Why Chef Andrew Carmellini Loves Detroit

Nicole Franzen

Bookings went live this month for Detroit’s hotly anticipated Shinola Hotel and Andrew Carmellini, the James Beard Award-winning chef behind its food program, tells us why the Motor City should be your next destination.

“For a first-time visitor, it’s striking how much business is getting done in Detroit,” said chef Andrew Carmellini, who’s rolling out four venues inside downtown’s Shinola Hotel, which just started taking bookings for its 129 rooms this week. “If you only paid attention to the news you’d think that nothing is happening here, but it’s not true—there’s a lot of rebirth with a DIY kind of aesthetic.”

Carmellini, a powerhouse in New York with storied institutions like Locanda Verde and the Dutch has opened restaurants in Miami and Baltimore as well, but Detroit brings him back to his Midwest roots. “I grew up in Cleveland and we used to go to Detroit a lot,” said Carmellini who notes that one of his partners, Josh Pickard, is from the Detroit area and both of them were especially attracted to the Shinola team’s commitment to local issues throughout the city. “There’s a rebuilding of America story here that we want to be involved with.”

Interiors throughout the Shinola Hotel were designed by Gachot Studios. Nicole Franzen

Carmellini’s four projects inside the hotel include two that will open this month: Evening Bar, a New York transplant offering craft cocktails in an intimate setting, and San Morello, a new restaurant concept with a seasonal menu inspired by the seaside towns of southern Italy. “There’s a pretty decent urban gardening system in Detroit that we plan on using for the ingredients whenever possible,” said Carmellini. This spring he’ll debut his first beer hall, The Brakeman, inside a sprawling alleyway structure that’s annexed to the hotel. It will have a rotating roster of Midwest craft beers, games like shuffleboard and ping pong, and a fried-chicken menu from his adjacent Penny Red’s, which will also open in the spring. “The alleyway is a unique location that just screams for this kind of environment,” said Carmellini. And while the Shinola is a destination in itself (there’s a shopping corridor with local designers), it is ultimately a hotel meant to host your next trip to one of 2019’s top destinations, so Carmellini gave us some tips on how to best enjoy Detroit.

Nicole Franzen

“I grew up in restaurants and I love restaurants, but I also love music and go to shows all the time,” said Carmellini. In Detroit, he’s been especially drawn to the jazz clubs throughout the city and recommends Cliff Bell’s and Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in particular, both of which have been open since the 1930’s. “You can’t recreate a place like Cliff Bell’s,” said Carmellini. “There’s a horseshoe bar and mahogany everywhere and it has perfect acoustics.”

For Baker’s, he notes the many greats who have played there, including Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, and Dave Brubeck. “It’s this standalone, cinderblock building with piano keys on it, but if you were driving past it, you wouldn’t 100% notice it,” Carmellini said. “You definitely feel like you’re in Detroit when you’re there.”

Nicole Franzen

Carmellini is also a devoted vinyl collector and visits the multitude of record shops the city has to offer. “In New York there are newer hipster record stores, but these throwback places don’t really exist,” said Carmellini. His favorites include Peoples Records (“It’s old school crate digging with random recordings, novelty records, and a huge classical selection.”) and Hello Records (“It’s a super deep dive into jazz history as well as local stuff, almost where you’re self-conscious for not having enough knowledge when walking around the store.”)

Nicole Franzen

Finally, Carmellini suggests checking out the Heidelberg Project, a neighborhood once virtually abandoned that became a blank canvas for artists. “There’s recycled stuff on the side of buildings, outdoor sculptures using salvaged items,” said Carmellini. “It’s a really cool art destination.”