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Detroit Gets Its First Black-Owned Speakeasy Bar, Willow, Downtown

Plus, a food festival within Detroit city limits is coming this summer

A golden door with a black willow tree silhouette painted on it against a blue gray brick wall in an alley in downtown Detroit
The entrance of Willow, the new Black-owned speakeasy situated in an alley behind SavannahBlue
Serena Maria Daniels
Serena Maria Daniels is the editor for Eater Detroit.

Detroit finally has a Black-owned craft cocktail bar, Willow, at 431 Times Square, that pays homage to Southern hospitality. The speakeasy, located in the alley around the corner from SavannahBlue downtown, quietly opened last month, according to the Freep.

Ron Scott, J.D. Simpson, and Roger Yopp — the group that owns and operates the swanky soul food restaurant SavannahBlue — brought on the bartending expertise of Andre Sykes, who previously ran the beverage program at Shelby, which under his leadership, was a semifinalist for the 2022 James Beard Awards for Outstanding Bar Program. Savannah Blue was also included on the Beards’ long list of nominees for Outstanding Restauranteur.

According to the Freep’s Lyndsay Green, a maître d’ uses a Ring doorbell to monitor and welcome guests through a golden door with the silhouette of a willow tree painted on it that leads to the luxurious interior. Behind the bar, Sykes tells Green that he designed a menu that tells the story of the Black experience through the lens of drinks, with flavors inspired by his Afro-West Indian heritage. For example, the Fannie Ward No. 2, a rum-based cocktail that utilizes the Jamaican hibiscus drink sorrel, is a nod to the original Fannie Ward, created by Black bartender Tom Bullock.

Hospitality Included Fest

The summertime Hospitality Included Fest is headed to the Milwaukee Junction neighborhood’s Chroma building, at 2937 E. Grand Blvd., on July 10. The event, in its second year, is geared at encouraging Detroiters of color to feel welcome to experience the many lauded fine dining restaurants that have opened over the past several years, as well as the city’s many emerging pop-ups. Among the brick and mortars headlining the festival are Oak and Reel, SheWolf, Freya, and Baobab Fare, while the pop-up options include the popular Fried Chicken and Caviar, Val’s Pizza, and Konjo Me, a pop-up that emphasizes traditional Ethiopian cuisine. Event founder and organizer Thor Jones tells the Freep that he wanted to address the lack of diversity within the city’s dining scene, a constant concern among BIPOC Detroiters who frequently express feeling unwelcome when dining in many of the newer (mostly white-owned) food and drink establishments.