Detroit’s Capitol Park neighborhood has changed a lot since Josh Greenwood first acquired the funky Mid-century modern building at the corner of Grand River and Griswold back in 2000. When he first opened his Urban Bean Co. coffee shop there, he installed a DJ booth as a nod to its former tenant, Blake Baxter, a techno DJ who ran the Save the Vinyl record store in the space in the ’90s.
“Nobody was in Capitol Park,” back then, Greenwood recalls. “There weren’t even streetlights. It was just like me and basically Larry Mongo [of next-door Cafe D’Mongos Speakeasy] holding down the neighborhood. He lived above his place, and I lived here at the store for a number of years.”
The Urban Bean Co. has opened in fits and starts, closing in 2008 and reopening in 2013, after Dan Gilbert relocated his Quicken Loans headquarters downtown and brought in an influx of young workers. In recent years, it seemed that Greenwood’s gamble was finally paying off, as Capitol Park now buzzes with a multitude of retail and restaurant options.
Then the pandemic happened.
Greenwood says he decided early on to use the forced closure to reimagine his shop, which resulted in rebranding it as SPKR BOX and acquiring a liquor license.
“As [Capitol Park] transitioned into what it is today, which is a thriving neighborhood, it only makes sense for us to get a liquor license and provide some booze and some coffee, and polish this thing up,” he says.
Greenwood has a deep love and appreciation for techno, having booked DJs for 25 years, including at his former Eastern Market nightclub Push. He’s gearing up to open SPKR BOX in time for the Movement festival, planning to draw techno fans to the renovated space with a number of DJ events.
The $750,000 restoration saw Greenwood and his partners, which also includes Tony Sacco of Mootz pizzeria, simultaneously bringing back elements of the building to their original glory while also adding new features. For example, over the years, as its windows broke, the previous owners replaced them in sections, resulting in a patchwork of uneven break bars. But now the glass window panes are restored to the original design, and Greenwood claims they’re now the tallest in the city at 14 feet and three inches high.
Additions to the space include a brand new bar and equipment, as well as the construction of a cozy private nook and a smaller, second-floor bar. The custom DJ booth’s wood panels have also been upgraded with bright yellow upholstery.
To helm SPKR BOX’s beverage program, Greenwood tapped Thomas Phillips, who comes with experience at Tallulah Wine Bar & Bistro and Bella Piatti in Birmingham and Red Crown in Grosse Pointe Park, among others.
Phillips says he is building a menu around coffee-infused cocktails, but wants the bar’s offerings to be well-rounded.
“If you walk in and you want a Margarita, or a Screwdriver, or a French 75, we can make that,” he says. “I want to establish that standard, and you can always have that here. But what we want to have fun with is kind of just like playing with coffee cocktails.”
“Before, it was a coffee shop with really good espresso and some fun lattes,” Greenwood adds. “And now we’re totally West Coastin’ it.”
For food, Greenwood says he’s partnering with a local company called Village Hand Pies, which makes what he describes as a cross between a croissant and a pasty. Phillips describes them as “adult Hot Pockets.”
SPKR BOX will be open daily 7 a.m.-2 .am. Greenwood says he is hoping to fill a niche in the local bar scene for “third-shifters,” noting that most bars in town don’t hold early morning hours.
Naturally, the renovations also include a new sound system, and Greenwood says he plans to pipe the music to an outdoor speaker to entice people walking down the street.
He’s lining up a number of DJ events for Movement weekend. That includes “The Juice is Loose” party from 3-8 p.m. on Friday, May 27, featuring DJs Sara Simms, Alley Kay, Animkee, Psy-Chick, Rirkin, VSRL, Zen Zero, Adam Charles, and Andrea Kalajian. On Saturday, May 28, the AM, Shigeto b2b Scott Z, and Isaac Prieto will also spin from 10 p.m.-4 a.m. There’s also a free drum and bass-themed party with DJ Rec starting at 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 29. A Movement afterparty is also planned for Tuesday, May 31.
Greenwood says he’ll also continue a tradition from the Urban Bean Co. days, recording the internet radio show Planet Funk for 313.fm on Wednesdays. The show features two guest DJs spinning live in the cafe, who are then interviewed.
“We don’t necessarily always play techno,” Greenwood says. “I mean, there are people that come in and play all these 45s and jazz and funk and r&b. … We kind of mix it up — but there’s no trance. We don’t allow trance here. Actually, there’s one person that’s allowed to play trance, but he only plays like once a year. He gets a pass, because he’s a sweetheart.”
He adds, “We’re excited about opening, and excited about the team. We’re gonna kick some ass on this corner. It’s not your normal coffee shop.”
“Like, we can be loud,” Phillips says. “That’s what I want, to be different. Like we want to be loud and proud, and blast jams, and have fun with it.”
SPKR BOX is located at 200 Grand River Ave., Detroit; more information is available at spkrbox.bar.