Detroiters will soon be sipping bubblegum-hued Pink Squirrels and Blue Hawaii cocktails in a stylish mid-century bar as Hammer & Nail prepares to debut in at the base of the Plaza. The sleek lobby bar from building developers the Roxbury Group opens its doors at 4 p.m. on Friday, October 18 with a variety of under-appreciated throwback drinks and matching retro bar snacks.
Roxbury Group started dreaming up the Hammer & Nail back in 2017, when the Plaza reopened as a residential apartment building. The building, previously known as the Professional Plaza, dates back to 1966 and for many years served as the headquarters for the Carpenters Union. That group hung two identical neon signs on the north and south sides of the building with three hammers driving in a nail, giving the property its unofficial nickname: the Hammer and Nail building. As recently at 2014, the Professional Plaza was earmarked for demolition, but Roxbury stepped in to save it in 2016. The group poured $22 million into its restoration.
As part of the renovation, Roxbury took down the famous signage, but promised to preserve the neon. At the time, both signs were broken. The developers donated one sign to the Carpenters Union and kept the other, sending it to Spectrum Neon in Detroit for refurbishing. The refreshed sign now hangs as a bright and colorful beacon behind the bar at Hammer & Nail, reflecting off the lounge’s floor-to-ceiling windows.
Roxbury Group tapped Patrick Thompson design to develop the mid-century look of the roughly 60-seat space, which curves around the side of the building to the left of the Plaza lobby. Roxbury Group founder David Di Rita tells Eater the goal was to create a seamless feel between the lobby and the bar. The black and white-veined Nero marquina marble bartop is meant to mimic marble in the lobby. To that, the designer incorporated walnut bar chairs, brown leather banquettes, and brass lamps.
While the look is effective, it’s the menu and bartenders dressed in white jackets that really helps transport customers to a different era. Bartender Rick Paulger, of Roxbury-associated restaurant group TreeFort Hospitality, took the lead in developing Hammer & Nail’s cocktail menu. The menu is in some ways a response to the cocktail’s ongoing obsession with Prohibition and pre-Prohibition cocktails, as well as a tribute to the architecture in the building. “We took a lot of ‘50s and ‘60s cocktails that were maybe not heard of before or just not very popular because they weren’t very good and we tweaked them,” Paulger says.
At Hammer & Nail patrons can sip on slightly updated versions of classic drinks such as a Harvey Wallbanger or a Tom Collins. “One of the ones that we’re really proud of is called the Moonwalk,” Paulger says. “It’s a sparkling wine, grapefruit, Grand Marnier cocktail that was served to the Apollo 11 astronauts when they landed.” Two cocktails — a highball and a Black Russian — are served on draft. (The latter is nitrogenated with an optional cold foam float on top.)
Paulger worked particularly hard to get the Pink Squirrel on Hammer & Nail’s menu. The pink, creamy beverage uses Crème de Noyaux, an apricot pit and Amaretto liqueur that’s only produced by three companies and wasn’t available in Michigan. “We actually did a little bit of lobbying and got the liqueur added to the MLCC book, so that we could make that drink,” he says. Customers can also expect a variety of old-school, “uncle-working-on-the-car type of beers,” Paulger says, such as Carling Black Label, Blatz, Schlitz, and Stroh’s.
The menu is rounded out by a small menu of bar snacks, supplied by sister bar Monarch Club in downtown Detroit. Chef Jared Bobkin’s team is putting together options like deviled eggs, shrimp cocktail, warm onion dip, and more.
Di Rita, whose group also operates another mid-century styled bar called the Buhl, says he’s looking forward to bringing a new cocktail option to Midtown. “The building is full, it’s popular,” he says of the Plaza. “We’re just pleased to offer our residents a place in the neighborhood to congregate.”
Hammer & Nail is located at 3800 Woodward Ave.; open 4 p.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday and 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday; validated parking is available at the Ellington parking structure.
Update: Copies of Hammer & Nail’s final menu were added to this story after the initial publication.