Kiesling: A Neighborhood Bar

Kiesling: A Neighborhood Bar

Place-Making in Detroit



When Carlo Liburdi found the abandoned building at 449 East Milwaukee on the Detroit city auction in 2015, he immediately thought: “This needs to be a bar.”

In fact, that’s what it had been for many years, and what it is again as Kiesling, a neighborhood bar in Milwaukee Junction. In 2015, you might have called him crazy for thinking this could work in a neighborhood that had been starved of businesses and residents for decades, but he was onto something big. Our creative director, Ashley, took notice and jumped in to collaborate on everything from the bar’s design and branding, down to the Instagram.


The intent was to design an “elevated dive bar” where the community could enjoy exceptional craft cocktails, an adventurous wine list, great beer, and a $5 beer and shot in a relaxed but thoughtful environment.


We wanted to help create a place that brought various groups from the urban and suburban neighborhoods together, and worked to design a place that feels like a living room for the community, as well as a pleasant place to come to work.

A key point in the design was the decision that the bar’s presence would feel low-key, both from the street and from an advertising perspective. It should feel, rather, like a hidden discovery, quiet on the outside, but a delight on the inside. And no buzzy billboards or gimmicky ads for this place. People would find out about it through word of mouth, so the idea of “story” became paramount, and every surface had to be highly Instagram-able while remaining warm, human, and free from the sales pitch.


We started by honoring the local history, and focused on an appreciation of craftsmanship and artistry.

As we worked through the restoration of this corner bar originally built by Joseph Kiesling in the late 1800s, we uncovered amazing murals of forest scenes dating back to 1913. We brought in an expert to help us restore and protect the murals, and they became the inspiration for the graphic logo. The original owner’s name, memorialized in the mosaic on the front stoop, became the bar’s name while the logo font was adapted from the lettering in the mosaic.


We worked with artisans to make every space within the bar unique, from the 8 (!) patterns of hand-printed wallpaper, to the gold leaf lettering on the doors, to the woodwork and brass inlays on the bar. Historical maps of the neighborhood line the walls, along with photographs of the city’s prominent figures from music history.

(And yes, some local taxidermy!)


We wanted a place where customers would take a lot of pictures to help us promote the place, and the design encourages that. But we also wanted a bar where customers felt at home, celebrating a bit of Detroit’s past in a place that feels timeless, and the design has achieved that, too. It’s inclusive, attracting all groups of patrons into one environment, and we’re most proud of that fact.


It feels like your living room. But better.