown Detroit was literally crumbling until design firm ASH NYC bought and renovated it. (In 2011, a 50-pound hunk of terra-cotta debris from the cornice came crashing down through the roof of an apartment next door. And when ASH founding partner and CEO Ari Heckman noticed a “For Sale” sign while walking past in 2015, things weren’t any better. “The top three floors were collapsing onto the street,” he says, “so we had to essentially take them down and rebuild them.”)
Originally known as the Wurlitzer Building, this Renaissance Revival gem—designed by Detroit architect Robert Finn and built by the Otto Misch Company—was erected in 1926 to be the home of Rudolph Wurlitzer’s piano, organ, radio, and jukebox empire. For a half century, it thrived as a music store, recording studio, repair shop, and concert space. Then Wurlitzer moved out. A few new tenants signed leases, but they didn’t linger long, and the building was finally empty by the mid-1980s. It stayed that way until Heckman and his fellow partners—chief creative officer Will Cooper, cofounder and chief financial officer Jonathan Minkoff, and director of development Jenna Goldman—decided that Detroit and the Wurlitzer were exactly where they wanted to open their second hotel.
“Hopefully our guests are comfortable during their stay but also pleasantly inundated with sensory experiences.”
“After the success of our first hotel, The Dean [in Providence, Rhode Island], we were exploring cities [including Detroit] that had similar characteristics to Providence: well-preserved historic architecture, a vibrant and growing arts and culture scene, burgeoning culinary density, etc.,” Heckman says. “The Wurlitzer Building,” he adds, “is very slender and tall with one of the most beautiful facades we had ever seen. It is also very narrow, which makes for a good hotel floor plan, and a bad floor plan for just about anything else.”
In the days following their first tour of the declining landmark, the ASH partners immediately moved to buy it. (“We called the broker, and despite having a deal on the table, convinced him to sell to us,” Heckman says.) Once the sale was completed, it was time for renovations—and they were painstaking and pricey. (“We don’t share specific costs, but let’s just say the renovation cost was about 20 times the purchase price.”) Yet through it all, the ASH partners remained unyielding in their commitment to preserving any original details, fixtures, and artifacts that were still in good enough shape to be salvaged.
We went to Detroit on a day trip and fell in love with the grassroots energy and the people; Detroit feels like a city of unlimited opportunity.
“The building was open to the elements for decades, yet there was still architectural integrity on the interior,” Heckman says. “Many rooms have their original wood floors, called ‘inchers’ because of their width. The stairwells have their original terrazzo flooring, which inspired our new bathrooms. There is a fragment of the original ceiling in the lobby, which we preserved in place. The old terra-cotta Wurlitzer signs above the 14th floor are visible to guests at the top of the new staircase.”
The design of the hotel; its retro-millennial lobby laden with antique finishes, midcentury furniture, and the most modern of amenities; the guest rooms, with their collections of vintage and custom ASH-designed furniture—they are all a mash-up of old and new, too. Not to mention relaxed and luxe, rough and lush, dégagé and glamorous.
“First and foremost, Will and I sought to create a hotel that changed the Detroit narrative, which for the last few years has been about grit and industry,” Heckman says, describing ASH’s aesthetic vision for The Siren. “We looked back to the turn of the century, when Detroit was a grand and elegant city, considered the Paris of the Midwest. We wanted to recapture some of the glamour that most people don’t know was a core element of Detroit.
“We took inspiration from all corners: palazzi in Italy, old grande dame hotels around the US and Europe, interior designers like Renzo Mongiardino and Syrie Maugham, and then the interior of the building itself, which we found described in great detail in a newspaper article from 1926.”
Now, toss in several shots of espresso from Populace Coffee, lots of pink and oxblood and avocado, some of Federico Fellini’s frenzied, fantastical extravagance, and the 1,500-pound vintage Murano chandelier that hangs from the ceiling of the Candy Bar.
And that is The Siren: a highly caffeinated, outlandishly dressed aristocrat of a boutique hotel, who likes to wear sunglasses indoors and take the edge off with a bubble-gum-flavored libation beneath a disco ball that’s spinning at top speed.