See inside Grand Hotel’s famous Cupola Bar after glitzy renovation


MACKINAC ISLAND, MI – Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel is a landmark all by itself. But it’s also a bit of a travel nesting doll in that a few of the spots inside of it hold their own icon status.

The Cupola Bar is one of those. It’s a sought-after spot for first timers and returning guests alike. The high perch atop the historic resort means it offers knockout views of the Straits of Mackinac, the Mackinac Bridge, passing freighters and ferry boats.

It’s a beautiful destination during the day. But at night – during sunset and when the sky goes all velvet – the old-school glam factor really turns up.

Guests this season are getting even more of this luxury feel after the Cupola Bar space was refreshed in the off-season with new furniture, new fabrics and special design touches.

The renovation was overseen by Dorothy Draper & Company, which is among the oldest interior design firms in the United States. Their team has long had a partnership with Grand Hotel, handling the design elements not only in their guest suites but also in the hotel’s colorful and patterned public spaces.

Grand Hotel and the design team are sharing photos of the refreshed Cupola Bar with MLive readers. During the day, the new furniture and design elements give it the feel of a swanky garden party. At night, it’s a glitzy place to have a drink and listen to music.

The Cupola Bar at Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel had an interior design refresh ahead of this year’s season. Photo provided by Grand Hotel.

Here are some design note highlights, provided by Rudy Saunders, design director of Dorothy Draper & Company.

“This space transitions from day to night providing one of the best views on Mackinac Island,” Saunders wrote. “This two-story bar at the very top of Grand Hotel feels like you are in the clouds overlooking 270-degree views.”

  • The wallcovering throughout is custom. The metallic moire-like quality in a deep navy provides a glamorous feeling to the space.
  • Carpeting throughout was also custom-designed and was made in Ireland by Ulster Carpets. The overscaled swirl pattern in shades of blues is meant to create a dreamy feeling and evoke movement.
  • The lower level features the large white lattice bar – fitting for a summer resort with a white marble counter. Along the counter are brass lamps with emerald green shades.
  • A black and white checkerboard dance floor on the lower level allows nighttime dancing.
  • Above the dance floor is an incredible Murano chandelier that Carleton Varney (Dorothy Draper’s protégé and the late president of Dorothy Draper & Co.) designed for The Cupola Bar in 1987. Murano sconces designed to match the fixture have been added on the upper level, giving some sparkle.
  • On the ceilings of both levels is a stylized cloud-patterned fabric to give a tented feel.
  • Surrounding the perimeter of both levels is a large banquet covered in a custom Carleton V Ltd. fabric in rich navy blue. On the banquet are bolster pillows in Carleton V High Garden with Chartreuse Leather Piping from Samuel & Sons.
  • The chairs are classic iron garden furniture. They are in an acid green color with cushions done in Carleton V Ltd. High Garden.
  • The tables around the room feature tablecloths that transition the space from day to night. During the day, guests will find the classic Carleton V Boca Grand trellis pattern. They flip over to Carleton V Pinwheel trimmed in Samuel & Sons silver tape for a glitzy nighttime feel.
The Cupola Bar at Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel had an interior design refresh ahead of this year’s season. Photo provided by Grand Hotel.

A GRAND LOOKOUT

The hotel’s signature cupola was built along with the rest of the hotel in 1887. For its first century, it was an open-air feature. And in the hotel’s early years, it was the spot for a very important job.

On days when visitors were expected to arrive, an employee stationed up in that perch could spot an incoming steamship approaching the island, or see a train pulling into the mainland Mackinaw City station. That was the signal for the resort’s staff to assemble a proper welcoming party, Bob Tagatz, Grand Hotel’s resident historian, told MLive in an earlier interview. It touched off the first of many pomp-and-circumstance flourishes aimed at impressing the incoming Grand Hotel guests.

“They lined the front porch,” he said of the employees. “The managers stood at the bottom of the steps and … got ready for the guests’ arrival.”

The employee assigned to that job was looking for two things: any steamship approaching an island dock that might be carrying hotel guests, and any trains chugging to a stop in Mackinaw City – the mainland station located about 7 miles across the Straits from the island.

Unlike today when people hop a ferry or a small plane and arrive on the island to spend a few days, most guests in that turn-of-the-century era came to stay for the summer.

“Our guests came to stay the season, and our season was only two months long,” Tagatz said. “We had to be ready for them.”

The Cupola Bar at Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel had an interior design refresh ahead of this year’s season. Photo provided by Grand Hotel.

Once a ship or train was sighted, the employee stationed in the cupola would run down the hotel’s main stairs, alerting people that guests were coming. It was the signal everyone needed to be prepared to welcome them. Employees were lined up to greet everyone properly. Guests were welcomed by name and ushered in with much fanfare, Tagatz said.

Old photos show that guests themselves found their way up to the cupola in those early years. They likely found it to be a great vantage point to see parties being held down below in the hotel’s front Tea Garden. Or maybe they watched sunsets or caught the occasional dance of Northern Lights.

“There is no better view than up there,” Tagatz said.

The Cupola Bar at Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel had an interior design refresh ahead of this year’s season. Photo provided by Grand Hotel.

A BAR WITH A MILLION-DOLLAR VIEW

A century after it was built, the cupola was enclosed for Grand Hotel’s 100th anniversary in 1987 and its two stories were transformed into what’s become a guest favorite – the Cupola Bar. Its showpieces include the art glass chandelier and an amazing view that makes people feel like they are on top of the island.

Tagatz says he tells people to check out the space during the day. They can see ships traveling in the Straits – where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet – and get a bird’s-eye view of island life below. Then stop back in the evening, he tells them. Enjoy some live music from the pianist. Settle into a window seat, have a cocktail and see the night lights on the Mackinac Bridge. When the sun sinks below the horizon, raise a toast to island life.

“This is the place to come to watch the sunset.”

The Cupola Bar offers an expansive view of the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge.

Love Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel? Read more of its fascinating history here:

A Hollywood star in a swimming pool helped save Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel

A Mackinac Island mansion’s playhouse became Grand Hotel’s fine dining showpiece

Jane Seymour dishes on Mackinac Island love during her “Somewhere in Time” weekend



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