Liveliness radiates from Townhouse Detroit restaurant. Its bright, bold, Broadway-like exterior commands attention and beacons people inside. Once there, a variety of settings entices guests, whether they’re looking to unwind after work or to celebrate a special occasion with friends.
To visit the restaurant is not simply to eat and drink; it is to experience a slice of the burgeoning city. Its distinctive design opens the restaurant to the streets of downtown Detroit. A custom-made steel and glass atrium with live trees and other greenery gives guests an outdoor experience year-round. Its unique retractable roof and sliding glass walls − that open or close depending on the weather ‒ foster that refreshing feeling.
Those trendsetting features are just a few of the reasons the restaurant that lights up the southeast corner of Woodward and Congress in Detroit earned top honors for McIntosh Poris Associates. The architectural and design firm earned the American Institute of Architect’s 2016 Detroit Honor Award for Interior Design and the 2016 Detroit Home Design Award for Retail Interior Design.
“This design felt very ‘Detroit’, in that it expresses new energy and hopefulness for the future,’’ states the AIA Detroit website. “It exudes conviviality. From the horseshoe bar to the whisky lounge, there are a variety of spaces − a place for everybody. The engaging pavilion is a gift to the street.”
Those awards add to a stellar list of honors earned by the metro Detroit company, founded in 1994 when owners Douglas McIntosh and Michael Poris decided to leave the west coast and return home to put their talents to work in the city that they love.
Poris and project architect Laurie Hughet-Hiller are especially proud of their work there. They took what had been a vacant, fortress-like structure ‒that once housed a bank − and opened and expanded it into an attractive, inviting showpiece, adjacent to the One Detroit Center office tower.
“It makes us feel good when after working on this, and facing hurdle after hurdle, it finally gets built, and it gets the recognition it’s gotten,” Poris says.
Hughet-Hiller says they’re especially pleased with the impact the restaurant is having on the southern tip of downtown Detroit.
“It’s brought a new vitality to the area,” she says. “It’s nice to see people really enjoying and embracing it. That’s a great feeling.”
In addition to the centerpiece atrium, the 7,484 square-foot restaurant offers a sushi bar, a whiskey lounge that can be converted for private parties, a spacious outdoor patio with heaters that extend its usefulness past the typical summer season, an open kitchen and two discrete bars.
One bar area offers a more subdued ambience with rich dark woods and brown distressed-leather, a U-shaped bar, and a wall of ceiling-high shelves of rare whiskeys encased in woven brass netting.
A second bar, off the atrium, offers a more festive feeling. White leather chairs and lighter shades of wood brighten the space. Large walls of windows continue the indoor-outdoor vibe.
Throughout the 340-seat restaurant are touches of color and accents that reflect the brand of the original Townhouse in Birmingham, including natural woods and splashes of black, white and deep red color on drapes, walls and even the suspenders of the attentive wait staff.
Other special flourishes include gigantic chalk boards with writing that pays homage to Detroit and a variety of distinctive light fixtures; among them a clear-bulb arrangement in tune with the exterior marquee.
A fitting piece of prose, authored by Stefenie Sasson, sister of restaurant owner Jeremy Sasson, sets an upbeat tone on a wall-size chalkboard near the main entry way. It calls Detroit “the humble heartbeat of America, in darkness and in daylight, it drives the spirit and the dream. From poets to steelmen, dreams & thinkers, rock & rock to Motown, this is America at its finest.”
As if reflecting the poem, the restaurant attracts a diverse clientele: city dwellers, suburbanites and people of varying ages and races.
Architects Poris and Hughet-Hiller said their job was made easier by restaurant owner Jeremy Sasson, who had a vision of what he wanted: a restaurant that captured the urban landscape and brought the outdoors inside.
“Before (the redesign), the building said, ‘Stay out,’” Sasson says. “We wanted it to say, ‘Come in’.”
The $1.2 million makeover took about three months, though Sasson had the idea for a few years.
“What I liked is that they listened really well and brought good ideas back to the conversation, and what we ended up with is great,” Sasson says of Poris McIntosh Associates.
Poris says, “It came out better than we imagined. Jeremy said he wanted Townhouse 2.0 and he got Townhouse 8.0.”
For project architect Hughet-Hiller, the completion of Townhouse Detroit was like delivering twice. The restaurant opened in July of 2015. Her first baby, a boy, was born that September.
“This is a comfortable, open space,” she says. “It’s the kind of place you just want to sit and sit and enjoy.”
Sasson liked the firm’s work on Townhouse Detroit so much he’s already put them to work on another one of his downtown Detroit projects. Prime + Proper, a steakhouse (pronounced Prime and Proper, not Prime Plus Proper), is expected to open in Capital Park in April of 2017.
Other popular spots the company has designed include Hop Cat in Detroit, Small Plates in Detroit and Royal Oak, Prism in Greektown Casino in Detroit, and Vinsetta’s Garage in Berkley.