Countless rows of bottles, illuminated by the lazy afternoon glow of sunshine through sizable adjacent windows. Each vessel granted with its own unique hue, blushing at the warm touch of rays wrapping across their labels. Unique varieties, regions and countries represented side-by-side, sharing the same space; waiting for the chance to be released at the lips of a curious patron. A wine for every palate, proudly standing in the gaping light, longing to be noticed by a passerby.
Such is the scene as you enter The Royce Detroit with its gleaming front windows that beckon natural light over its shelves of wine from across the globe.
Situated in The Kales Building ‒ one of famed architect Albert Kahn’s many masterpieces strewn about the city − The Royce wine shop and bar is a bright and refreshing space to step into – a sharp contrast against the dark façade of the giant skyscrapers just outside the front door. And that is exactly what Kahn intended, having designed The Kales Building in the early 20th century to be wrapped in glass, drenching with daylight the occupants inside.
Originally home to Kmart Corporation’s corporate headquarters, the 1914 skyscraper would later be used mostly for medical offices until its untimely vacancy in 1986 – a tale too often told of the beautiful structures in Detroit. Abandoned for decades, the building narrowly avoided demolition in the nineties before being bought up and renovated to make way for housing with the sudden re-inhabitance of Detroit’s formerly dwindling downtown.
Today, The Kales Building flourishes, comprised mostly of residential lofts and condos with a few retail spaces at ground level. What used to be corporate and medical offices has made way for a medicinal value of a different kind, with The Royce prescribing grapes to any drop-in who desires the satisfaction of a great conversation or perhaps an escape from what has been weighing on their mind. This is a dream come true for co-owner Angela Rutherford, who left her career in corporate America in hopes that her passion for wine could materialize into not only a livelihood but an experience unlike most others in Detroit.
“I want to be the reason why people live downtown,” said Rutherford. “You know, there are a lot of restaurants opening up and they feel more like destinations that draw in crowds from the outside – which is not a bad thing – but there aren’t many neighborhood kind of hangout joints that have the lights on and the sidewalk in the areas where people are willing to walk by and come in.”
So far, that is just what has happened with The Royce’s instant success: nightly throngs of people – Detroiters, suburbanites, residents of the building, those just stopping by; people of every age and color – dropping in to enjoy the wine and relax in the ambience of the space. A space that is bright and airy, with white exposed brick walls, yet rich and comfortable with Persian-style rugs and dark racks of deeply colored wine bottles and Art Deco accents.
Rutherford’s plan for The Royce’s interior was a long time coming, making the space that she found in The Kales building rather fortuitous as it perfectly coincided with the vision that she had imagined for so long.
“Kahn was a phenomenal architect who designed the greatest buildings in the city. Without even knowing what space we were going to go in, I always had in my head the look and feel of this place. The design was going to be inspired by Detroit’s Art Deco and industrial past and I think that’s what we’ve achieved here.”
But it is not just the incredible wine selection and location that has made The Royce a standout; it is also their commitment to the community that sets them apart.
The Royce has a no-gratuity policy, but for patrons who are so inclined, 50 percent of tips are donated to a charity of the month which is selected by employees. So far, The Royce has supported organizations like Detroit Black Community Food Security Network which dedicates itself to the cultivation of healthier food and greater local participation in the politics of food production; and the Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park – a non-profit committed to providing a safe space for LGBTQ youth.
“We try to focus on really grassroots, community-based, small local charitable organizations,” said Rutherford.
This community-centric mindset comes as no surprise once you learn about Rutherford’s inspiring family history. The Royce’s namesake, Francis Royce Rutherford – Angela’s late grandfather – was a Detective Sergeant in Flint with a heart for his city. Detective Sergeant Rutherford saw the need for better relationships between kids, the city of Flint and the local police and thus created a school program that got local kids active in the Flint community. The program was so successful that it was used nationally and abroad. Angela couldn’t be more proud of this piece of her heritage.
“He’s just always been a huge inspiration to me in terms of giving back to the community and being a part of the community and I wanted to honor that. It’s why we raise money for these local charities every month.”
Rutherford sees a future for The Royce where the space is used as a stage to hold fundraisers and host conversations about what is happening in the community, similar to the way that her grandfather did so many years before. In the meantime, this is already happening on a smaller scale, one conversation at a time. The clientele, like the drink they imbibe ‒ diverse, complex, comprised of so many different hues from so many regions local and afar − mingling by the big front windows, side-by-side in the warmth of the Detroit sun.