I won’t quickly forget my one-night stay at the Graduate hotel in East Lansing — and not just because I chose to stay there on a particularly rowdy Friday night during Welcome Weekend.
The ten-story, 194-room behemoth on the corner of Grand River and Evergreen avenues in East Lansing is master class in attention to detail. Every room, hallway, fixture — even the carpet — is a tribute to the lasting legacy of Michigan State University, its staff and its students.
In June, the $50 million hotel became the 30th to open under the Graduate Hotel brand worldwide after more than five years of planning and development from AJ Capital Partners, a Chicago-based team of hospitality and real estate investors with a few local roots of their own. President Eric Hassberger is an MSU graduate, as is the local hotel manager Sarah Gregory.
Gregory, who leads a team of 50 employees, said the hand-crafted collection of hotels help anchor college towns across the country, with each of them celebrating and commemorating the optimistic energy of the local community. There’s one more located in Ann Arbor; another just opened in New York on Roosevelt Island.
“You walk into the space and you can tell that it’s custom-curated by designers. Every little thing is nodding to MSU, the state of Michigan or East Lansing,” Gregory said. “There really isn’t another design-forward space like this in mid-Michigan. For us, it’s about drawing on that association and experience and just providing the best experience that we can for our guests.”
And the place is booming: Rooms were booked full on Saturday. The website also shows no vacancies for several key sporting matchups, including the first home football game on Sept. 11, the football game against Nebraska on Sept. 25, as well as the homecoming game on Oct. 30.
So, when I was offered a discounted rate to check it all out for myself, I couldn’t pass it up. My trip began on Friday evening, just as Welcome Weekend started to kick off in East Lansing. For travelers, there’s probably no better place to spend a weekend in the midst of it all. And even for local residents, I’d highly recommend the hotel for a weekend getaway near your own backyard.
A two-story gallery wall of locally made artwork adorns the cafe adjacent to the lobby. The “Shadows Ballroom” is a tribute to the alma mater; The conference rooms are named after athletic and academic legends like Kirk Gibson, Flozell Adams, Ransom Olds and Robert Clark Kedzie.
Pairs of old cleats and a safe from the East Lansing State Bank decorate the lobby. There’s a trophy cabinet filled with relics of MSU’s past. Even the hallway carpets are dotted with familiar campus iconography like a spartan head, an ice cream cone and a stripe that reads “MAC.”
The guest rooms themselves — some of which can run up to $650 per night during peak rates — have a woodsy sort of theme, as well as a well designed history lesson on campus culture. The desk lamps are Spartan shields. The dressers are covered in local ZIP codes from Greater Lansing. My room featured a poster that detailed the hockey legend lineage of the Miller family.
Designers even paid attention to the bathrooms with a fun wallpaper of basketball players dressed as Flintstones. And the urinals? Of course they’re striped with blue and yellow paint.
Up on the 10th floor is the hotel’s crown jewel: the Graduate Rock Bar.
Persian rugs, mounted antlers, antique leather couches and checkered decor give the feel of an Up North cottage — at least until you glance out the floor-to-ceiling windows. A stunning skyline view stretches over the football stadium and across the entirety of campus. The Boji Tower and the three stacks of the Otto C. Eckert Power Plant are only specks on the horizon.
Bartenders were serving up tasty craft cocktails like the Michigan Mule — a blend of vodka, Vernors, cherries and lime — and Sparty Water, which was essentially a vodka cranberry with basil. A $9 “adult Capri Sun” also included vodka and blue curacao in a novelty bag container.
Food options include small bites like salads, watermelon and feta skewers, pretzels and cheese dip, small charcuterie boards and fancy, deconstructed tailgate walking tacos called “Frito Pies.” Gregory said the rooftop (which is also open to the public) has been packed full since opening night. My fianceé and I spent about $80 there on five drinks.
Guests can also head downstairs — like me — to sit on the outdoor patio, sip on a few drinks from the nearby 7-Eleven and watch the crowds. The hotel is also a short walking distance from just about every restaurant in East Lansing.
Visit graduatehotels.com for more details or to book a room at the guaranteed lowest rates.