Hammer & Nail mid-century modern cocktail bar revives vintage drinks and a classic sign
Opening Friday, the new cocktail lounge sizzles with vintage decor, classic cocktails and an illuminated piece of local history
Like our own Vegas Vic the neon cowboy, for years Detroit's famous neon sign was the animated hammer and nail atop the Plaza building on Woodward just north of Mack.
Once called the Professional Plaza building, the former medical center was vacant by 2013 and soon after acquired by the Roxbury Group. Built in the mid 1960s, the Plaza is now home to 72 luxury apartments. The neon sculpture that sat on top was preserved, rehabbed and is now shining brightly — a little too brightly at first — behind the bar of Hammer & Nail, the new cocktail lounge opening Friday on the building's ground floor.
"We love seeing it actuated," said Roxbury Group founder David Di Rita. He said the pieces were physically intact but they were initially too bright for indoors, so they were toned down. "We took them to Spectrum Neon out of Detroit who reworked the neon ...and then we put a filter on them to soften them for indoor use, they were very, very bright."
"We really wanted to walk a line between being period-appropriate and being a little too precious," he said of the bar's vintage feel. "We want you to be able to get what you want when you come here."
Under the gaze of the three neon hammers and colorful nail (which is being spiked right into the back bar), guests can sip on a selection of throwback drinks such as the Wallbanger, Pink Squirrel, Tom Collins and Old Fashioned.
Hammer & Nail will also have a selection of bar-friendly food inspired by mid-century modern culture. The menu is developed by chef Jared Bobkin, who is also the head chef at another Roxbury property, the sky-high Monarch Club atop the Metropolitan Building in downtown Detroit.
The food and drink match the vintage look, tailored by Patrick Thompson Design of Detroit. A marble bar is the center point, with high top tables and banquette seating around the floor-to-ceiling windows. The whole bar has room for about 80 guests.
Rick Paulger is overseeing the drink menu. He's worked at several of the area's top cocktail destinations, including the Buhl Bar, which is also under the wing of the Roxbury Group.
"We aimed at some mid-century cocktails, mostly from the '50s and '60s," said Paulger. "The spirits that you see are all things that were popular during the era, we kept true to that with the beers as well — Black Label, PBR and Schlitz."
Paulger said he and his team spent six months alone doing research and development trying to make a Harvey Wallbanger (made with Galliano, vodka and juice) actually taste good.
"We found that if you add a bit of Amontillado sherry it rounds the drink out nicely ... so that's what we did with the whole program is to take things that weren't heard of and present those to people that maybe have never experienced something like that, and to take things that people have heard of, like the old school old fashioned, and we took that and tweaked it ... better versions of those drinks."
Hammer & Nail is at 3800 Woodward in Detroit on the ground floor of the Plaza. Once open Friday, hours will be 4 p.m.-midnight Mon.-Sat. and 2-8 p.m. Sun. Metered street parking is in front, or the bar will validate parking in the Ellington structure at Woodward and Mack. Visit facebook.com/hammerandnaildetroit or plaza.centercitydetroit.com.