DETROIT: Lush Life

23 Dec

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We are celebrating our anniversary with a little staycation; fine dining, world-class opera, a luxurious stay at a bed and breakfast. The best part is we don’t have to drive far, all of this and more can be found right here in downtown Detroit! We arrive at the Inn on Ferry Street, we are shown to our temporary quarters in the Raymond C Smith Carriage House. Built in 1892 as a carriage house, it was converted to a single family home in 1926. Today the entire second story is a three-room suite consisting of two bedrooms, full bath and sitting room–wow! Furniture is Arts and Crafts style, colors are warm, the rooms cozy and inviting. We slip out of our everyday clothes and replace them with our evening attire, one must get dressed up for a night on the town.

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First opened in 1938 by Gruber brothers Lester and Sam, the London Chop House is the best-known restaurant in Detroit history. Operating for 53 years in the Murphy Telegraph Building, the legendary restaurant closed in 1991. In February 2012 an amazing thing happened, after a year of restoration and refurbishing Nico Gatzaros re-opened the Chop House, even the old phone number is back. We park on W. Congress, an illuminated awning fronts a nondescript door, we descend the stairway to a host stand where we are greeted and our coats are checked. One step into the dining room the air just feels different, the space looks much as it did in its heyday; the long oak bar and mirrored back wall are all original as are the famous circular red leather booths and banquettes, even the built-in telephone booths are working again. This place has an amazing history of guests who have dined here; locals such as Henry Ford II, the Fishers, Stroh’s, Harley Earl, sat side by side with musicians and entertainers such as Bob Hope, Gary Cooper, Frank Sinatra and John Barrymore. In 1961 James Beard named it one of the top 10 best restaurants in America; it was the epitome of fine dining and patrons dressed the part. In one newspaper clipping I read it said “Deals were done and fortunes were made over thick pieces of steak and expensive wines”. I like to think that somehow all of that history and energy is absorbed into the walls creating a mojo of its own.

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We cross the room to our table, holiday decorations adorn the space, diners are dressed up for the occasion. Our server is attentive and friendly, after explaining the specials she leaves us to peruse the menu. We start with a salad, citrus marinated hearts of palm, bibb lettuce, charred bell peppers. avocado and lump crab, outstanding. I order the Salmon served with broccoli rabe, pecan pesto and beet relish, Kris chooses the Bourbon Brined Pork Loin with apricot marmalade, bacon, sweet onion and frisee salad. Both meals were very good, the service impeccable; our glasses were never empty and nary a crumb littered the table-cloth.

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We have tickets to see La Traviata at the Detroit Opera House. Of all the theaters in Detroit, I think the Opera House is the most elegant. Designed by C Howard Crane (who also did the Fox, State and Orchestra Hall) it opened in 1922 as the Capitol Theatre, in addition to showing movies they also had live entertainment; both Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington performed here. Through the years the theater changed names, it was the Paramount, Broadway Capitol and finally the Grand Circus Theater. At the end, the lovely plaster work had all been painted black and punk rock bands took the stage. When they finally shuttered the place someone neglected to turn off the water, by the time the Michigan Opera Theatre became interested in the building the orchestra pit was filled with water and most of the plaster had fallen. Jump forward to 1996, after millions of dollars spent on a remarkable (some even thought impossible) restoration, the Michigan Opera Theatre celebrated the grand opening of their new home with a performance by Luciano Pavarotti.

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We enter the grand Ford Lobby, women wear fancy dresses, gowns, sequins and mink coats, men look dapper in their dark suits and colorful ties. Magnificent crystal chandeliers illuminate the space, the carpet is an exact reproduction of the original. We climb the staircase to the second floor, the view from here is dazzling; beautifully decorated Christmas trees are placed here and there, white lights wrap ornate railings, plaster is finely detailed and painted blue and cream. Inside the auditorium itself gold leaf abounds, ceiling patterns are larger here, the proscenium is painted solid gold, the curtain shimmers in red.

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La Traviata premiered in Venice in 1853, tonight we are commemorating the 200th anniversary of Giuseppe Verdi, La Traviata stands as the most-performed opera around the world to date; once you see it, you’ll know why. The lights dim and the curtain rises to enthusiastic applause. One of the things I love about going to the opera is the passion of the audience; we clap for the scenery, the costumes, and of course the incredible performers. Violetta and Alfredo capture our hearts in Act I, Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont shows up in Act II to cause trouble, I wouldn’t dare tell you what happens in Act III !  Many songs are familiar, the music is enchanting, mesmerizing, heart-wrenching, Verdi at his best. Sung in Italian, there is little need to read the English subtitles to follow the story, I can hardly take my eyes off the cast. Almost three hours later the story comes to a close, the crowd is on its feet, cheers of “Bravo” fill the air.

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The temperature outside has dropped into the teens, we make a quick dash back to the car, a night-cap would be perfect. Since we are all dressed up we will end our evening with cocktails at Roast. Located on the ground floor of the Westin Book Cadillac, Michael Symon opened this meat-centric restaurant in 2008. He has since won numerous culinary awards and can be found regularly on the Food Network and ABC’s The Chew. The bar area has a contemporary feel, the place is hopping, we manage to find two seats at the bar. iPads are scattered across the counter, it takes us a few minutes to realize these are the menus. Kris is usually good with a VO and Diet Coke, so he goes with it, I decide to scroll through the menu. After going through the lists of wine by the glass, beer, cocktails and spirits I decide simple is best and order a rum and coke. We leisurely sip our cocktails while watching the comings and goings of people in the restaurant and hotel. It has been an amazing evening, tonight we are definitely living the lush life!

One Response to “DETROIT: Lush Life”

  1. Barbara Dorda December 30, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    Bravo!! Another fine review!

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