Two miles north of Birmingham, the upscale village where legendary crime author, Elmore Leonard penned such works as City Primeval, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Rum Punch – the later adapted for the screen by Quentin Tarantino as, Jackie Brown – sits the midcentury boutique hotel, The Kingsley.
As part of a relatively recent $15 million redesign by Neumann/Smith Architecture, the Kingsley’s enhanced modern aesthetic celebrates the return of the neighborhood hotel, where guests are invited to stay, work, and play in a Neo noir atmosphere one might expect to find in a Leonard novel.
The Hotel + Lounge
Populated with original artwork by Yigal Ozeri and Peter Tunney, with contemporary furniture, lighting and fixtures by Singer Design Group (Colorado), the public spaces, including the two story front lobby and lounge, Grand Piano chill room, outdoor patio area, and indoor saltwater pool, conspire to produce an aesthetic that echoes the glamour of Old Hollywood, the glitz of Las Vegas, and the sexiness of South Beach.
During the redesign, owners Zaid Elia and Mathew Shiffman decided to honor legendary actor, John Wayne by naming their lobby bar after him. “The Duke Lounge” features an Andy Warhol portrait of “The Duke”, along with an extensive Bourbon, whisky, and tequila menu. At night, the lively daytime crowd gives way to a more intimate setting, with mood lighting, cozy library nook, and a playful cocktail selection.
During Happy Hour, I chatted up a few locals who went on about the history of the hotel. Pam remembered The Kingsley as “the place to be”, with “a line of cars stretching north along Woodward waiting to to get in.” Apparently, her parents reserved Friday nights for dancing in the Ballroom. The bartender said The Kingsley now offers live music in the lounge area, which often includes the fireside living-room portion of the lobby. And, GM, Thomas Lamb, discussed plans to bring in DJs who spin lofi, chill, and retro vibe once spring breaks.
The Saltwater Pool + Patio
I asked Tom if he wouldn’t mind giving me a short tour of the hotel and he was happy to do so. We descended the marble staircase onto the floor that holds the grand piano and colorful, plush seating that accounts for some of the South Beach vibe. Natural light pours through a wall of glass and curtain sheers, which really make the colors in the space pop. Although, it was still winter on the other side of the double doors one could imagine the patio filled with the season’s best bikinis and men’s swimwear, sipping on cocktails in the lovely Michigan sun.
The saltwater pool is enclosed in an interesting architectural glass and steel grid that illuminates the pool and hot tub perfectly, while offering just the right amount of protection. Cabana chairs and tables are thoughtfully placed around both pool deck and patio, with arborvitae and other greenery assisting to provide an oasis for guests seeking a getaway.
Other Hidden Treasures
The lowest level of The Kingsley revealed more artwork, contemporary furniture and fixtures, and another Grand piano; with marble floors and luxurious thick rugs sharing the floor space. A team was preparing for what I discovered was that evening’s fashion event, held in a large and surprisingly warm event space. Adjacent to this room was another posh event space usually reserved for those interested in glamorous wedding settings. Tom said the smaller conference rooms on the level are often reserved by media for interviews with professional athletes. And, while he did not mention names, I think I noticed Tom hinting at a prominent Detroit sports figure “having a piece” of the hotel.
Apparently, Tom Lamb had once been employed by the New York Jets organization, responsible for accommodating the needs of its players and other such duties commensurate with his position, before returning home to Michigan to GM The Kingsley. And, he had some interesting stories to tell. Evidently, the hospitality sector is more complex and mercurial than one might imagine.
Staff members responded to Tom entering their spaces with such authentic Hello, Mr. Lambs it made me feel good to be in his company. And, the GM responded in kind. In the short time we spent together, I had the sense the staff respected Thomas Lamb in much the same way the current Detroit Lions consider their Head Coach, Dan Campbell.
Things To Do In The Area
The hotel seems perfect for a romantic overnight or weekend and for businesspersons or travelers looking for an edgier stay outside of downtown Detroit. Bloomfield ranks as one of the wealthiest cities in the nation and is surrounded by lakes, woodlands, and neighborhoods filled with beautiful architecture, galleries, shopping, and spas.
Birmingham: Often referred to as Uptown, the village offers plenty of walkable space, with shopping boutiques, coffee shops, bars and restaurants to choose from. Try Tallulah Wine Bar & Bistro, Bella Piatti (home of the celebrity dinner), and Forest for fine dining, La Strada Italian Kitchen & Bar, Luxe Bar & Grill (where I once sent ex Lion’s QB, Matthew Stafford a side order creamy coleslaw) or Salvatore Scallopini for a fun, relaxing date night. There are also a number of finely staffed Salons and Spas including, Deyo Studio, Spa Mariana, and Color Box Wellness. And, for those fans of Elmore Leonard who wish to pay their respects, the “Dickens of Detroit” final resting place is located in Greenwood Cemetery.
Cranbrook Gardens: There are over 20 gardens surrounding Cranbrook House including sculpture and other works by artists. Stroll through the Sunken Garden, The Mountain, tree covered trails, and the Japanese Garden. Take a self guided tour throughout 40 acres of grounds or sign up for the Cranbrook Guided Tour, July through September.
Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House: In the summer of 1941, Melvin Maxwell Smith and Sara Stein Smith drove to Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio near Spring Green, Wisconsin. The couple were public school teachers and apparently on a budget. But, it was a dream of Melvin, after being inspired by the architect’s Fallingwater House, to have his home designed and built by Wright, who agreed to an initial budget of $9,000 (and, a cup of coffee – and, that is a joke). I could tell you more but then why not visit what Frank Lloyd Wright called his “Little Jewel” all by yourself (or, with a partner).
Rooms + Amenities
Rooms and suites at The Kingsley are streamlined yet comfortable, with geometrically patterned carpets, sofas, and headboards against a two-tone palette of gray and white. Toiletries are by Crabtree & Evelyn, and the bath and shower areas are bright and very clean. If Vegas Business Chic were a term it could be used here.
We stayed in one of The Kingsley suites consisting of two rooms; one, with Queen size bed, wide screen, tele, full bath with walk in shower, and a desk/workstation (for me); the other, with kitchenette, bath, wide screen, and an ‘L’ shaped sofa. Rooms were separated by attractive French doors.
Not much of a view from the windows, I must admit, but the monochrome parking lot was much more pleasing after a night of freshly fallen snow. No matter, as the ceiling to floor drapery extended wall to wall, adding balance and texture to the room.
I said “we” because my partner and I were celebrating the seasons of love and lust, which in our world extend from mid January through Valentine’s, into Carnival. Masquerade season. And, we are not alone. The adventurous from around the globe come to Detroit to experience The Dirty Show, for example. While others travel to New Orleans for Mardi Gras or Paris for Carnival.
So, there I sat drinking a Bombay Sapphire Martini (with blue cheese olives) in the hotel bar when all of a sudden appeared, “Tsarina”. She spoke English in a broken early 19th Century Russian accent that seemed in keeping with the season. We soon found ourselves back in the Suite enjoying room service – a bottle of Veuve from The Duke Lounge and 8 oz Prime Chairman’s Reserve filets, w/ black truffle butter and zip sauce, from the adjacent restaurant, Joe Muer Seafood.
For dessert, we devoured delicious flourless chocolate torte from the hotel diner, Zalman’s On Woodward, and watched Josie and the Pussycats on the widescreen – the 1970 animated series, not the remake.
The rest of the evening is something of a blur.
In the Morning
I’m sitting in a booth at Zalman’s in real time sipping on a freshly brewed dark roast. I’ve just finished a very nice avocado toast on crispy multi grain. Customers and families are entering for Sunday Brunch, their children running up to the counter display windows eyeing homemade Pop Tarts and oversized Cupcakes.
It’s a joyous scene.
Decades earlier, I had many weekend breakfasts in this location. The room was always buzzing and I recognized even as a child that it attracted great natural light. I’d breakfast here with my dad. Sometimes, his friends would join us – Norb Bryl (the “Killer Kashub”), Jimmy Malick (a Vietnam vet and sign maker, responsible for the neon Birmingham Theatre sign), and sometimes author, Elmore “Dutch” Leonard.
“Dutch”, as our family called him, and my dad once had a conversation in this room, with me at the table, over a few meetings they had with the complex filmmaker, Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch), regarding his directing Dutch’s book (if memory serves) City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit.
“All he did is drive around town and snort coke,” Dutch said.
Obviously, they both liked Peckinpah’s work, and they liked the man, but the director was going through hard times. Story was, Peckinpah holed up in the RenCen’s Detroit Plaza Hotel for three days before leaving without paying his bill.
Interesting how memories fade in and out with the light.
“Will there be anything else?” the server asked.
“No, thank you,” I said.
She left the check.
A text came in from my partner, Nette: I had a lovely evening with you, darling. Xoxo. By the way, I took the car, the keys, and your wallet …
Thrilled to see how you get home ~ Tsarina