Earlier this year, I theorized that the upcoming Sweet Tooth Hotel was Dallas’ own take on the Museum of Ice Cream, the millennial-focused selfie factory of sorts that debuted in Manhattan back in 2016 and has made its way to several U.S. cities, though it’s kept its potentially lethal sprinkle pool far from Texas borders.
Which, as it turns out, might be a good thing. Sweet Tooth Hotel, though smaller and less interactive than its sugary national counterpart, has proven to have a bit more depth than the MOIC, which, creator Maryellis Bunn has admitted, is really just “all about fun” and “a way to bring people together.”
Sweet Tooth Hotel creators and all-around cool couple Cole and Jencey Keeton were inspired by experimental pop-ups such as the MOIC and Refinery29’s 29Rooms (which Jencey actually worked on during her days with Fossil) last summer when they dreamed up the concept, which would blend commercial art, fine art, and retail. “I realized nobody was going to come to Dallas, so I just thought, ‘Why not?’ We can support the local scene,” says Jencey. “I wanted it to be serious and work with people who are going to have substance.”
They found their builders first, a trio of brothers known as Built By Bender. “They can do anything,” says Jencey. “We call them the mad scientists.” A small checkout window left over in the Victory Park space where Sweet Tooth would be housed inspired the hotel theme. The moods and colors of each room were a nod to different directors, such as Tim Burton, Wes Anderson, and Drive’s Nicolas Winding Refn. They arrived at the sugary theme based on its universality. “We grew up with Lisa Frank and My Little Pony and it just makes everyone happy,” adds Jencey.
The name also keeps the door open for future projects. “We’re going to use it as umbrella for future installs,” says Jencey. “So we can say Sweet Tooth Outer Space or Sweet Tooth Goes to the Beach. The goal has always been to do this for the summer, close, and then we do a refresh.”
Next, the duo hand-selected local artists to highlight, including Shamsy Roomiani, Chelsea Delzell, Rob Wilson, Jojo Chuang, and Jeremy Biggers. The couple initially approached each artist about having their work featured in the gift shop, but everyone wanted to add their spin on the actual installation. “The more we talked, the more excited I became,” recalls Wilson. “Jencey is just a great collaborator, and that’s what she was looking for: collaboration.”
Biggers’ hard candy-filled mural helps guide visitors into the “hotel.” Visual artist Roomiani, often inspired by the botanical world, created interactive plant raindrops, florescent crystals, and cotton candy clouds for the Rainbow Confection room. Chuang’s cotton candy island and tooth-shaped stools can be found in the kitchen, and Wilson’s “blobby boy” helps present the retail’s area merchandise, which includes items from Valfré, Read Between the Lines, Hairstory, Kendra Scott, and limited-edition Leatherology bags painted on by the four artists. From the uniforms, hand-drawn by illustrator Ruben Burgess, to the Sprinkle Spa’s whimsical wigs created by longtime Dallas hairdresser Beau Bollinger, almost every item was created by someone local. “We really didn’t have to buy anything,” adds Jencey.
Built By Bender completed the installation in just three months. “It’s really cool that it’s tied into Dallas and that Dallasites can feel like their city is cool and creative,” says Ariel Bender. “People are hungry for that.”
The fact that Sweet Tooth Hotel has sold out the majority of its June residency is just the icing on the cake (natch). “I was pretty shocked honestly,” recalls Jencey. “I’m just thankful that people were so supportive and they kind of got it immediately. At the end of the day, we just want to make crazy stuff. We’re already thinking about what we can make next time that’s even crazier.”