HAMTRAMCK: Hidden Secrets

22 Oct

hamart 066 (1)

Hamtramck, at just 2.1 square miles, urban life flourishes here. Perhaps it’s the mix of cultures, customs, religions and ethnicities; immigrants from all over the world have settled here for centuries. Maybe it’s the result of the blue-collar work ethic Detroit is so famous for or the authentic everydayness of life in this enclave. Whatever it is, let’s face it, Hamtramck is cool! Today is the 2014 Neighborhood Arts Festival, it’s not like any other ‘festival’ we’ve ever been to. Activities are taking place from one end of the city to another in storefronts, lofts, galleries and homes; from music to dancing, painting to printing, there’s something for everyone.

hamart 031 (1)

hamart 028 (1)

hamart 025 (1)

Being an afternoon event, we arrive on Jos Campau just in time for lunch; the longstanding Campau Tower has just re-opened.  Serving burgers, hot dogs and milk shakes, it’s sure to be a hit with the locals. The diner is teeny-tiny, we grab the last empty stools, leaving standing room only, the menu hangs above the grill, one of those old-fashioned numbers with the white letters that press into a black felt background, there’s a lot to read. Besides a good scrubbing and some freshening up the restaurant looks the same as it always has. Now, white cafe lights criss-cross the ceiling, a flat screen TV mounted on the wall shows an old episode of Twin Peaks, stained glass lamps dangle by chain from the ceiling. People stop in placing carry-out orders, it’s a busy day at the Tower. Our food finally appears, the Brotherly Love hot dog, which looks amazing, brisket Bao Bun and fries. Unlike the service, the food was really good; the hot dog is split then covered with caramelized onions, peppers and cheese sauce…yum. The apricot brisket bun, tiny and tasty. The menu selection runs from the expected to the adventurous.  Now let’s check out the festival!

hamart 012 (1)

hamart 013 (1)hamart 009

hamart 008 (1)

Atomic Cafe Art Gallery is right across the street; the space is long and narrow, black paint covers the walls in the first gallery, a ping-pong table takes residence near the back, a couple is playing as we look at the art. Paintings are bright and colorful, some cartoon-like, near the back, toilet seats are covered in colorful Marvel Comics and shellacked to a high shine, another grouping depicts Detroit scenes: Scarab Club, Belle Isle fountain, the infamous Kowalski hot dog sign. Through an open doorway we enter the next gallery; Kris and I both walk towards the same piece, 12 boards are covered in a highly textured coating, each piece is a different, brilliant color, it’s hard not to touch. A number of artists are represented, the variety of styles and pieces is welcome, cool, old items have been upcycled into lights, there’s a little bit of everything. A few steps away we drop in at Lo & Behold, the shop has an ever-changing inventory of neat things. Kris spots a gorgeous 1940’s microphone, I follow his lead to have a look, it’s a beauty. The shop is fully stocked with vintage 45’s and record albums today, they also offer cassettes of artists who perform here. I make a note reminding us to come for the live music this winter.

hamart 035 (1)

hamart 039 (1)

hamart 041 (1)hamart 042 (1)

Tekla Vintage is one of those funky vintage stores that offers everything from home goods to handbags, it’s owned by Hamtramck Mayor Majewski. The store is brimming with wild fashions from the 60’s and 70’s, there’s no shortage of polyester here; one look at a pair of platform shoes makes me laugh out loud, literally….   Glass and mirrored shelves hold lovely Polish items such as dolls, plates and vases. Styrofoam heads wear fashionable hats, guys, you can find a great bow tie here. Some of the fixtures and display cases look original to the store, I’m crazy about the glass front doors with the lucite handles. Continuing on Jos Campau there’s an open studio up on the second floor of a building, Carl Wilson and Marivca Rofick have their work on display. Light pours in from large front windows, art covers the walls, we love getting a peek into these great spaces. At the 9338 Campau Gallery Abigail Alwin plays her cello, visitors are gathered around in the large open room. She plays her instrument and works a series of pedals which allow her to record, then play back a piece of music, looping it so she can add to it, creating a piece with many different parts.

hamart 050 (1)hamart 055 (1)

hamart 073 (1)

hamart 075 (1)

 Over on Caniff, Public Pool has an exhibit titled “The Last Record Shop”, we have been looking forward to seeing it. Fashioned to look like a record shop, quotes from musicians are painted on the wall, album covers rest on shelves and tables. You must take your time to look at the cover art, satirical and clever, they are great fun. Next we make our way into the neighborhood. A large brick building on Klinger is home to artists studios and Silva Perum Bookstore. When we arrive, adults are guiding children in a number of activities, one man teaches how to ride a skateboard, in the yard kids are drawing and making Halloween masks. Inside we traverse the halls, popping into individual studios, so much amazing stuff goes on here. Time is fleeting and there are still so many things to see; we make our way to Sobieski St.

hamart 078 (1)hamart 085 (1)

hamart 089 (1)

A simple, white, 2-story house sits non-nonchalantly, a closer look reveals a series of paintings surrounding the front door. We are welcomed inside by the homeowner who tells us this is her hobby house, a place where she can create, display her art and entertain. She shares the space with another artist, the house is cozy, quaint and a great way to share their talents with the public. Down a ways, we enter the second story home/studio of artist Emily Wood. The hall going up is lined with her framed art, her studio is jammed packed with her work in every medium from paint to pottery to sewing. Kris and I are both in awe of her talent, her painted streetscapes are so life-like. The front room is cluttered with bottles of paint, brushes and works-in-progress, a panel of material sits on a table, the print is her very own drawings of houses in Hamtramck, sweet! 

hamart 091 (1)

hamart 093 (1)

hamart 096 (1)

hamart 100 (1)

We make our way to a quirky little neighborhood in the North end of Hamtramck, a graffiti covered van sits curbside outside the studio of Will C Bevan, a Memphis native who spent the last year in New York before moving to Detroit. His work on display is a series of abstract patterns, very appealing to the eye. It blows our mind to think of what an artistic hub Hamtramck has become, who would’a thought? Filter Detroit is an artist residence owned by a woman who resides in Germany…  For 4 months a year, an artist lives rent free in the back portion of the house, in exchange they must make/leave some sort of contribution, print a book, write a poem, do a painting; in the front room of the house is such a piece, one of the traveling artists created a mural depicting Detroit. An empty lot has become a tree farm of sorts as saplings sprout from the center of old tires.The house next door is called Play House, and for good reason; the house has been completely gutted of interior dividing walls and floors and has become a performance space. We enter from the backyard and find ourselves in a lovely hardwood floor room, a Classical Bengali music concert has just ended, the folks who own the house own several properties on the street, they have big plans for all of them!

hamart 105 (1)

hamart 121 (1)

hamart 109 (1)

Walking to the end of Moran we see Treasure House, an old 1920’s home, somewhat of a living collage; steps are multi-colored, art pieces, random objects and found items cover the surface, lean against the porch and take up space on the lawn. Across the street an ordinary house has become a monster house; eyes, fangs and large hands  make one wonder what’s inside. The structure is colorful, and oh so interesting with painted globs of slime dripping down the front. Even the fences are tied into the overall artistic statement of the neighborhood, painted up in bright hues, they are aglow in the late afternoon sun. Written words remind us to Keep Singing, Keep Learning, Keep Loving, loose windows and building materials are strewn about. Another house has this awesome life-like painting of a man, it looks as though he is working on repairing the house right this minute, windows are boarded up, random patterns are drawn on the wood. Power House is another public art project, the goal here is to have the house completely functional off the grid. It currently creates its own electricity from wind and solar energy. With so much positive going on in and around Detroit it always makes me wonder why it’s such a secret. Thankfully, events such as the Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts Festival allow us to find the amazing behind the perception.

hamart 115 (1)hamart 129 (1)

hamart 125 (1)

hamart 130 (2)

Bay City: Time Travel…

14 Oct

time 037 (1)

Today we are about an hour and a half north of metro Detroit in the waterside town of Bay City. The annual River Of Time event is taking place this weekend, we’re here to check it out. For three days re-enactors from around the Midwest show up dressed in period costumes to live as people did in earlier times. Spanning 300 years of history, period camps are set up along the bank of the Saginaw River in Veteran’s Memorial Park creating a time-line history. From the Native Americans through the Revolutionary War to Vietnam, we get a glimpse of both everyday life and American history through music, skill demonstrations, church services and skirmishes.

time 069 (1)

time 047 (1)

time 017 (1)

Making our way to the west side of the river, we park the car on a grassy expanse and walk to the park. The first thing I notice is the amount of white tents scattered throughout, I pick up the scent of logs burning on an open fire, a woman in a hoop dress passes by, a man in a Civil War uniform seems in a hurry to get somewhere; so much going on. Individual camps are roped off, there are no signs or placards with descriptions of the camp or era it represents, just men, women and children going about their business like they would have at the time. It is noon, almost time for the mid-day meal; fires dance under cast iron cookware, steam rises from pots, tables are being set. A costumed player is telling stories to folks gathered around, I see what appears to be ancient medical instruments spread out on a table, by the looks on people’s faces, I’m not so sure I want to hear what he’s saying. A group of men representing the 1st New York Regiment wear Revolutionary War costumes, it’s nearly 80 degrees outside but they don’t seem to mind. An asphalt path leads us through the park, the river is on one side, grass on the other; camps are spread out on both sides. On the left, a huge variety of food covers a table, Indians with face paint and mohawks look anxious to dig in. Every camp has something cooking; kettles rest on metal grates, bread bakes in a clay oven, a deep, oversize cast iron pot is stuffed with simmering meat, potatoes and vegetables, all eyes are focused on the stew.

time 019 (1)

time 052 (1)

time 024 (1)

time 025 (1)

A young man stops among the crowd and begins to play his fiddle, a gentleman smoking a pipe taps his foot to the music, a woman in a rocking chair carves something out of bone. The Folk Music Society of Midland plays under a canopy along the Saginaw River, Weeping Willows dot the shoreline, the water is as smooth as glass, the sky flip-flops between powder blue and a grouchy gray. From their hats to their shoes, soldiers look so formal, everything appears authentic, right down to the buckles. A metal worker has built a makeshift chimney, roaring flames heat wrought iron that will be formed into hooks and tools, we all watch with fascination as he works. Many have sat down to take their meal, others have finished and trade lively conversation around the table. The World War I, II and Vietnam camps are expansive; here the tents are green, military vehicles are randomly parked, bed rolls, rifles, helmets and rations are displayed. Off to the side a man is sitting in a foxhole reading a book, he seems happy enough…. Soldiers answer questions, a group of men sporting different uniforms have pulled up chairs and share stories. 

time 087 (1)

time 108 (1)

time 113 (1)time 035 (1)

time 084 (1)

One thing that becomes clear very early in our visit is how simple, yet difficult, life was. Before there was refrigeration, running water, electricity for goodness sakes; food was prepared as it was needed, washing was done in the river or in a large bowl that was filled with by a pitcher, clothes were cleaned in a tub on a washboard and hung to dry, you had to hunt for meat, grow your vegetables; this is big news to the current generation. The Trombley House is open today, the oldest surviving building in Bay City, it was built about 1836. A crowd has gathered near the Log Cabin, on the porch Abe Lincoln is about to deliver the Gettysburg Address, how cool is that? The Fife and Drum Corps is approaching; fifers, drummers and flag bearers perform authentic songs written before 1800, Sutler’s Row offers goods for sale: animal pelts, antlers, beads, pouches and the like. We continue to zig zag through time; bacon cooks over an open flame, a woman spins wool into yarn, a young girl plays the bagpipes, visitors are walking to the cannon….

time 062 (1)

time 102 (1)

time 150 (1)

We follow the crowd to find the cannon pointed toward the river, men work together stuffing something down the barrel, when they cover their ears, we cover ours; I jump about a foot in the air when it goes off, Kris just laughs….. I’m glad that’s over. We take a stroll on the River Walk Pier, from here we can see all the activity on both sides of the river, there’s a lot of building happening on the east side, new construction too. As we get back to the park a Colonial skirmish is taking place, it’s very intense, one does not want to get in the way. We move in the opposite direction for one last look around. They say this is Michigan’s largest living history encampment, it is definitely unique, from the people to the cannon and canoe, the costumes, housewares, instruments and campsites, indeed, it is history come alive.

time 132 (1)

time 136 (1)

time 138 (1)

The sky has returned to a lovely shade of blue, walking back to the car we notice the elevated River Walk, looks like fun. An elegant white crane stands in the shallow water, ducks paddle along at a leisurely pace, the boardwalk leads us to Middle Ground Island. A party is taking place under the pavilion, friends gather on benches in the park, we admire the panoramic view. We make quick work of the walk back, it’s time to eat!

time 164 (1)

time 165 (1)

time 154 (1)

Kris and I are both fond of restaurants that have been part of a city for generations; Krzysiak’s House on Michigan Ave is just that sort of place. Started in 1979 by husband and wife team Don and Lois they have been serving authentic Polish and traditional American cuisine for decades. So popular, the building has been expanded 5 times; their website states they serve 700-900 customers per day, wow! Walking in the front door we find ourselves in a little retail space selling an assortment of items, the hostess greets us and takes us to a table in the dining section. Krzysiak’s is known for their outstanding buffet, today is Sunday so it is filled with Polish specialties in addition to an assortment of salads, soups, side dishes, desserts; it’s really quite remarkable! As tempting as the buffet is, we order off the menu instead.
As we wait for our meal to arrive we take a look around; hand painted murals cover most walls, one features family members, the cathedral wall reflects photographs taken in Poland, the scenery is quite lovely. Everywhere I look photos and mementos cover the walls, pretty stained-glass windows made specially for Krzysiak’s are aglow in the sunlight; it is apparent the heart and soul of the family has gone into the restaurant. I dig into a bowl of chicken noodle soup, the homemade noodles are outstanding. Huge platters of food follow; the Polish plate comes with Golabki, Pierogi, Polish potatoes (fried with cabbage and other tasty things), Polish sausage and Kraut, you could feed a whole family from this plate alone! The potato pancakes are large and delightful, sour cream is the perfect addition. The food is authentic, made from scratch, hearty and delicious. The experience of eating here is a treat.

time 172 (1)

time 170 (1)

time 173 (1)

time 176 (1)

Before we head south we take a drive through downtown, Bay City is definitely on the move, new stuff is happening all over town. We park on Saginaw St and notice a new artisan cheese shop has opened. Artigiano sells cheese, wine and craft beer, not to mention specialty items and condiments from local businesses. The shop adds an urban flair to general feel of Saginaw St, very nice. Across the street we stop in at Brewtopia to get a couple of coffees for the road. Sticking with the urban flair, the shop has exposed brick and a white painted tin ceiling, large windows give it a light and airy feel. Coffee beans are roasted in house, they provide a nice selection of teas, fruit smoothies, muffins, cookies and desserts. At the counter we meet the new owners, friendly and ambitious they are excited about the positive momentum in Bay City; so are we.

DETROIT: A Night At The Redford

7 Oct

red 043 (1)

There are four words a person living in the Detroit metro area need never utter: “There’s Nothing To Do”. Sports, we’ve got them; Tigers, Lions, Red Wings, Pistons, hey we even have Roller Derby! There’s the Symphony, Opera, Broadway shows, concerts, festivals, tours. Special events like Dlectricity, Detroit Design Festival and Noel Night attract people from all over. Detroiters’ love films, we have wonderful, unique venues such as New Center Park, The Detroit Film Theatre, Cinema Detroit and The Redford. Any night of the week, 7 days a week, you can enjoy a craft cocktail, pop-up dinner, live Jazz, bicycle tour, gallery opening, Riverwalk, poetry, lecture, you get the idea….. The last week of September had so much going on I couldn’t fit everything into the allotted squares of my calendar, don’t you love it? 

red 016 (1)

red 007 (1)

red 004 (1)

It’s Saturday evening, we jump in the Jeep and make our way down Grand River. Making a right on Lahser, we quickly scan the street for an open parking space; once parked, we meander into Sweet Potato Sensations, a family run bakery and cafe. Cassandra Thomas began her home business baking and selling sweet potato cookies, 16 years later she opened a storefront on Lahser, the current location is about 5,000 sq ft. The menu has grown to include sweet potato pie, cheesecake, cobbler, ice cream, cupcakes and more. Cassandra’s daughters Espy and Jennifer have joined the family business; it has blossomed. Folks are warmly greeted as they enter the cafe, large refrigerated cases display today’s offerings. Now serving Saturday and Sunday brunch, we were happy to learn we could still order off the menu this evening. With her usual smile, Espy takes our order then disappears back behind the counter. The cafe is busy tonight, the Redford is showing West Side Story, which is where we are headed after dinner. First to arrive is the black eye pea and collard green soup, it’s outstanding; good thing we got a bowl! Served with a chunk of sweet potato corn bread, I could make a meal of this alone. Before we know it, our chicken and sweet potato waffle is set on the table, the combination of fried chicken and spices from the waffle smell wonderful. First thing I do is tear off a piece of waffle, crisp and tender it reminds me of pumpkin pie, the chicken is hot, Kris carefully picks up a piece and manages a hot bite, mmmmmmmm, delicious, he says. From there it is each man for himself, using forks and fingers, we eat and we eat until only a pile of bones remains; we are full, but more than that, we are content.

red 017 (2)

red 117 (1)

red 072 (1)

red 082 (1)

Across the street at the Redford, it is nearly show time, the marquee dazzles with its flashing lights, a long line leading to the ticket window remains, I take my place in line as Kris gets some photos. This is no ordinary movie night; along with showing the ever-popular West Side Story, Rita Moreno is making a special appearance before the movie, signing books and posing for pictures at intermission, how cool! For one panicked moment, I wonder if they will sell out before we get our tickets, luckily, that isn’t the case; in all the years we’ve been coming here, I don’t think I have ever seen this many people attend a show. Inside, the 1928 movie house is lovingly cared for, restoration is an ongoing thing, the grand foyer is gorgeous from the elegant chandeliers to the hand painted ceiling and walls. We are relegated to the upper balcony to find an open seat, no worries, there really isn’t a bad seat in the house. From here we have a panoramic view of the house; stars twinkle in the night sky, the Barton theatre organ is belting out tunes, a Japanese garden motif surrounds the stage. It is after 8 pm and folks are still trickling in, the announcer introduces Rita Moreno and the crowd erupts into applause. For the next 15-20 minutes Ms Moreno shares stories of growing up in Puerto Rico, then her move to New York with her mother. Her talents as a singer and actress were recognized at an early age. She told great behind-the-scenes accounts about the making of West Side Story, she had to learn to dance for the film as her  experience was limited to traditional Hispanic dance; she divulged some fascinating stuff, but if you want to more about her relationship with Marlon Brando or Elvis, you’re gonna have to buy the book!

red 020 (1)

red 051 (1)

red 111 (1)red 110 (1)

red 105 (1)

red 034 (1)

At intermission, as long lines form for autographs, we dash next door to Motor City Java House to grab some coffee. Our speed and agility got us there ahead of the crowd; I order our drinks and some yummy dessert as Kris nabs us a table. By this time the rush was on, patrons were ordering coffee drinks, tea and dessert, some for here, some to take back to the theatre; our window of time has closed, we finish our carrot cake and we’re outta’ here! Outside the entire block is aglow from the marquee, I love the Redford, each and every time we come here I marvel at its beauty and detail; the wall sconces, stairways, old-fashioned exit signs, painted panels…..sigh…..

red 036 (1)

red 038 (1)

Back in our seats Ms Moreno is again brought onto stage, she is the only Hispanic actress/singer to have won an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and a Tony. She won the 1961 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role of Anita in West Side Story. Next thing we know, the guys in the projection booth cue up a clip from the Oscars, we see a young Rita accept her award. The volunteers here at the Redford really do an amazing job of running the theatre and hosting special events such as this one, we thank them for that! The lights are dimmed and the curtain goes up, a local dance troupe is performing  “America” from the movie; you know, the one where the girls sing the praises of living in America while the boys defend their homeland of Puerto Rico, it’s definitely one of the more popular production numbers in the film. Girls twirl about the stage in red frilly dresses, guys are decked out in black suits, we all watch with admiration as they leap into the air. The audience shows their appreciation with a long round of applause. Ms Moreno compliments their skills, poses for a few pictures and bids us all farewell. At 82 years old, she still sparkles; she’s vibrant, witty, clever, entertaining and continues to work on new projects.

red 021 (1)

red 088 (1)

090 (2)

Settled into our seats we watch the conclusion of the movie, there are so many wonderful, magnificent, sensational aspects to the film; Jerome Robbin’s spectacular choreography, I am especially fond of the Sharks and Jets numbers (Jet Song, Cool), Leonard Bernstein’s musical score, Steven Sondheim’s lyrics; songs like Maria, Somewhere and Tonight. The 1957 Broadway production marked Sondheim’s Broadway debut–not bad for a beginner. West Side Story was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, it won 10 including Best Picture for 1961. And here it is tonight, in a lovely old theatre in Detroit, star-studded and complete with red carpet.

 

 

 

DETROIT: Dlectricity Redux

1 Oct

Dlectric 091 (1)

Tonight Midtown Detroit is putting on a free, amazing, festival of light, sound and art; everybody is invited! Dlectricity (inspiration for the name comes from Detroit’s own, long gone, Electric Park) features more than 35 world-renowned and emerging artists whose work will illuminate historic architecture and public spaces along the Woodward corridor from the Detroit Historical Museum all the way to Orchestra Hall, for two consecutive nights.  It is a balmy September evening in the city, we arrive early enough to secure a parking space within decent walking distance of the activities, as we near Woodward we begin to see flashes of light and color, foot traffic is picking up, let’s check it out.

Dlectric 006 (1)

Dlectric 016 (1)

Dlectric 028 (1)

Dlectric 026 (1)

Folks are gathered around the plaza of the historical museum, the film, The Legendary Leland Club, is being shown on the side of the building, we watch a few minutes then begin the trek down Kirby to see what else is going on. This side of the DIA a piece called Sash is being projected onto the building, the horizontal design cycles through all the colors of the spectrum. Making a right on John R the sidewalks are crowded with people, fluorescent glass tubes are formed in the shape of a house on the CCS campus, across the street the DIA loggia is aglow in blue LED lights, designs of different color and shape dance on the walls. A crowd has gathered in front of the Michigan Science Center to see Kelly Richardson’s submission, The Erudition; it’s quite an attention-getter. The scene is eerie, otherworldly and tranquil at the same time; a lunar-like landscape is the backdrop for towering holographic trees that blow in a fictional wind, stars twinkle in the night sky, parts of it seem so real, I just want to stand there and keep looking at it. On the Farnsworth side of the DIA, kids are playing a Detroit version of the game Minecraft; by choosing virtual textured cubes of wood, iron, diamond and lava, players construct and deconstruct the city into an array of make-believe structures.

Dlectric 046 (1)

Dlectric 051 (1)

Dlectric 053 (1)

I would say the main attraction of the festival takes place on the Woodward side of both the DIA and the Detroit Public Library. The front surface of the opposing buildings act as a screen, Mindfield tells a story from the viewpoint of both a man and a woman, simultaneously, one on each building; it is visually stunning. Colors, shapes, scenes, faces,  flash in front of us, we watch one side, then the other, the story is played in a continuous loop, bystanders are enveloped in music and light. Walking toward downtown, we pass a robotic sort of installation called Mechano Shards, as the name suggests 20′ tall shimmering crystal-like shards, made from clear plastic and filled with air move in synchronized patterns, it’s interesting to watch the human interaction; children seem fascinated, some stand in the middle as shards close in around them, they laugh and think it’s cool. We continue our direction, passing the WSU Welcome Center, people peer in windows at the display, we see bicycles wrapped in colored lights cruising down the street. The large green space at Woodward and Warren is host to a bevy of things; a video plays on a big free-standing screen, a large-scale projection covers a building, Design Village features the work of independent Detroit designers, in the distance a white glow attracts visitors to what appears to be a giant television; here anyone can play the part of Mike Teavee from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. 

Dlectric 086 (1)

Dlectric 065 (1)

Dlectric 072 (1)Dlectric 079 (1)

Everywhere you look buildings are awash in light and color, sound and motion, sidewalks are thick with people, across the street, the bell tower of the First Congregational church is lit. The JVS Building is covered in ever-changing images of colorful, cell-like clusters, putting me in the mind of science and biology. Kris takes photo after photo, not an easy task in a crowd, we continually point things out to one another. When we reach Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company we stop in for a drink. In addition to serving freshly roasted, single origin, organic coffee they offer a nice selection of artisanal beer, craft cocktails and natural wines. The place is packed, the line at the register long, Kris notices two empty seats at the bar and leads me there. Scanning the drink menus, we quickly make a decision and place our order, it feels good to be sitting. The front of the building is all windows, giving one a great view of the hustle and bustle outside, Edison-style lights give the room a warm glow, exposed brick and wood plank ceiling make it cozy. Kris sips an Old Fashioned, I am enjoying a great Spanish red wine, a steady stream of customers come and go. 

Dlectric 115 (1)Dlectric 114 (1)

090

Illuminated sculptures titled Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, are grouped in front of the Max M Fisher Music Center, an up close look reveals they are made from plastic shopping bags, when we reach Parsons St, the “MaxCast” of Let’s Dance has just ended, guess we didn’t time that well! A giant waterfall cascades the length of the Bicentennial Towers, nearby, the Majestic Theater is aglow with laser, spiro-graph-like patterns in red, green, blue and yellow. The street in front is blocked off, lasers occupy lanes, as we stand there on the avenue I turn away from the show and take in the liveliness, movement and life that is becoming a regular occurrence in Detroit. The people who are here tonight reign from all over the metro, state and US, the city is becoming a destination, a place that draws individuals in with these type of events, shattering the one-sided, negative image so commonly associated with Detroit. There is an overwhelming sense of community out here tonight, and for that I am glad.

Dlectric 123 (1)

Dlectric 102 (1)

Dlectric 138 (1)

 Making a right on Garfield we pop in and out of MOCAD and N’ Namdi, one of the coolest installations we see is on the back of the Garfield Building, Sound Spheres. Supernatural 3D images and shapes continually evolve and blossom from one form to another, wouldn’t it be spectacular these projections were permanent? Inside the Catherdral Church of St Paul acoustic simulations are projected onto the surface of the chancel, simultaneous to the visual segment, a precision-timed audio piece composed to excite the natural acoustics of the space is pumped into the room; it’s pretty awesome sitting in the 1907 structure watching sound take form. In the courtyard outside, plastic storage containers are stacked one on top of another, lit from within they take on a mysterious glow. Retracing our steps, we make our way back to the Jeep, we pass multi-generational families, hipsters, students, 30-somethings, all gathered here to enjoy what the best of what the city offers; fun, art, new experiences, great food, excellent drink and a night on the town!

Dlectric 150 (1)

Dlectric 146 (1)

Dlectric 161 (1)

Dlectric 180 (1)

DETROIT: ArtPark??

23 Sep

parky 190 (1)

Have you heard about downtown Detroit’s new art gallery?  Housing an amazing collection of street art created by 27 artists from around the world, it’s open 24 hours a day, free admission, there’s no heat or air conditioning, but you can park your car in it. Yes, I’m talking about “The Z”, Dan Gilbert’s Z-shaped parking garage that zig zags from the corner of Broadway and E Grand River to the corner of Library and Gratiot. Bedrock teamed up with Library Street Collective, bringing street, mural and graffiti artists to design a most unusual parking structure. The massive, white structure is super cool, each level is color coded, at night the stairwell atrium is lit in a rainbow of colors, vertical LED lights illuminate each floor, it’s definitely one-of-a-kind. Not to mention, it does add 1,300 much-needed parking spaces to downtown. 

parky 197 (2)

parky 003 (1)

parky 013 (1)

parky 051 (1)

Entering the garage on foot, we take the elevator to the roof, even the elevator buttons are color-coded, exiting the enclosure, the air has a chill not representative of September, the sky looks grouchy, a gust of wind rushes past us. Standing still for a moment we take in the panorama of the city, it’s spectacular; skyscrapers, steeples, stacks, the light posts of Comerica Park in the distance, wow! On the Library street side we can see the Skillman branch of the library, other rooftops are littered with cooling units and little rooms that stick up; at 10 stories high we have a birds-eye-view. Graffiti covers both elevator banks, Slow Motion is the work of Wais, an artist from St Petersburg Russia; being out in the open, the array of colors, swooshes, and shapes create an interesting contrast to the surrounding buildings. The plan is to walk down to ground level crossing back and forth from side to side, seeing as much as we can. As we enter the structure, the concrete has been painted along with several long walls, we feel a need to stop and look at each piece, they really draw you in.

parky 029 (1)

parky 024 (1)

parky 034 (1)

037

The 9th floor is the fuschia level; a tree that grows baseballs is depicted on one wall, on another a colorful bird is sizing up a worm that is part caterpillar, part car. The longest wall has all kinds of stuff going on; a car/bug is upside down in a human hand, arms protrude from a skull with a baseball bat in hand, a Tiger and a ball are in a ring, creating a story of sorts; this is the work of Ukraine artist Interesni Kazki. Endless Frontier reminds me of the kind of landscape paintings one would see in a museum, the work is beautiful, there are several scenes of uninhabited, far away places. The whole experience of walking through the structure is unique, we are intrigued by the art on the walls, scenes of Detroit are framed in the garage’s rectangular windows. Pausing at one opening, we watch men at work restoring a building, Woodward Ave is in the distance, the David Stott building  rises high above other buildings.

parky 044 (1)

parky 045 (1)

083

parky 056 (1)

The 8th floor is the purple level; on one wall, solid color triangular designs remind me of a kaleidoscope. A lengthy mural looks as if one scene has been painted over another; advertisements in blues, orange and yellows seem to be peeling away revealing a black and white scenario featuring lightning bolts, stars and a flag, putting me in the mind of superheros. From this level we get an up-close perspective of decorative terracotta designs and other architectural details of surrounding establishments, occasionally a skyscraper looks as if it is posing for the camera, completely encased by the frame of a window. On the 5th floor we are greeted by a familiar character, Dabs Myla’s happy-faced paint can. It feels as if we’ve stumbled onto a secret cocktail party, the short wall is made up of a repeating pattern of flamingos, a winking sun and martini glasses complete with an olive. The rest of the party is on the other side, the streetscape of a tropical city, palm trees and mini skylines play host to swanky characters with a 1950’s flair, love it!

parky 102 (1)

parky 092 (1)086

parky 103 (1)

Each and every level affords us a different perspective, the varied angles of the parking structure show us tight spaces closed in by tall buildings. Remember, this was built upon empty lots, it sprouted up between buildings of various ages and styles; fire escapes hang tight to an old, brown brick edifice, rusty bars run the length of the windows. Now loft space, remnants of their former use remain, old chains and hooks, a lone stained glass window, pencil thin ladders lead to the roof top, seedlings sprout from gutters. It’s like we passed through some magical door giving us a whole new perspective on our surroundings. A huge colorful piece runs the length of the space, it is so pretty I can’t help but stop and stare; it reminds me of a Monet, as if someone painted a lovely flower garden with a feather duster or powder puff, colors blend one into another it’s so soft and soothing, like a sunset. Colors grow deeper as they travel down the wall until they look hot, like Summer, like fireworks. 

parky 108 (1)

parky 110 (1)

parky 126 (1)

parky 120 (1)

parky 122 (1)

Some pieces are very geometric, giving a 3-D effect, others are pale and have a look of fluidity. Back to the Roots by Edgar Saner looks straight out of Mexico City.The 4th floor is the lime-light green level, there’s a snazzy piece with a cool tunnel-like effect. The 3rd floor has a fun, cartoon-like mural called Ice Pop, by B from Athens Greece, makes me want to join the party! From here the Harvard Square building is in full view, we can take in the details such as medallions, wrought iron and symbols decorating the Beaux Arts beauty; Detroit has a fantastic variety of early 20th century architecture!

parky 130 (1)

parky 145 (1)

parky 138 (1)

parky 097 (1)

On the 2nd floor the artwork reminds me of bare trees in a forest with stunning, colorful backgrounds, it’s one of my favorites. On ground level near the exit/entrance is one of the most complicated, intricately detailed pieces; people, animals, patterns, objects, one flowing right into another, it’s outstanding. If you’ve ever seen a Highlight’s magazine, you know they have those pictures where you have to find the hidden objects, this is kind of like that. Colored in pink,red, grey and black, by How and Nosm from Spain, this one is surreal. We walk outside and take the sidewalk to the entrance/exit in the other section of the Z, here Pose and Revok have painted a huge comic-book like piece titled  If You Think You Can Do A Thing. Done in primary colors, it’s a combination of words like struggle, talent, love and rats along with faces and eyes of ones who themselves look like they are struggling. The more you look, the more you notice, it’s a lot to take in, but a pleasure to do so. In the alley behind Vicente’s we notice lights strung above, artists have done murals here too, we recognize the similarity of pieces in the GRCC. We wonder if this will be an outdoor eating space in the future, which reminds us, it’s time for lunch!

parky 163 (1)

parky 164 (1)

parky 154 (1)

parky 153 (1)

Johnny Noodle King opened to much fanfare September 12, we happened to drive by that day to find not only a line out the door, but groups of folks sitting on the ground waiting for a table. Not expecting to have any better luck today, we drive by the tiny, red-painted brick, cafe on W Fort Street and were surprised to see nobody waiting outdoors. Kris parked the Jeep and I ran in to see how long the wait was, since it was near closing time, we were told it was about a 15 minute wait and we were the last people to be seated for the day, yay! On the way in, Kris takes pics of the exterior; a giant noodle bowl perpendicular to the building has a pair of chop sticks wrapped in neon noodles along with a red neon ‘noodles’ sign, as you may have guessed, this is a Ramen restaurant, the first in Detroit. While we wait we watch photos of Detroit landmarks appear on a flat screen TV on the back wall, each photo is embellished with a giant bowl of noodles in the foreground. The cafe used to be Johnny Ham King, I like that they kept the Johnny and the King part. 

parky 214 (1)parky 223 (1)

parky 215 (1)

parky 221 (1)

The menu is simple, and for that I say thank you, it can be overwhelming to turn page after page reading descriptions of dishes. They serve Bowls, Sides and Drinks, what more do we need? Kris suggests trying several different things; we order the Red Curry Bowl, the Carrot Ginger Bowl, the house made pork gyoza and the onigiri. There’s no soda pop here, we get the house saki and a Mandarin and Seville orange jigger. Basically, Ramen is Japanese comfort food, it is broth served with long, thin, springy wheat noodles and toppings. You have to have a great broth, which, they do, the toppings make the Ramen unique, they are. Everything is delicious! Toppings like egg, pork belly, cauliflower, pickled dakion, and nori add tremendous flavor and texture; portions are hearty, most likely you’ll be taking some home. Owned and operated by the same folks who bring us Green Dot Stables, it’s no surprise Johnny Noodle King is an instant success.

Roadtrip: M-53ish….

17 Sep

lay 066 (1)

From now until the white stuff starts falling from the sky, we take advantage of every nice day we get and hit the road. Today is perfect; blue sky, sunny, t-shirt temperature, let’s go! There’s still a lot of country surrounding the big city of Detroit; Kris points the Jeep north toward Imlay City, on the way we’ll stop to check out a unique collection of balloon-tire bicycles, classic cars, toys and lots and lots of old stuff located on the grounds of a quaint make-believe town called Chestnut Hollow. The father and son duo, Jerry and Jerry, have been collecting for over 40 years; when a building could hold no more, they simply built another one. Each unique and old-fashioned looking, they are designated as blacksmith, pool hall, general store, etc. creating their own personal village. There are no official business hours, I get the phone number off their website and give them a call; they say they’ll be there most of the day, we’re welcome to stop by.

lay 007 (1)

lay 044 (1)

lay 004 (1)

Driving down Bordman Rd we spot the Chestnut Hollow sign, up the driveway a little, we are warned: Beware Of….. the rest is missing, it appears a giant something has taken a bite of the sign, I like a good sense of humor, this is going to be fun. Gravel crunches under the tires, veering right, we spot our hosts, ask where to park and make our introductions. The younger of the Jerry’s will be our tour guide, his father is in the process of mowing a large expanse of land. Stepping inside the first building, we come face to face with a beautiful green, early 1940’s, Ford  sedan delivery. To the right an antique Coke machine is for sale, around the corner from that is a 7-Up machine. Stuff is everywhere; old sleds hang from the ceiling, vintage strollers, car parts and signs fill up the space. A glass case is jam-packed with parts and accessories. Walking over to the building that houses the bicycle collection we pass the Pool Hall; antique stoves and weathered barrels take up residence on the porch, vintage signs are hung on many of the structures, rusty bike frames lay in piles.

lay 011 (1)

lay 031 (1)

lay 021 (1)

lay 027 (1)

When the door is unlocked, we enter classic bicycle heaven. Wall to wall balloon-tire bikes are laid out in rows, vintage posters and calendars are hung on walls, a traffic light hangs in the corner. Prominently mounted on a shelf above the other two-wheelers is a Bowden Spacelander  in Outer Space Blue; they only made 544 of these fiberglass frame beauties, making them very collectible. One must be conscious of  where one steps, it’s a tight squeeze between Roadmaster, Elgin, Monark, Murray and Columbia bikes, Jerry claims this the largest collection of balloon-tire bikes around, I don’t doubt it. The frames are sturdy looking, they sport features such as front and rear fenders, tanks, skirt guards and large (comfy-looking) seats. Many have springer front-end suspension, head badges are fancy, designs are highly detailed. Kris’s favorite thing is the headlights, some are Deco, others, space-age, all of them are super cool! While wandering I come across an antique cigarette machine; dark wood and mirrored it’s gorgeous, Jerry tells me it is still full of matches, sweet. An airplane hangs above us,  a room to the side has hundreds of tires, bike seats and rims. Here and there we pass once cherished toys, cameras and long-forgotten games.

lay 015 (1)

lay 033 (1)

lay 024 (1)

The next building seems to specialize in TV and movie memorabilia; autographed photos, a hat from Forbidden Planet, foreign posters and items used in films are proudly displayed. From room to room we admire collections of King Kong pieces, robots and other objects from Lost In Space, lunchboxes, Erector sets, aviation pieces, even a little bit of Abbott and Costello. Back outside the old Ford is sitting in the sun, looks ready for a ride, veteran gas pumps and some old milk cans take us back to another time. It’s impossible to see everything; from funky to fabulous, there’s just so much! We thank our hosts for allowing us to visit, then continue toward Imlay City.

lay 039 (1)

lay 041 (1)lay 035 (1)

lay 036 (1)

Seems everybody’s talking about Mike and Matt Romine’s gastro pub called The Mulefoot. It doesn’t get more fresh and local than this; they raise the Mulefoot pigs used in the pork dishes themselves, produce comes from the family garden and nearby farmer’s fields, even the money raised to open the place came directly from community members, how awesome is that? Seems the twin brothers have shared a life-long interest in food, both growing and preparing it. After culinary school then working in some of the finest restaurants in the US and abroad, they returned to their hometown of Imlay City to open a place of their own. The former banquet hall has been transformed into a hip, stylish, yet comfortable space. Old barnwood, and animal skulls remind us we’re in the country, the art work is bold and colorful. The food menu changes frequently in keeping with the seasons, Michigan craft beers and spirits are featured along with about 50 wines.

lay 054 (1)

lay 059lay 061

lay 058 (1)

It’s Sunday, everything on the brunch menu sounds delicious; Kris picks something sweet, I choose the savory. Our server is friendly and outgoing, he takes the time to explain the restaurant’s farm to table philosophy. I sip on a glass of luscious red wine recommended by the sommelier; now, as fancy as that sounds this is really a very chill, blue-jean friendly place. Our food is brought to the table, the kitchen was nice enough to split both dishes for us…..I love when they do that! I start with the MF Huevos Rancheros; house-made chorizo and beans in a yummy sauce topped with a chunk of bread and a fried egg, it’s sooo good! Make sure you get a little bit of everything on the fork at once for a perfect bite. The french toast, made with homemade bread, of course, is topped with strawberries and whole almonds. Fried in the perfect temperature butter it creates just the right crunch when you bite into it. The strawberries are fresh, not mushy, and lightly sweetened, the almonds nice and crisp. We had a chance to talk with Mike before leaving, his knowledge of food is incredible. From making vinegar from apples to sauerkraut and homemade walnut liquor, his enthusiasm for all things food is contagious!  I’d advise making a reservation, word is getting out……

lay 060 (1)

lay 047 (1)

We get on old Van Dyke and begin going south, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven down this stretch of road since I was born; surprisingly, things haven’t changed that much. In Almont we see an open farm market, Blake’s, and pull into the lot. A large bin in front holds the biggest ears of corn I have ever seen, bushel baskets are filled with ripe, red apples in several varieties, mums and mini pumpkins are piled on a table reminding us Autumn is right around the corner. Following the aroma of donuts being fried, we are drawn inside. The building is fully stocked with fresh peaches, plums, tomatoes, jars of jam and honey; it’s very cute inside. In the distance, hot donuts are calling our names……At the bakery counter we watch as the donut machine is being filled with batter, the batter is then dropped into the hot oil, it travels down the short river of fat where it is then flipped, cooking the other side. Finally the hot bundle of goodness lands in a wire bowl where it will cool. It’s a simple and effective process that leaves one longing for one of life’s tastiest treats: cider mill donuts. Kris and I eat one each, if it hadn’t been for brunch beforehand, there’s no telling how many we may have eaten. The batter has a hint of vanilla, the outside is slightly crunchy, the inside still warm, in other words, perfect! Can’t ask for a better ending to the day.

lay 083 (1)

lay 078 (1)

lay 070 (1)

lay 075 (1)

FENTON: Daytrippin!

9 Sep

fenton 174 (2)

It’s a hotter than expected September day, a good excuse to escape the city and head north for the day!  We are taking a northwesterly scenic route through the country; roads wind, twist and turn past long-standing barns, fields of corn, old-time churches and historic homes. The mild summer has left the landscape green, horses graze behind split-rail fences, here and there maple leaves are thinking about changing colors, the ride is peaceful and relaxing. We arrive at the Heavenly Scent Herb Farm in Fenton, an unexpected surprise on White Lake Rd. A 1910 barn is painted to look like three European storefronts; the rustic, quaint, interior is filled with lovely things for the home; candles, cement statuary, charming decor items, body care products and spices. Pumpkins and Halloween items are on display. There’s a buzz of activity; chairs and tables are being set up for a wedding that will take place later in the evening. We head outside for a stroll through the gardens, there’s beauty in every direction. Pathways lead us through a series of themed gardens; metal sculptures, ground covers and annuals fill large beds, hanging baskets overflow with pastel-colored flowers. An old shovel has been transformed into a piece of art; a hummingbird design as been laser cut into the rusty metal blade, items on display are available for purchase.

fenton 095 (1)

fenton 076 (1)fenton 089 (1)

fenton 093 (1)

We find ourselves in a charming mushroom-themed garden, it’s the kind of place I imagine Tinkerbell and her friends would live in. Wandering through a narrow gateway we pass a small pond, wood benches encircle large tree trunks, mounds of Hostas show off their lavendar-colored blooms. Mobiles hang from decorative hooks, climbing vines cover arbors, flowering shrubs and funky metal roses grow side by side. The pergola is quite a sight, a gravel pathway is laid out underneath; purple and white flowers are tucked in among lime green leaves in raised beds that run along each side of the structure. We hear the gentle sound of trickling water, up ahead an elegant fountain serves as a focal point. Enormous dahlias in peach, yellow and pink are stunning, bunches of white alyssum perfume the air, a statue of an angel is nestled among the greenery, sedum are beginning to bloom. It’s worth a drive to just come and see this place.

fenton 075 (1)

fenton 077 (1)

fenton 086 (1)

We park on Shiawassee Ave in Fenton’s downtown area, there’s a lot of activity going on here these days; new shops and restaurants are joining picturesque neighborhoods in drawing folks to town. We amble down the sidewalk, mature trees cast shadows over manicured lawns, enchanting Victorian homes are decked out with urns, flowerbeds and hanging baskets. Each house is architecturally different, some sport columns, others have turrets or balconies, windows are leaded glass, many exhibit sizable American flags.

fenton 111 (1)

fenton 116 (1)

fenton 112 (1)

fenton 114 (1)

Near the Jeep, a row of cute little shops have open doors, inviting people to take a look inside. La Petite Maison is a pretty, little, home decor store. The space is set up like a home with different rooms; new, old and repurposed items accessorize each room in shabby-chic style. The Iron Grate features home goods such as candles, linens and pillows along with an adorable kids section done up in primary colors. Next door is Fenton’s Open Book, you guessed it, it’s a bookstore and next to that is Sweet Variations chocolate shop. We walk through each shop satisfying our curiosities, its late afternoon, time to catch lunch.

fenton 107 (1)

fenton 098 (1)fenton 096 (1)

fenton 103 (1)

Fenton Fire Hall on Leroy St is the latest addition to Fenton’s growing restaurant scene. The building has stood on this spot since 1938; behind the building is a park and a waterfall, across the street is the fetching Community Center designed by Eliel Saarinen. Brought to us by the same folks who run Clarkston Union, Union Woodshop and Vinsetta Garage, it’s an extremely popular eating spot, which is why we are having lunch at 3 pm on a Friday. To our relief, we are seated immediately, the place smells wonderful, a mix of wood-fire and meat. The menu offers a nice variety without being overwhelming, we decide pretty quickly. The interior pays homage to the origins of the buildings, much of the stylish decorating features the color red, old hoses make up a light fixture, the firehouse theme is carried out well throughout. It doesn’t take long for our food to arrive, metal baking sheets piled high with food are set down before us, just looking at it makes my mouth water! First up, the Korean Pork Tacos; three Detroit-made flour tortillas are filled with the house pulled pork combined with their own Korean bbq sauce, topped with cilantro-lime slaw, the tacos are outstanding, nice choice Kris! The Gather is a house-made vegan patty, wood-fired veggie goat cheese spread, broccoli sprouts, shitake bacon, all stacked on a house-made bun, it’s really good. Then we come to the fries, freshly hand-cut and perfectly deep-fried they are wonderful as is, dipping them in the Fire Hall mayo, takes them up to a whole other level.  When we are finished, we walk up to the roof-top deck strung with lights overhead, you can eat up here, have a drink at the bar, shoot a game of pool or just have a seat and overlook the park. In the stairwell, black and white photos of Fenton’s crew of firefighters hang on the walls, a nice tribute. The lower level has a cozy lounge area with original wood paneling, tables line the wall of roll-up doors, funky red upholstered barstools are pulled up to the bar.

fenton 071 (1)

fenton 034 (1)

fenton 029

fenton 037 (1)

Just outside is the original pump house, today it serves as an ice cream stand: Pumphouse Custard. What makes this unique is the house-made ice creams, custards and sorbets are made with liquid nitrogen… really! The list of flavors is long: Faygo Rock n Rye, CEO Stout, 24 Carrot Cake, Blue Moon, Gimme S’more, well, you get the idea. You can get it in a cup, cone, sundae, malt or shake. After many samples and much deliberation, Kris chooses the honey cinnamon flavor to have as a malt and I try the Strawberry Basil Bash…. tasty!? Umbrella’d tables with milk crate legs are set up on the patio, eat there or go for a stroll like we are. We walk across the bridge to the park, metal sculptures and colorful potted plants dot the landscape, ducks float in the stream, a photographer is busy taking senior pictures for a group of girls. Yep, it certainly is a nice set up they have here.

fenton 053 (1)

fenton 066

fenton 060 (1)

Back on Holly road we pass a sign with an arrow directing us to the Great Lakes National Cemetery, we make the turn to check it out. Off Belford Rd we spot the stone wall and avenue of flags; American flags as far as the eye can see. Turning into the cemetery we are taken aback by the rows of white headstones. Open to the public during daylight hours, we realize we don’t have much time as dusk is beginning to fall. We drive as far as the main road will take us, the landscape is one of rolling hills and a lake, 544.3 acres in all. Burials began in 2005, by 2013 there were over 16,000 interments; any member of the armed forces of the United States who dies in active duty, or  discharged veterans, are eligible to be buried here. A public information center is located about midway into the cemetery, specific gravesites can be found using an automated gravesite locator kiosk.

fenton 176 (1)

fenton 171 (1)

fenton 161 (1)

We get out of the car and begin to walk around, it’s beautiful, solemn, peaceful; benches overlook the lake, ducks, swans and other waterfowl are having conversation. Rows of above ground columbariums are near the water, we read the names of those who have passed on. Meandering on, we pass hundreds of gravesites, all branches of the armed forces are represented, as are wars ranging from WWII, the Gulf War and Afghanistan, along with Korea and Vietnam. The oldest birth year I spotted was 1911; many of the deceased were moved here from another place when this cemetery opened. They say they average 10 burials a day, which surprised us. One feels very patriotic walking these grounds, feelings of both gratitude and sadness fill my heart. 

fenton 157 (1)fenton 133 (1)

fenton 139 (1)

fenton 137

fenton 149 (1)

DETROIT: Far East Southwest ??

2 Sep

eastsouthwest 009

Today we are in East Southwest Detroit; the tiny section of Mexicantown east of I 75. I need a few things from the store so our first stop is Honey Bee Market . There are so many things I like about shopping here: the space is brightly lit, pinatas fill the top shelves surrounding the aisles, produce is fresh, colorful; my favorite thing, of course, is the guacamole. As soon as I step in the door, tubs of guac, pico and salsa are being chilled on ice, bowls of chips are plentiful, allowing one to sample freely. If you can walk away without a bag of chips and a container of dip, you have much more willpower than I! Avocados and tomatoes are piled high next to tomatillos and jalapenos, in case you’d like to make your own tasty dip. The first section is venduras frescas-fresh vegetables, along with everyday items, you will find a huge assortment of peppers, varieties of cactus pieces and yucca root; it’s all so appealing. Cheese is next; it’s fun to try a different kind from time to time, haven’t found one yet that isn’t tasty. Corn chips come in blue, salted or unsalted, the list of tortillas is long; flour, corn, crunchy, soft, in a multitude of sizes. Thirsty? How about some coconut or cactus water? If you’re looking for something fruity try a juice or nectar from Jumex or a Jarritos Mexican soda; hibiscus, strawberry and tamarindo are just some of the thirst quenching flavors.

eastsouthwest 002

eastsouthwest 003

eastsouthwest 013

Signs hanging from the ceiling are written in Spanish and English, brings back a little of my high school Spanish; funny how some things stay with you. The meat counter is huge; beef, chicken, pork, marinated or plain. The chorizo is made from scratch using a secret family recipe; try it in tacos instead of ground beef-yum! The store is filled with Central American ingredients; beans, mole, dried peppers, unique spices…..this aisle smells so good. Much of the packaging is written in Spanish, many have their own characters affiliated with the product; a cute little bear adorns cookie and snack wrappers. Prepared foods are available for take-out or you can eat at one of the picnic tables in front of the store, they also carry items from Michigan’s own Calder Dairy including ice cream and the most incredibly delicious chocolate milk you will ever drink…….just sayin’.  I check my list before we check out to make sure I have everything; we’re good to go.

eastsouthwest 036 (1)

eastsouthwest 027eastsouthwest 012

eastsouthwest 031

Looking at all that good food has given us quite an appetite, Mexican Village is just down the street, sounds good doesn’t it? This is the oldest Mexican restaurant in Mexicantown, it definitely caters to area visitors. Inside, a beamed stucco ceiling, archways and wrought iron sconces and chandeliers are intended to put one in the mindset of Mexico; it’s lovely. The space is large, yet charming; murals and sizable paintings fill the walls, there are several dining areas in addition to banquet rooms. As we are led to our seat servers carry trays of chips and salsa to surrounding tables, the menu is vast, filled with mouth-watering selections. The best way to try a bit of everything is a combination plate; once our order is taken, we have to restrain ourselves so we don’t fill up on chips and salsa; not an easy task. Food arrives quickly, the village combination comes with 2 beef tacos; one flour, one corn, a chicken flauta, bean tostada and cheese enchilada. We also asked for a tamale, rice and beans. Everything is tasty; we both agree we like the cheese enchilada the best.

eastsouthwest 067

eastsouthwest 052

eastsouthwest 047

There’s a neighborhood market right next door: Algo Especial Supermercado; we take a peek inside. There’s a little bit of everything tucked into the narrow space; souvenir-type items, trinkets, produce and tortillas greet us near the door, along with festive pinatas that hang from the ceiling. Up a couple of steps, a small area is host to CD’s and DVD’s by Mexican artists, lovely, authentic costumes hang from a rack, American and Mexican flags are side by side. Just a little further you’ll find the meat counter, household items and the noteworthy tamale counter; be sure and take a few home. We walk back to the front passing tons of loose spices and teas, many I have never seen before. It’s always a fun adventure when exploring another culture!

eastsouthwest 062 (1)

eastsouthwest 064 (1)

eastsouthwest 065 (1)

Until recently, Detroit hadn’t distilled a drop of spirits since prohibition; next we are stopping in at the city’s newest vodka producer, Our/Detroit Partners Kate Bordine and Sara Aldridge have teamed up with Pernod Ricard Vodka, who supplies the recipe and distillery. The all-female-owned and operated end of the business is in charge of sales, marketing and most importantly production. This is global vodka made by local partners, using local ingredients, giving the spirit a unique taste from city to city. In Detroit, cocktails are created using products from local businesses such as Mc Clure’s, Mc Clary Bros. and Wolf Moon Mixers; it never ceases to amaze me the way in which the business community here supports one another!

vodka 003 (1)

eastsouthwest 086

The building itself was formerly the Bagley Billiard Center, it sat vacant for a number of years before its current incarnation as distillery and tasting room. Fresh white paint and a cool mural by Ndubisi Okoye covering one side of the structure peak the curiosity of passersby; many peer in the front windows to see what’s going on inside. The decor is simple and elegant in black and white, art is the work of local artists. The tasting room has a chill vibe, shelves are filled with bottles of vodka and mixers, a well-placed window affords patrons a view of the working distillery. We sit at the counter, glancing at the menu, it doesn’t take long to decide, I’m having a vodka tonic with lime and Kris is having Summer in the City, a refreshing combination of vodka, lemonade, blueberry-nutmeg simple syrup and a splash of sparkling soda; it tastes even better than it sounds. The drink menu is seasonal, it will change quarterly; can’t wait to try out Autumn’s offerings!

eastsouthwest 091

eastsouthwest 095

eastsouthwest 081

DETROIT: Past, Present, Future

26 Aug

fountain 035 (1)

It has been called one of America’s greatest fountains, one look at the James Scott Memorial Fountain, and I’m sure you will agree. Designed by Cass Gilbert (Detroit Public Library) and completed in 1925 at a cost of $500,000, the construction of the fountain was surrounded by controversy. The story goes like this: Detroiter James Scott was a man of great wealth with a penchant for gambling, womanizing and vindictive behavior, a real scoundrel; let’s just say he wasn’t well-liked. He died in 1910, and bequeathed his estate to the city of Detroit to build a fountain with the condition that it must include a life-size statue of himself, which caused a huge raucous among community and religious leaders who were against honoring such a man. Fifteen years went by; finally, then-mayor Philip Breitmeyer decided it would be wrong to refuse a gift for such a good cause, the fountain was built. Herbert Adams was the sculptor of the bronze statue of James Scott sitting in a chair, overlooking the glorious fountain he had paid for. When you visit the fountain, be sure and read the inscription on the back of the chair that ends with, “From the good deed of one comes benefit to many.”  Indeed.

fountain 078 (1)

fountain 082 (1)

fountain 076 (1)

Through the years the fountain has encountered various states of disrepair, copper pipes were stolen, then in 2010 during a repair to the basin, the magnificent original Pewabic tiles were damaged, removed and thrown into a dumpster! Today we are here in a celebration of sort; all levels of the beautiful fountain are running once again, thanks to unofficial caretaker Robert Carpenter and lots of money from sources such as Roger Penske and the DNR. Marble has been cleaned and restored, corroded cast iron pipes have been flushed; water spills from basins, spouts from 109 water outlets, upper and lower cascades flow freely. The detail is amazing; dolphins, turtles, frogs and lions join Neptune and cherubs in the splash-filled fun. I can’t even remember how long its been since all five tiers and both cascades have circulated, it’s gorgeous.

fountain 027 (1)

fountain 107 (1)

fountain 047 (1)

fountain 040 (1)

The fountain has long been a gathering place, a constant in family photos from generation to generation, the site of proposals, weddings, a meeting place and one of our biggest tourist attractions. That much hasn’t changed. While walking the circumference of the huge Vermont white marble basin, I overhear a story telling of the days when these folks had come here with their parents, it’s a familiar tale. Even now, after coming here for decades, Kris and I each notice things we haven’t before; I never get tired of  looking at it. The past is alive and well. The fountain is located at the western tip of the island and runs from 10 am to 10 pm  Memorial Day to Labor Day.

fountain 095 (1)fountain 090 (1)

fountain 053 (1)

fountain 083 (1)fountain 091

fountain 094 (1)

We are having lunch at Roses Fine Food; Opened only a month or so now, they serve breakfast and lunch Tuesday – Sunday from 9 am till 2 pm. The tiny, unassuming building with a small parking lot sits on E Jefferson; a tall sign has recently been erected. The main seating area is the counter, which runs the length of the dining room, high stools are mounted to the floor. A hand-written chalkboard lists today’s specials. We sit at one of maybe a half-dozen tables resting on the green tiled floor, paper menus and glasses of water are brought right over. The food is of the simple, made-from-scratch variety; pancakes, eggs, sandwiches. It’s near closing time, we are informed there are only three items available, guess that makes deciding easier. Patrons continue to arrive but are told the food is sold out. Our meal arrives quickly; the Egg Sandwich of the Day is a fried egg, topped with 2 strips of bacon and aioli served on a homemade biscuit. The Cluck is house-smoked, pulled chicken, dressed with Rose’s bbq sauce and picnic slaw served on thick toast with a pickled carrot for garnish. Portions were smallish, but we liked everything we had.

fountain 003

fountain 007

On May 17, over 1,400 volunteers gathered on Detroit’s lower east side to plant more than 15,000 trees on 20 acres of vacant land, in an effort to create the nation’s largest urban tree farm: Hantz Woodlands. We keep saying we want to go see the area, so today we are. Hantz Farms owns about 150 acres in the square mile bounded by Mack and Jefferson, St Jean and Van Dyke streets. This once densely populated neighborhood had become almost forgotten with its broken sidewalks, abandoned homes and overgrown lots.  John Hantz came up with a plan to transform the neighborhood, make it safer, more livable with the urban tree farm project. We drive up and down several streets, then, on Pennsylvania, we see rows of saplings soaking up the afternoon sunshine. From there we see lot after lot, some big, some small; tiny hardwoods such as Oaks and Maples stand in straight lines, mulch piled high on the ground. Huge, old trees stand around the outer edge of the lots, they have borne witness to the full cycle of the neighborhood.

fountain 002 (1)

fountain 038 (1)

Looking at all the trees, one can’t help but feel hopeful for the future of the area; blight has been replaced with beauty. Mothers had to walk their children past vacant homes and land that had grown wild, just to get to the school bus, now many of those homes have been demolished, replaced with tree farms where the grass is mowed regularly. It is a source of pride for neighbors. The majority of trees are in the area bounded by Crane, Pennsylvania, Mack and Vernor, not too far from Indian Village. The work continues. While I was looking at the Hantz Woodlands website I came across something I’d like to share with you: “Before Detroit became an industrial powerhouse, it was part of a great farming region that fed thousands.” In Detroit our past, our present and our future are all connected.

fountain 030 (1)

fountain 014 (1)

fountain 024 (1)

DETROIT: Music Mecca

19 Aug

wayne 133 (1)

Have you ever stumbled upon something super-cool and asked yourself, how did I not know about this? That’s exactly what happened to Kris and I a while back when we showed up for a tour of the United Sound Systems Recording Studio on Second Ave in Detroit. Turns out this place was one of Detroit’s first independent recording studios. Early on it was used for industrial and promotional film production, then it became a full service recording studio that gave artists, musicians, writers and producers the ability to record music, cut the record and get airplay without being signed to a major label. You may be asking yourself, I wonder who recorded there? Are you ready for this? Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker, Jackie Wilson, The Rolling Stones, Muddy Waters, Isaac Hayes, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob Seger, Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Marvin Gaye, MC5, and Whitney Houston…….to name a few! For more than 70 years some of the best vocalists, musicians and sound engineers came together at United Sound Studios to record an astounding variety of successful Jazz, Rock, Soul, Blues, Rockabilly and Funk records.

wayne 097 (1)wayne 098

wayne 101

wayne 109

It’s a gorgeous afternoon, we have driven by this building a hundred times over the years and never realized what it was. From the outside it looks to simply be an old house with dark windows on the second floor; a blue sign splits the levels with the name United Sound Systems in white letters. We park in the adjacent lot, walk to the front door; finding it locked I give it a knock and it opens immediately. Explaining we are here for the tour we are welcomed inside and ushered to the gift shop where we purchase tickets. The interior is still a work in progress as tours and events are being established. We wait for the tour to begin in the basement level with a number of other visitors; framed album covers from MC5 and Aretha Franklin hang on the walls. We are led up to Studio B as our guide gives us a bit of history, United Sound is a recording studio, not a label; initially commercials and advertising jingles were recorded in the building. Upstairs, a large window divides the space between the engineering room and studio, the large console is a sea of levers buttons and switches, walls and ceiling are covered in soundproofing materials. Our group gathers in the studio area; folks take turns putting on earphones and make-believe they are singing into the mike, making their own record. A photo of a young Whitney Houston, taken in this room, hangs on the wall.

wayne 107

wayne 112

wayne 119

Up a flight of stairs we are now standing in what was the original reception area; Rolodex cards that once sat on the secretary’s desk, bear names and phone numbers of Ike and Tina Turner and Bootsy Collins, I love that kind of memorabilia! Through the door is a small theater room, we all take a seat; a short film shares the story of United Sound. Founded by James (Jimmy) Siracuse in the 1930’s it was moved to this residential space on Second sometime in the early 40’s. In 1947, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Duke Jordan, Tommy Potter and Max Roach recorded “Klaunstance” for Savoy Records, 1948, John Lee Hooker records “Boogie Chillen”, Dizzy Gillespie records tracks here in the 50’s, Jimmy Work recorded his hits “Making Believe” and “That’s What Makes The Jukebox Play” here in the mid 50’s. United Sound was around before there was a Motown; Berry Gordy recorded Marv Johnson’s “Come to Me” at United Sound in 1958 and later released it as the first single on his Tamla 101 label. In the 60’s Bob Seger recorded “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” and “Heavy Music”, MC5 recorded “Back in the USA”. Don Davis purchased United Sound in 1971, the studio continued to thrive; 1985 brought Aretha Franklin to United Sound to record “Freeway of Love”, Anita Baker’s Grammy winning album “Rapture” was recorded here too…….. I know, amazing!

wayne 125

wayne 130

wayne 127

When the film ends, we pass through a room; commercial records cover the walls, upstairs, we check out yet another tiny studio, before heading back downstairs. In the kitchen area, framed and autographed gold records hang on the wall, below that, the echo chamber that helped create the ‘Detroit Sound’ is cut into the wall, a set of blue silky costumes worn by The Dramatics, have been donated and are on display; we take notice of renderings depicting how this space will be used in the future. On to Studio A……. it’s huge! Tons of fancy looking equipment fills the engineering space, the recording console looks as if it could launch spacecraft. Today only, studio A is hosting a Rockabilly reunion; authors of the book Detroit Country Music Craig Maki and Keith Cady are joining some of Detroit’s veteran Rockabilly musicians for some music and memories. Our group files into the performance space, five musicians are busy playing an old Rockabilly tune; pieces of vintage equipment and black and white photos connect the past to the present. When the song is finished Craig Maki introduces the guys who were instrumental to Detroit’s country and bluegrass music scene in the 1950’s; Jimmy Kirkland, Jack Scott, Dave Ronelier, Johnny Powers and Dave Morgan. Each of these men recorded here back in the day; they played in bands that drew big crowds in southeastern Michigan cities like Mt Clemens, Sterling Heights, Pontiac, Utica, Troy, Flint, Detroit and throughout the Midwest.

wayne 140 (1)

wayne 137

wayne 144 (1)

The family of Chief Redbird is on our tour; Redbird organized several bands, played fiddle, sang and wrote songs, he was extremely popular. Jobs in the auto industry brought many southerners to Detroit in the early 20th century, making the city a natural for the creation and enjoyment of this genre of music. We listen as musician’s fingers move across guitar strings, vocalists sing the same lyrics they sang more than 50 years ago, everybody is having a great time. This studio was in constant use until 2008, the list of people who have crossed the threshold is mind-blowing; it’s wonderful to see it up and running again! More of Detroit’s incredible past preserved, I’m so happy we came!

wayne 150wayne 158

wayne 174

wayne 152

wayne 161

Hygrade Restaurant and Deli was started over 60 years ago on what was then a busy section of Michigan Ave; today, not so much. About a mile outside of Corktown, the deli is definitely worth a visit. The current owner’s family bought the place in 1972, looking just as it does today: metallic gold, blue and red chairs, Formica tables, light wood paneling and white globe lights that dangle from the ceiling; this is not retro, it’s original! There’s still a decent lunch crowd when we arrive; we choose a table along the wall that affords us a great view of the interior, yellow paper menus are already on the table along with glass salt and pepper shakers and the old-fashioned glass sugar dispenser. There’s really no need to look at the menu, the Reuben is the house specialty, can’t argue with that. We do add a cup of mushroom barley soup and a side of potato salad.

hygrade 022

hygrade 011

hygrade 005

A few patrons sit at the counter, it’s way cool with its low counter, multi-colored stools and great colored panels behind; the work area is all stainless steel and sees a lot of action. Before long our meal arrives, the sandwich is split onto two plates, each with its own pickle spear. The corned beef is fantastic; cooked to perfection, it is so tender and lean it just falls apart, there’s a good ratio of sauerkraut and dressing too. The soup was flavorful; the barley makes the broth silky. The potato salad is the traditional mustard-style, exactly what you’d expect from an old-school deli. There’s no shortage of nostalgia in Detroit!

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 211 other followers