In 1863, the first railroad tracks to reach Holly were those of the Detroit and Milwaukee Line, later joined by the Flint & Holly Railroad Line, founded by Henry Crapo. A modest, two-story wood building, called “The Washington House,” occupied the corner where the Holly Hotel presently stands.
More than 25 trains passed through Holly each day, bringing passengers, railroaders, freight and transients into the village and the saloons that lined Martha and Broad Streets. Recent free-for-all brawls typically left so many injured that Martha Street was dubbed “Battle Alley” by the locals–a name that remains today.
The Holly Hotel was the hub of social activity in the early 1900’s. Civic and social groups utilized the Hotel while train travelers and salesmen used the public rooms for meets and demonstrations. Sunday Dinner at the Holly Hotel was a formal event for locals and visitors alike, usually preceded by a performance at Baird’s Opera House, one block south.
The Historic Holly Hotel is a domestically scaled, three-story, gabled hip-roofed, red brick, Queen Anne style structure. There are two equally important facades: a long north elevation facing Battle Alley, and a narrow, east elevation facing the railroad tracks on Broad Street. The transition from the dormered, hip-roofed, north elevation is accomplished by means of a three-story, helmet-domed, octagonal, corner tower, which is the most architecturally distinctive feature of the building. A Tuscan column porch shelters the main entrance on the north facade is a 1913 replacement of the original 1891 porch which burned. The interior is elegantly finished with custom millwork, tin ceilings and plaster walls dating from the 1913 appearance.
The Holly Hotel is significant for its prominent role in the social life of Holly and as an example of the rapidly vanishing railroad hotels once so common in American small towns.
With so many trains stopping in Holly each day, the bars and saloons that lined Martha Street were the scenes of lusty brawls and battles almost daily. So many people were injured in the fights in front of the Holly Hotel that the locals nicknamed Martha Street “Battle Alley,” the name that is used today.
The August 29, 1908 visit of Carry Nation to the Holly Hotel caused tremendous notoriety when Ms. Nation and her Pro-Temperance supporters invaded the town, clubbing patrons of the Holly Hotel with their umbrellas. The painting of the flimsily clad lady above the bar unleashed further wrath, and Carry began smashing whiskey bottles with her trademark ax. Ms. Nation was appalled at the attitude of the Holly Hotel proprietor when he refused to condemn the drinking habits of the locals that patronized the Holly Hotel’s very large bar.
Her misguided and destructive actions prompted the Holly Hotel owner to have her arrested and lodged in the local jail. Governor Warner used Carry Nation’s incarceration as a political reason to visit Holly and address the townspeople (see photo.)
Today, the Holly Hotel celebrates Carry Nation’s visit each year with a celebration of her visit with special menus, a re-enactment of her visit and, of course, specially reduced prices on alcoholic beverages.
The first proprietor of the Holly Hotel was John Hirst, crowning his massive structure as “The Hirst House.” John Hirst boasted hot-water heat and elegantly appointed rooms, highlighted by his well-staffed and very cosmopolitan dining room.
In January of 1913, the structure suffered a disastrous fire which completely destroyed the second and third floors. Joseph P. Allen, a New Yorker, purchased the Hotel in 1912 and re-named it the Holly Inn. One year later, a massive fire almost destroyed the structure. Allen immediately rebuilt it in a much more modest style, lowering the roof, eliminating the top two levels of the tower, and substituting robust, Tuscan-columned porches for the more delicately scaled original ones. Allen dubbed the building the “Allendorf Hotel,” a distinguished imitation of the New York “Waldorf” name.
Allen redecorated the Hotel in the style of the Victorian period, using rich woods, luxurious velvets, lace and leaded glass. Fine linens, china and one of the best menus in the Midwest attracted visitors from all over the United States. The Holly Hotel was the hub of social activity in the early 1900’s. Pre-depression area residents would dress in their finest clothing to attend the famous Sunday Dinner at the Hotel, priced at fifty cents per person. Dinner was a very formal event for locals and visitors alike, usually preceded by a performance at Baird’s Opera House, one block south. When civic and social groups were active in Holly, they utilized the Hotel while train travelers and salesmen used the public rooms for meets and demonstrations.
Two World Wars, the Great Depression, the elimination of sophisticated train travel and the age of elegance slowly eroded Holly and the residents. Baird’s Opera House, the Holly Theatre, the quaint inns and many residents left the Village into the 1970’s. The Holly Hotel fell into disrepair over the years and became a transient boarding house and a pizza and beer bar.
Exactly sixty-five years to the date and to the hour of the first fire in 1913, the Holly Hotel burned again on January 19, 1978. Damage was estimated at $550,000 and the last significant architectural link to the 1800’s was being considered for demolition. An aggressive and two-year renovation was begun in 1978, with painstaking detail to drawings from 1891 and from personal accounts of local historians.
The ongoing restoration of the Hotel has been a labor of love. Each piece of wood, railing, molding, tile and glass which could be salvaged from the 1978 fire has been reincorporated into the decor. The original stair railing, which once led to the upper stories, has been converted to serve as the railing on the main floor bar. The back bar was reconstructed from materials which were formerly in Detroit’s original Cunningham’s Drug Store. Every doorway and arch has been carefully refitted into new entrances, allowing access to the present three main floor dining rooms and two private banquet rooms. On February 8, 1980, the Holly Hotel was entered into the National Register of Historic Places of the United States. The Holly Hotel is among an elite group of properties that has had continual food service in three centuries.
True to historic accounts from the turn of the century, the Main Dining Room has been decorated in burgundies, mauves and warm, dark oak, all typifying the Victorian Era. Rich Axminster carpeting provides an elegant field for the Victorian pedestal tables red velvet wing-back chairs, and arched, stained glass windows. Authentic Victorian gas fixtures reflect a soft light from the embossed tin ceilings. The dining rooms, each with it’s own distinctive character, have been appointed to blend true Victorian tradition with the spirit of the bustling railroad era.
Critically-acclaimed Classic and Creative American Cuisine is offered by our professionally-trained chefs. Major publications, including Bon Appetit, The New York Times, Better Homes and Gardens, Midwest Living and virtually every Michigan publication has praised the Holly Hotel for it’s architecture, ambience, cuisine and service. The Hotel has received numerous awards from the American Automobile Association, GaultMillau, Zagat Survey, Fodor’s Guide and the Mobil Guide. Recipes from our Chefs have appeared in more than seventy published cookbooks since 1979.
Improvisation is essential to the style of cuisine offered by the Hotel. Elements of flavor and color are cohesively blended and complemented, sometimes contrasted, to heighten the impact of presentation and appeal. Only the freshest foods, with no artificial additives, are utilized in the creation of entrees and accompaniments. Reflecting the regional diversity of our offerings, a menu is printed every day.
Our menu theory is unique. We offer our standard menu of “Signature Items,” virtually unchanged and adhering to the exact recipes from the inception of the Hotel, along with unique entrees that allow our chefs to continually introduce new and seasonal items. In addition to the standard menu and daily specials, our Chefs will prepare a eight-course “degustation” dinner, from appetizers to desserts, exclusively created for one table. As a family-owned and operated business, you can be assured that every detail is watched on a daily basis.
A talented patissiere fills our pastry tray daily with marvelous tortes, flans, mousses and gateau. With appropriate notice, we will prepare special order tortes, wedding and celebration cakes as well.
Elegant afternoon tea is presented at the Holly Hotel, Monday through Saturday from 2:00 P.M. Our three-course tea is served with antique porcelain and a private collection of china tea cups and silver service. The Detroit News voted The Holly Hotel tea one of the best in Michigan and private tea parties are often hosted for bridal and baby showers. A dynamic Brunch is served every Sunday from 10:30 AM until 2:30 PM.
An outstanding wine selection of more than 200 domestic and international wines, champagnes and liqueurs are offered by our wait staff. In addition, the Historic Holly Hotel is recognized as one of the originators of fair-market wine pricing for all wines on our list.
The Holly Hotel features a number of Special Events throughout the year. The Fresh Morel Mushroom Festival in late May, the Victorian Feast in December, and our special Holiday Dinners have continued for more than 27 years. Monthly “theme” dinners and tasting’s are usual and customary for our guests, and posted on our web site.
Professional “ghost hunters” have documented the Holly Hotel as a spirited location, and our “spirits” are featured every year during our October events. In December the Holly Hotel comes alive with the Spirit of Christmas with our Olde Fashioned Christmas Celebration, complete with characters from Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. Christmas Teas, and an elegant 18th century Victorian Feast. The Wall Street Journal recognized the Holly Hotel as one of the most “authentic Victorian destinations for dining at Christmas”.
In September, 1992, the Holly Hotel was selected by the George Bush Campaign Committee as the only dinner location during President and Mrs. Bush’s Michigan whistle-stop campaign. Every state governor since 1979 has dined at the Holly Hotel. The Holly Hotel has had it’s share of celebrity visits. Joel Grey was quoted in the New York Times that the Holly Hotel “…was as good as any four-star New York restaurant.” The Detroit Red Wings have graced the Hotel with a Stanley Cup visit following their championship years.
Our customers have told us that one of our greatest strengths is that we are one of the few remaining large restaurants that continues to be family owned and operated. You can be assured that daily operations are constantly under the supervision of George or Chrissy Kutlenios.
In 1983, only two professional Comedy Clubs existed in the state of Michigan when we opened the “Holly Hotel Comedy Club” in the lower level of the Hotel. Since that time, local comedians Soupy Sales and Tim Allen have joined with national acts such as Pat Paulsen, Bill Mahar, Judy Tenuta, Jackie Vernon, and hundreds of others for weekly performances.
In 1987, we began the “Holly Hotel Dining Club” offering our loyal customers everyday discounts, complimentary dinners, Comedy Club passes, preferred reservations, private party invitations and more. More than two-thirds of our members have been active Club participants for more than ten years, primarily attributed to our consistency for superb cuisine and service.
The Holly Hotel has been selected as the exclusive caterer for the Garden Park in Holly Michigan. This Italian-Renaissance walled garden can accommodate up to 160 guests and is considered one of the most significant private gardens in the midwest.