DETROIT: Showtime

14 Mar

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We’re in Southwest Detroit to catch a show at the Matrix Theatre on Bagley. Founded in 1991 by Shaun and Wes Nethercot, the company’s mission is “to build community, improve lives and foster social justice. Matrix Theatre Company teaches, creates and shares theatre as an instrument of transformation”. In addition to professional theatre the company also includes the School of Theatre, Matrix Teen Company and the Community School For The Arts which teaches play writing, performance and puppetry for all ages. Members of the groups collaborate to create new plays about important community issues such as teen dating violence, bullying, gang violence, immigration/deportation, HIV/AIDS, homophobia, ethnic intimidation. They also bring awareness to the history and culture of Detroit. 

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We park in the lot adjacent to the building, for years I have admired the mural on the wall; a young girl blowing dandelion seeds into the air, her eyes closed tight concentrating on her wish, other dandelions join the dance in the breeze. The orange brick building stands 2-stories high, a wrought iron hanger holds the Matrix shingle. Inside the lobby is compact; here you can pick up your ticket, grab a candy bar and a cold pop before heading into the performance space. Intentions is sold out today, we spy two open seats next to one another and claim them. The theatre is one of those intimate spaces where the people in the front row are practically on stage; you can’t help but feel the energy from the actors.

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For the next two hours Nell, Gabe, Maya, Leif and Lou share their lives at Tillerman House with us. Tillerman is an intentional community/urban farm, the characters share common values but each one views life a little differently. The entire story takes place in the common area of the house. Playwright Abbey Fenbert has created a funny, entertaining, honest look at the effect change has on human beings. I too experienced change; I felt one way about the characters at the beginning, then as things happened and the story evolved I saw a different side of them, altering my view. Things are always shifting, we’re always looking for balance. The actors are marvelous, the story timely, what a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.

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We’re having an early dinner at Ima, a new Japanese-influenced restaurant that took over the old Rubbed space on Michigan Ave. Serving signature noodle soups, rice bowls, curries and small plates, the restaurant has received high praise from diners and critics alike. The communal tables are full but two seats have opened at the bar overlooking Michigan Ave. The menu is simple and concise, making for easy ordering. We are having the Golden Curry; silky curry sauce, root veggies, ginger pickle and roasted tofu, it’s fantastic! The Boombap is Ima’s version of Bibimbop; a fried egg, shitake, slaw, cucumber, ginger beef all served atop a bowl of rice with pepito chili sauce on the side, it’s outstanding. A line of people waiting has formed, we finish every last grain of rice and we’re off.

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Bobcat Bonnies is on the other side of Michigan Ave, something about the name has always intrigued me, tonight I finally get the chance to check it out. The space was formerly The Red Devil and O’Blivion’s after that, see those names did nothing for me… We’re stopping in at the neighborhood spot for an after-dinner-drink. We grab a couple of seats at the bar, order drinks then chat with the bartender and the couple next to us. The place has a very comfortable, chill vibe. I like the orange brick, the geometric patterns of the tile and the original wood ceiling that’s over 150 years old. This is a nice way to end the evening. Oh and I did find out about the name, Bonnie is the grandmother of one of the partners, rumor has it she likes to drive a bobcat around her farm in Ohio–sweet!

HOWELL: Gettin’ There…

3 Mar

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All across America big cities and small towns are experiencing recovery, revitalization, rejuvenation. People are drawn to the unique things each has to offer; theater, dining, craft beer and cocktails, music, recreation. Tonight we are in Livingston County, about an hour northwest of Detroit in the city of Howell. At 4.95 sq. miles this historic town has a picturesque downtown with a lively dining scene. We have the evening all planned out starting with dinner at The Silver Pig. We’re parked behind the restaurant, a swanky mural of a cabaret performer covers a corner of the wall, the piglet at her feet assures us we’re at the right place. The entrance is marked with a silver awning, a pig juts out at the corner. Inside the decor is dark, quaint, definitely urban, I like it.

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The menu and list of specials is concise, making ordering easy, the cocktail list is impressive. With a little help from our server our order is placed and cocktails served, while I sip on Strawberry Fields, enjoying the muddled strawberry, lavender and honey, Kris is relishing one of the best Old Fashioneds he’s ever had. We snack on the house Truffle popcorn until the Sweet and Sour Cauliflower arrives, absolutely delicious in a spiced orange marmalade glaze with red jalapeno. The pepperoni pizza is served on a cooling rack straight from the brick oven, it’s crisp and extra flavorful with Hungarian peppers. All around us small plates and shellfish towers are being served, everything looks great; we’re definitely coming back.

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We exit through in interior door, cross a hall and cut through the sister restaurant Diamonds Steak and Seafood, looks pretty fancy, I’m adding it to our list of things to do next time we’re in Howell. We pass through the front door out onto Grand River, it’s a lovely evening for a stroll, the Howell Opera House is about a block down and our destination. Built in 1881 the Victorian 3-story structure was once the center of entertainment for the surrounding communities. In those days live shows like Hamlet and Mikado were performed on stage, the theatre hosted speeches–Henry Ford once spoke here, dinners and graduations. In 1924 the 800-seat theatre was closed by the Fire Marshall. While the first floor was used as retail space the second-floor auditorium was used as storage space for the local hardware store; it sat dark for more than 80 years.

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The Livingston Arts Council purchased the building in 2000, in 2007 after a complete renovation of the first floor the building was reopened and is now used for public activities such as tonight’s Acoustic Cafe. Olivia Millerschin is performing at 7:30, the lobby is packed with people to see the show. The open space is set up with rows of chairs theatre-style, small tables are inserted into the rows here and there for the comfort of patrons needing a place to rest a beverage or snack purchased in the lobby. Large round tables at the back of the room are already filled with people. Icicle lights are draped around the room, a small stage is set up in front, microphones, amps and instruments are all in place. 

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At just 21 years old Olivia is already a music veteran, a singer, songwriter and musician, she’s been performing her music for years, you may have seen her on America’s Got Talent. Tonight is the CD release of her second full-length album Look Both Ways. Olivia’s been very busy, she played 200 shows across the country in 2016. Tonight we have the pleasure of hearing her music live in an intimate setting. Her show is a mix of old and new original songs, she does a cover here and there of a variety of genres from Blue Skies to Tom Jones’ She’s a Lady; her rendition of Over The Rainbow is magic. In addition to being an amazing performer she has a great rapport with the audience, you can’t help but like her. Check out her video on YouTube for “When” recorded right here at the Howell Opera House.

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After the show a small group of us are led upstairs for an informal tour of the actual theatre. Remember, this place was built before electricity, one day they closed the doors and that was that, today it sits pretty much the way it did back then. It looks and feels old, even the air smells old (not in a bad way), it’s like time just stopped in this room. The proscenium, a simple plaster arch, the original curtains are still in place, except for some water damage the painted ceiling is still in tact; the overall decor is true Victorian.  Get a look at that unusual chandelier, we’re told it’s the original, it was gas-lit and then re-worked once electricity arrived. There is no lighting system, sound system, no plush seats. The floor creeks under our weight, ordinary poles support the balconies, old screen doors left behind by Sutton’s Hardware stand in a corner. Antique showcases house original playbills and other memorabilia. Doors at the back of the auditorium lead to the original lobby; patrons would enter from street level then take the stairs to the second floor theatre. Here we see more photos of what the room looked like back in the day, it was quite lovely. Our guide tells us the theatre is haunted, they say 6 different ghosts inhabit the space… there was nothing unusual during our visit. They say it will take about $6 million to restore, funding it is a constant challenge, it will be a beauty when it’s done.

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Across the street is a sign for Fog’s Pub with an arrow pointing to the alley; we walk around the block, go down a short stairway and find ourselves in the basement of the Heart of Howell Building. The compact space is cozy and charming, reminiscent of a speakeasy; the decor is a mix of wood, stone and vintage items. They offer a full food menu, classic craft cocktails, a giant beer list, wine and of course dessert. Craving a sweet ending to our evening we are sharing the Lava Cake. The warm chocolate cake is served on a rectangular platter alongside a mound of whipped cream and fresh berries, yum!  It was a great idea to come out to Howell, we’ve had a wonderful time in the vibrant historic district. Come on out and see it for yourself!

 

DETROIT: Glass Art

21 Feb

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The Scarab Club opened it’s doors on Farnsworth in 1928 joining the year-old DIA building in Detroit’s newly formed Cultural Center. The beautiful Arts and Crafts structure was designed by architect and member Lancelot Sukert. Home to an artists club, gallery and studios, artists and art lovers meet here regularly to socialize and talk art. Back in the early 20th century Detroit gave birth to a new art form: automotive design and with it the evolution of automobile advertising art. Many of the original founding members of the Scarab Club were automotive designers, illustrators, graphic artists, photographers, architects and automobile company owners. It’s only fitting that American Dreaming: Corvette, 7 Generations and Beyond is on exhibit in the main gallery.

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The documentary, American Dreaming, about the Detroit artists who designed cars from 1946-1973 is in the process of being completed; the film covers Ford, GM, Chrysler, Packard, Studebaker, Nash and Hudson, this exhibit focuses solely on the Chevrolet Corvette. Introduced in 1953 the Corvette became the iconic American sports car. Here we see original drawings and models created by General Motors designers, the fact that these drawings still exist and are on display for all of us to see is incredible. In the design studios talented men and women put pencil to paper sketching cars straight from their imaginations. Studios were closely guarded, manufacturers considered the drawings company property, artists were not allowed to keep their work, instead most was destroyed. Once the artists figured out what was happening they found a way to sneak their drawings out, it was risky, you could lose your job if caught. They took their chances.

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Just look at the photographs of the framed sketches; side pipes, flames shooting out from dual exhaust pipes, bold colors, sleek designs all expressing the American optimism of the time. Concept cars were futuristic, they could fly through space, drive on elevated super-highways, they were race cars for the ordinary guy. Cars were beautiful, elegant, glamorous, exotic. One of my favorites is the gold Corvette with the #1 by Allen Young, the 1956 by Brock looks like a cousin of the Batmobile; drivers wear helmets, their faces carry the look of speed. We see the Corvette from all angles, some drawings focus on tail lights or the grill, monotone or color they’re all incredibly cool! The plain white paper has yellowed over the years but the designs look as fresh as if they were done yesterday. These rare, vintage drawings still capture our attention. Concept art is finally getting its due and being recognized as fine art.

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We’re grabbing a bite to eat at Bucharest Grill on Piquette Ave. This wildly popular restaurant began as a take-out counter inside The Park Bar. After a parting of ways Bucharest has branched out with 3 Detroit locations. The food is all handmade from original recipes, they serve Romanian dishes, Middle Eastern cuisine and hot dogs. Everything is fresh, fair-priced and delicious! Shawarma is a must, throw in a couple of hot dogs and we’re set.

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We take a seat at the window overlooking Piquette while we wait for our food to be prepared, it doesn’t take long. The chicken shawarma is the best I’ve ever eaten; grilled marinated chicken breast, tomato, lettuce, pickles and to-die-for garlic sauce all wrapped in a pita. The Hamtramck is a kielbasa dog topped with braised red cabbage, bacon and spicy mustard tucked into a sesame seed bun, so good. The Detroiter is knockwurst drenched in coney sauce, grilled onions and cheddar cheese on a sesame seed bun, yum! This place is always packed but they get you in and out quickly. Amazing art and tasty food; not a bad way to spend the day.

DETROIT: Just Another Night…

11 Feb

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Today we’re downtown to check out a couple of new places. Our first stop is in the former Federal Reserve Building on Fort Street. The original building opened in 1927, a lovely three and a half-story example of Classical Revival architecture. An eight-story glass and marble annex designed by Minoru Yamasaki in the International Style was added in 1951. Today the building houses the Detroit News and Free Press, the Rosetti architectural firm (they did the building renovations) and our reason for being here, Maru Sushi.

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It’s late afternoon, there are only a few other diners in the 4,500 sq. ft space, sunlight pours in through two-story-tall windows. The room is designed to look like a fisherman’s net with metal netting acting as dividers and a wave-like light fixture. Japanese artwork, raw concrete walls, natural stone, marble accents, decorate the soaring, open space. The original revolving door entrance to the building has been reinvented as a private booth–sweet. The menu is filled with rolls, sashimi, nigiri, sharing plates, soups, salads and noodles. We’re having the Spicy Tuna, Flaming Crab and Archer rolls. Everything is super-fresh, nice flavor combinations and generous in size. 

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After lunch we wander around the building; the flooring is a combination of original terrazzo with new stone-like paths. A series of wooden ribs sweeps across the ceiling, the reception desk is surrounded by mirrors, rough rock makes up a portion of a wall, bright red accents add a splash of color. Gorgeous marble walls and columns are backlit creating a striking effect. The second floor is open and overlooks the lobby, here we get a birds-eye-view of the restaurant, first floor and Fort Street; sitting areas are comfortable and attractive. I’m glad to see they maintained the integrity of the original Mid-Century Modern style.

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A short walk and we’re in Capitol Park. Did you know this is where Michigan’s State Capitol Building was originally located? Detroit was the state’s capitol from 1837-1847 when it moved to Lansing–hence the name Capitol Park. We stop in at The Albert, a 12-story luxury apartment building. Designed by Albert Kahn (of course), built in 1929, it was originally called the Detroit Griswold Building. It went from an office building to senior apartments to 127 market-rate units and renamed after the architect who designed it. We take the stairs to the 3rd floor common areas; here residents can play games, watch TV, throw a party or just cozy up in a corner and read. The large open space is decorated in bold colors, the outside wall is glass with a spectacular view of Capitol Park. Sitting areas, dining areas, I love the open coffer revealing the buildings original terracotta floor slabs above. The terrace offers outdoor seating and a community BBQ, whatever somebody’s cooking sure smells good! On the main floor we take the back exit to the alley, now we just have to find the right door….

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Detroit’s newest addition to the craft cocktail scene is Bad Luck Bar. The latest offering by the Detroit Optimist Society (Sugar House, Wright & Company) is definitely unique. In the alley a red light glows beyond a glass block window, the snake drawn on the door below the address assures us we’ve found the place. The tiny lobby is separated from the bar by a velvet curtain, a neon eye symbol illuminates the space. The host leads us through the compact, elegant room and seats at the bar. Cherry wood walls are finished with a hexagonal pattern, handmade hexagonal lights hang low from the ceiling, illuminati symbols are tucked into the decor; it feels very upscale. In keeping with the Bad Luck theme there are 13 choices on the cocktail menu, rare and unusual liquors are incorporated into creative combinations. We order our drinks then sit back and watch the show. Kris is having “Death”, I can’t tell you what’s in it but when all the measuring and shaking is complete it’s poured into a skull Tiki-style glass and set on fire, how cool is that? And it tastes fantastic. I’m having the Empress, again I have no idea what it’s made with, it served in a tall fluted glass ad garnished with housemade lavender popping sugar, it’s so good! Come here for the drinks and the experience.

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LuminoCITY Detroit runs until February 18, be sure and check it out! It’s hard to describe, fortunately we have good photos to share with you. It’s called a large-scale interactive art installation experience, I call it awesome. Beautifully illuminated shapes and designs of different sizes are placed in sites around downtown, they twist and flow to a curated light show. Right here in Capitol Park is Arcade, it sort of reminds me of a roller coaster; up and down, sharp turns, each section glows in a different color. Light Weaver sits on the old Hudson’s site, horse shoe shaped structures change colors, first it’s all blue then it becomes red, pink, yellow and orange, whimsical circles dance on the surface.

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180 Beacon on Woodward is a pretty deep-blue ring, it makes me want to jump through it, which is kind of the purpose of the installation. It encourages people to walk around the city, go from one structure to the next, discover something new, stop in at a restaurant, shop or bar. In Grand Circus Park 360 Beacons is a twist of primary colors, across the street is Gateway, the largest piece of the group. A huge multi-dimensional, multi-colored, patterned rainbow greets all who pass. We stand and watch as the color palette transitions from warm to cool, textures and shapes are projected across the surface. Art, technology and design working together, making Detroit a better place.

Canton: Pro Football Hall Of Fame

2 Feb

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We are in Canton Ohio in search of a late lunch. We want to eat someplace authentically ‘Canton’, Char from the Canton Classic Car Museum told us about Bender’s Tavern on Court Street; the sign on the red-brick building says “Canton’s Oldest and Finest Restaurant” it’s exactly what we’re looking for! The Jacob family opened Bender’s Tavern in 1902; it’s now run by the 4th generation of Jacobs. The interior is gorgeous; leaded glass windows, coffered ceiling, lots of polished dark wood, a mural on the top third of the wall, the bar runs nearly the length of the room– I don’t imagine much has changed over the last 115 years. We’re seated in the second booth from the door, the room is cozy, everyone is friendly. The restaurant serves fine food and wine, the seafood is flown in fresh from Foley Fish in Boston MA; we just want something simple, hearty, like a burger. Bender’s gourmet burger is a blend of brisket, chuck and short rib served on a brioche bun, yum. A pile of fries and a housemade root beer round out our meal perfectly. I’m glad we came here. 

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Well-fed and rested we’re ready to tackle the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Did you ever wonder why the PFHOF is located in Canton? Let me tell you a story….Back in the early 1900’s professional football leagues were regional, you had teams on the eastern seaboard or in the Midwest that would play each other. Football was huge in Ohio, they had their own Ohio league. Ralph Hay, owner of the Canton Bulldogs and the successful Ralph E Hay Motor Company had a bigger idea, a national league. He invited owners of 10 teams from 4 states to meet with him at his dealership, they were told to bring $100 each to cover legal expenses to form the league. The meeting took place September 17, 1920 among Jordan Hupmobiles and Pierce Arrows. The men were unable to cover the $100 price tag, fortunately automobiles had made Hay a wealthy man, he wrote a check for $1,000 and the American Professional Football Association (in 1922 the name was changed to NFL) was formed. Hmm, automobiles paid for the birth of the NFL.

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The PFHOF opened in 1963, the building has a distinctly Mid Century Modern look to it; over the years it has grown to 118,000 sq. ft. The large glass entryway is located at the center of the structure, we push our way through glass revolving doors into the lobby; the current special exhibit is the football “Card Collection”, do kids still collect and trade sports cards? In the main museum the story begins with the NFL’s First Century; pre-NFL uniforms, leather helmets (if you can call them that) and shoulder pads are on display. From the beginning to the early 20th century we learn about game pioneers, great players and coaches. A statue of Jim Thorpe “The Legend” takes center stage. I check out a list of firsts: 1921 Fritz Pollard is the NFL’s first African-American head coach, 1922 and 1923 Bulldogs were first 2-time champions of NFL, 1929 the first night game is held, the first indoor game was held in 1932.

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Black and white photos are blown up wall-size and cover gallery walls, I’m a huge fan of nostalgia. Exhibits move us through the decades, placards are filled with interesting facts and stories. We watch the evolution of game footballs, jersey’s, helmets and cleats. We read about the Dolphins undefeated season in 1972, we look at drawings of formations and plays. Who do you like? Elway, Reggie White, Montana, Brady, Manning, Gonzalez–they’re all here. Showcases hold a kickoff ball from a Bengals home opener, Ref uniforms, Paul Brown’s sideline jacket, a Duluth Eskimos coat, they even have a team photo of the 1957 World Champion Detroit Lions: Detroit 59 Cleveland 14, the game was played December 29 at Briggs Stadium–how cold were those fans?

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We move into the Hall of Fame Gallery, the space is dimly lit, the granite floor gleams, illuminated shelves hold bronze busts of every inductee. Just standing here you know you are witnessing something special, these men were the greatest at what they did, they set records, changed the game, became familiar faces on our TV screens. The first face I recognize is Joe Namath followed by OJ Simpson. Each bust is labeled with the player’s name, the position they played and the teams they played for. I move ahead, there’s one player in particular I’m looking for, there he is, Barry Sanders. For you Detroiter’s, 20 of the inductees have played for the Lions, remember Lem Barney, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Bobby Layne, Curly Culp? 

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The movie in the Super Bowl Theater has already started so we move right into the Lamar Hunt Super Bowl Gallery. This section recaps every Super Bowl played to date, it’s also the most crowded section in the museum. The first Super Bowl was held in January 1967, the Packers triumphed over the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10. The Packers went on to win Super Bowl II, this time they beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14. Joe Namath guaranteed a Jets win in Super Bowl III, they beat the Colts 16-7 and became the first AFL team to win the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy. Display cases are filled rare artifacts such as tickets, hand-written letters, magazine covers, uniforms, gloves and shoes.

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Next we come to the section where they have every Super Bowl ring on display; as you would imagine in the early days the rings were simple and elegant, they get bigger and bigger as years go by. Funny, I couldn’t find one for the Lions…The largest Super Bowl ring ever made was for the New England Patriots (XLIX), it contains 205 diamonds with a total weight of 4.85 carats, pretty snazzy. Guess what? The rings are custom-made by Jostens, you know, the people you bought your high school ring from. In the Pro Football Today gallery we get a look at lockers filled with items belonging to Greene of the Steelers, Favre of the Packers, a Colts locker and HOF inductee Eddie Debartolo of the 49ers. The next hall spills into the HOF Store, here you can buy merchandise from all 32 teams; at 7,500 sq. ft. you could get lost in here. We’re back where we started. It’s time for us to hit the road.

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We’re staying in Cleveland tonight, it’s only about an hour drive. We check in at Stone Gables Bed & Breakfast and get situated. We’re having cocktails at Porco Lounge and Tiki Room on 25th Street. At one time big cities across the country had cool Tiki bars; Cleveland’s famed Kon Tiki closed in 1976, Chin Tiki in Detroit hung on a little longer. Many of the things in Porco came from those establishments–the Polynesian cocktail tradition lives on! The compact space is filled with Tiki paraphernalia; it’s fun to sit and look at everything. There’s a waterfall near the entrance, a large Tiki glows in blue l.e.d. light surrounded by tropical plants. Bartenders wear Hawaiian shirts, a Blowfish light hangs central over the bar, the back bar is overstuffed with liquor bottles. Drinks are made with fresh-squeezed juices, mixers and house made syrups. They’re garnished with fresh fruit, tiny umbrellas, mine has an alligator stirrer. Our server was knowledgeable and helpful, the drinks were great. A fun way to end another day of adventures on the road.

Canton Ohio: Cool Old Stuff

23 Jan

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Today we are meeting the city of Canton. We’ve traveled extensively through Ohio but somehow never managed to visit this city. When you hear Canton the first thing you think of is the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we’ll get to that. First we’re going to dig into the city, explore what makes Canton unique. Kris came across the name of a shop claiming to be Ohio’s largest dealer selling Mid-Century Modern furniture and decorative arts; Main St Modern, here we come!

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We come into the city from the west and the south, we’re in an old industrial area; train tracks, abandoned buildings, empty lots. An ancient brown brick structure looms ahead, we’ve arrived. The building is huge, 40,000 sq. ft, windows have been boarded up, Rebecca greets us as we enter the building. I look from one side to the other, a blur of color, cool shapes and designs fill my view as far as I can see; there are three floors to explore. I’m guessing this is an old factory, paint peels off exposed rafters, the wood floor creeks under our feet. Individual pieces and vignettes of living and dining rooms are set up on carpet remnants; well-known brands share floor space with knock-offs. There are so many outstanding pieces, fabrics with funky designs, stripes and colors. Tables and chairs are trimmed out in chrome, glass tabletops are available for a dining room or coffee table, the legs are always interesting too.

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Plastic was popular in the 1960’s and 70’s, I like the brown circular chairs with the orange cushions. Items are stacked one upon the other, vases and other decorative items rest on dressers, buffets and china cabinets; we look through stacks of vintage paint-by-numbers. Chairs hang from beams, bicycles are mounted on a wall, lamps are abundant, couches are everywhere. Chairs are made of smoky lucite, bar carts hold cocktail shakers, furniture is odd-shaped, we’ve always liked large pieces of metal wall art. We’ve covered all three floors, sadly we’re not bringing anything home but it’s been fun going back in time to the days of shag rugs, tulip chairs and chrome. Were heading downtown where we’ve got lots more to see.

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The Canton Classic Car Museum is much more than a simple car museum, it’s more like a tribute to all things Canton. Marshall Belden was the great-nephew of President William McKinley, this building holds Belden’s classic and special interest autos and thousands of pieces of historical memorabilia he and his wife collected throughout their lives. From Tonka trucks and Hot Wheels to fabulous fashions, vintage advertising and political memorabilia, this place is fascinating!

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Just inside the door we are greeted by a 1901 Oldsmobile with the famous curved dash, historic photos and memorabilia cover every inch of wall space, antique light fixtures illuminate the room, there’s so much to look at. The building was built in 1900 by George Monnot as a bicycle shop that also sold Indian Motorcycles. With the Lincoln Highway just 6 blocks away he turned the building into a 24-hour auto repair shop. In 1914 Monnot decided to sell Ford Model T’s; unable to afford complete cars he and Henry Ford agreed to send parts by train which Monnot’s employees would assemble by hand then place on the showroom floor. This was the largest Ford dealership from 1914-1931–who knew? Walking slowly we make our way to the Canton Room, a 1937 Studebaker bullet-proof police car takes center stage, back in the 1920’s and 30’s gang violence, racketeering and bootlegging was commonplace; they say sightings of John Dillenger, Pretty Boy Floyd and Ma Barker’s Gang were not unusual. The vehicle has 1-inch-thick bullet-resistant glass with a closeable Tommy gun porthole. We read that at one time Canton was a manufacturing powerhouse; home to the Hoover Vacuum Cleaner Company, Tiemken Steel, Belden Brick and Diebold– maker of bank vaults, electronic voting devices and ATM’s, which is still located here. 

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Vehicles intermingle with Oriental rugs, historic photographs, nostalgic pieces from Meyer’s Lake Park, elegant ladies’ hats and gloves. The 1937 Packard Hearse has hand-carved mahogany body panels. An orange 1970 Plymouth Superbird is parked on the original tile floor. They have a Bonneville, a Coupe de Ville, a 1937 Cord, an original 1937 Ahrens-Fox Quad fire truck and Walter P Chrysler’s swanky burgundy 1932 custom Chrysler Imperial. In another area a Pee Wee Herman doll drives a Midget race car, a grouping of coin-operated machines can do everything from telling your horoscope to showing a movie, a traffic light is a must in a car museum.

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Wagons, sleds and birdcages live side by with movie and circus posters, a motor analyzer, one beautiful car after another including a Holmes automobile manufactured right here in Canton; at one time the were 7 auto manufactures here in town. One are is dedicated to President William McKinley, this was his adopted home and where he lived while he was governor and campaigning for the presidency. I poke my head into the Director’s office and meet Char, Canton’s most enthusiastic keeper of history. I ask questions and listen intently to her stories of local families, mysteries, inventions and wealth; I could listen to her talk all day but Kris and I are starving. She’s given us the name of the perfect place to have lunch in Canton, I’ll tell you all about it next time…

OHIO: Walnut Creek

13 Jan

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Traveling during the holidays we find everywhere we go, big cities or small towns, buildings, homes, cafes and shops are lavishly decorated in holiday style. This year we begin our adventure in Holmes County Ohio, home to a large Amish settlement spread out among quaint little villages with names like Berlin, Walnut Creek, Charm and Sugar Creek; Ohio has the largest Amish population in the world. A drive on scenic backroads dotted with Amish homes, farms and picturesque scenery is the perfect way to wind down after the excitement of Christmas.

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We land in Berlin, have a late lunch at Boyd and Wurthum then head over to the Berlin Village Antique Mall, this place is huge. Here we find a large array of kitchen items from cookie jars, salt and pepper shakers and glasses to canning jars in blue, red and gold. A tall cabinet holds old automotive items; oil cans, license plates and vendor signs. Shelves are filled with beautiful colored glass and figurines; if you need a lamp they have dozens to choose from. The antique window frames are attractive, retro-fitted with metal designs they’d look right at home in my garden. Vintage board games by Ideal look familiar. We come across a few old television sets, how did we ever get by watching TV on such a small screen?

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Next door we pop into the Berlin Village Gift Barn, it’s a giant, fancy barn filled with lovely things to decorate your home or cottage. In addition to shelves of merchandise, areas are set up like rooms, my favorite was the cozy living room complete with brick fireplace, knotty pine floors, comfy couches and plenty of pillows–gorgeous. There’s an abundance of accessories like clocks, wine racks, stoppers and serving pieces. We stop in at Heini’s Cheese Chalet, it’s almost closing time, so we have to move quickly. If you like cheese, this is the place to be; rows of refrigerated cases offer you a world of varieties from Asiago, Swiss, Mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Colby, Marble–well, you get the idea. You can choose from smoked or traditional, the best part? You can try ’em all!

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We go east out of Berlin to Walnut Creek, we’re staying at the Wallhouse Hotel; 6 stories of upscale, modern elegance smack-dab in the middle of farm country. As we step foot in the lobby the towering white Christmas tree steals my attention, behind it a lime green wall, how about the sparkly black floor, it that granite? Checked in we take the elevator to our room, very attractive in shades of gray and a touch of lime green; we’ll sleep in luxury tonight on our pillow-top mattress. There’s a kitchenette and seating area, we even have a private balcony. As we head out for dinner we check out the rest of the place; there’s an indoor saltwater pool on the lower level. On the opposite side of the lobby we find a seating area surrounding a fireplace, bright blue sequined pillows rest on white leather couches; the dining room is dark and still, pots of coffee and fresh-baked cookies are waiting for guests.

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It’s a short drive to Der Durchman where we are having an authentic Amish dinner. On any given day you will find both locals and out-of-town visitors dining on platters of chicken, ham and roast beef along with fresh vegetables, homemade side dishes and hot biscuits. A wall of windows curves around the vast dining room, from this hilltop location they say there’s a 5-mile panoramic view of Goose Bottom Valley and the surrounding farmsteads, unfortunately for us night has fallen and all we see is darkness. Our dinner is delicious; juicy broasted chicken, homemade egg noodles and stuffing with gravy. When we’ve finished we head back to the room for some rest and relaxation.

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In the morning we dine on farm-fresh eggs, crisp bacon,  biscuits and gravy and fruit; they put out quite a spread here in the hotel. Out the window the sun shines in a powder blue sky, we watch cows head out to pasture, what a serene way to start the day. After check out Kris takes us on a leisurely tour of the area, everywhere I look is picture post-card perfect. The terrain a patchwork of gentle rolling hills; houses reside on hilltops, farms sprout out of valleys, fields have been turned over, they will lay dormant until spring. The grass is still green, cows and horses amble through fenced in fields eating as they go. Majestic horses pull Amish buggies, passengers are bundled in blankets, I love the clip-clop sound of the horses. 

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Walnut Creek has a tiny business district we’re going to explore, Coblenz Chocolate Company is family owned and operated; caramel is their specialty. The shop is beautiful inside; tin ceiling, dark woods, Christmas trees and garlands. Tables hold stacks of boxed candy already wearing ribbons and bows. What’s your pleasure? Swiss-style truffles, Milk, dark, nuts, caramel, it’s a chocolate lovers paradise. You can even watch it being made! I’m getting some dark chocolate caramels to take home. We browse through tiny shops ending up at a lovely Victorian store known as Carlisle Gifts. A grand curving staircase connects the first and second floor, huge chandeliers hang from the open ceiling. The store is divided into sections by the type of item, for example clothing is in one area, candles another, they offer quilts, greeting cards, purses by Vera Bradley, Annaleece Jewelry, Republic of Tea, bringing a little bit of city to the country.

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There’s nothing quite like the gentleness of Amish country; the blend of agriculture, cheese making and hardwood furniture. Everything here is done the old-fashioned way, by hand and in time. Visiting is a nice reminder for us to slow down and enjoy the simple things.

 

DETROIT: St. Francis D’Assisi

5 Jan

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It’s 11 pm on Christmas Eve, we’re on Wesson Street in Southwest Detroit, soft light glows in the windows of St. Francis of Assisi Church, we join the other early arrivals climbing the stairs to celebrate midnight mass. Completed in 1905 the majestic Italian Renaissance building is a wonder of Malvern brick, Bedford trim, Corinthian columns, trumpeting angels and massive oak doors. In the vestibule volunteers are busy arranging trays of cookies, cupcakes and chrusciki; a large urn brews coffee. Friends and family members greet one another with heartfelt hugs and handshakes.  

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The interior is dimly lit, the organist plays Christmas carols, the choir sings in Polish and English. The church is big, I read it can seat 1,700 people. We walk around a little, seeing what we can before settling in a pew. Altar boys appear out of the darkness, candles are lit, it’s time… Suddenly the lights go out, there’s a stir at the back of the church, Fr Cruz leads a procession down the center aisle, everyone joins in to sing Silent Night. The procession makes its way to the manger left of the altar, as we sing the words “Christ the Savior is born” a bright light appears in the night sky above the manger, next the sky is filled with stars; excitement and anticipation fills the church, Fr Cruz holds up a doll representing the baby Jesus, the baby is placed in the crèche.

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Instantaneously lights start to come on, one after the other; the cross atop the altarpiece is first, next the altarpiece itself, then the chandeliers, the dome, the ceiling, the perimeter, more lights than I have ever seen in a church, more than I can count–it’s spectacular! So begins midnight mass in marvelously dramatic style. From our vantage point we can see everything, we listen as the priest speaks, all the while taking in stained glass windows, the exquisite vaulted ceiling supported by a row of arch columns and the spectacular altarpiece–it’s like a church in a church. Angels are everywhere; four of them are holding up the roof. Directly above us hangs one of dozens of opulent chandeliers; angels surround the perimeter, brass acanthus leaves hold marbled stained glass in place, there are more than 25 bulbs in each, they’re truly works of art.

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We take in our surroundings, the most unique feature has to be the recessed lights in the ceiling, they form a cross in the nave and transept, they surround the ceiling medallions and frame the cupola. Mass has ended, parents carry sleeping children out to their cars. Now we are free to roam; tonight the church is adorned with decorations, white lights wrap Christmas trees and wreaths, red bows are tied to branches, pots of Poinsettia are staggered on the altar steps. Turning around we see the organ loft, pipes of varying heights remind me of a city skyline. Side altars are lavishly carved and painted in ivory and gold. Cross-shaped candle stands are placed throughout, handsome dark wood confessionals hug the wall; there’s one beautiful thing after another.

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St. Francis D’Assisi is one of only 3 churches consecrated in the archdiocese of Detroit. The parish has seen many changes throughout the last 111 years. What began as a Polish church now serves many families of Hispanic heritage as well as the children and grandchildren of Polish Americans. Being here is truly an experience. I couldn’t have asked for a more special Christmas Eve.

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DETROIT: Library After Dark

20 Dec

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Detroit is extremely fortunate that many of its outstanding 20th Century buildings still exist; the Detroit Public Library on Woodward is one such place. In 1912 Cass Gilbert was commissioned to construct the building; WWI and other delays slowed the completion, finally, in 1921 the amazing Italian Renaissance library opened its doors. This is the 4th largest library in the United States, it welcomes 222,000 visitors a year. 

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Tonight the Detroit Public Library Friends Foundation is hosting “The Library At Night” tour. For over 70 years the Friends Foundation has provided funds, books, materials, and special programs to the library community through gifts, grants, general contributions and event fees. Tonight’s tour will highlight the architecture of Cass Gilbert, craftsmen and artists, followed by appetizers, wine, craft beer and live music in the Fine Arts room. Using the Cass Ave entrance we walk the long hall toward the front of the building, we pause at the front entrance, majestic bronze doors have been permanently folded to the sides. Wreaths, garlands, red bows and strings of white lights decorate railings, columns and stairways. We meet up with our tour group in the original Children’s Library, we’re ready to begin…

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The large room is an eclectic mix of old and new, funky lighting hangs from the ceiling, benches are upholstered in olive-green, cinnamon and navy. Original architectural elements have held their ground for over 150 years. Our guide points out the Pewabic Tile fireplace surround; done in shades of blue, tan, yellow and gold it depicts scenes from favorite childhood stories, it’s gorgeous. Above it a pictoral map of Michigan by Frederick Wiley shows the arrival of the French to the wilderness of the territory. I never noticed the little door hidden in the bookshelves, we get a peek inside the secret room. In the hall, I’m once again reminded of how much I love this building. Tonight between the holiday lighting and the darkness beyond the windows it looks extraordinary. 

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Walking from the original building to the 1963 addition we find ourselves surrounded by mid-century design. The transition between old and new is thoughtful and seamless. We enter the new Children’s Library, here stuffed animals, picture books and rhyming stories entertain youngsters; be sure to check out the mosaics hanging on the wall, kids from Detroit Public schools had a hand in making them. The library is also an art museum of sorts, beautiful art can be found everywhere and it’s all out in the open. The hall leading to the Burton Historical Collection is lined with rows and rows of card catalogs, they’re over 100 years old and span the history of Michigan and Detroit from the 1700’s to the present– there’s no plan to modernize or get rid of them, some things should stay the same. The 2-story room that holds the collection is very 1960’s in style, the tall narrow windows allow natural daylight to saturate the space. One of the highlights is Stalin’s Gift, a lovely jewel chest commissioned for the Russian Royal Family in 1883. Joseph Stalin gave it to Charles Sorensen of Ford Motor Company for Sorensen’s help establishing Russian auto plants during WWII; his widow donated it to the library.

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We’re on the move again, we pause at Frank Varga’s mosaic of Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish mathematician and astronomer, it was donated to the library in 1974. The Friends Foundation used tour proceeds to purchase the spotlight that illuminates it tonight. The Grand Staircase is made entirely of marble, it’s exquisite, as we ascend the stairs we get glimpses of the spectacular Italian Renaissance ceiling. Throughout the building you will find gold leaf, symbols, figures, Greek and Roman motifs and themes of books, knowledge and wisdom. Every room on the 3rd floor features a ceiling designed by Frederick Wiley, most are reproductions of ones found in European palaces, all are stunning.

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The 3rd floor is my favorite, the view of the ceilings and murals is fantastic; then there’s Adam Strohm Hall… Adam Strohm was the first library director to work in the building, there’s so much beauty in one place it’s mind-blowing. Check out the bronze entrances around the doors before you step in. Immediately our attention is directed to John Stephens Coppin’s “Man’s Mobility”, the painting features three era’s of transportation from horse and buggy to rocket ships. The mural on the opposite wall is Detroit’s early history by Gary Melchers. The windows you see are not stained glass but painted, the idea was stained glass was too dark, painted windows would let in more light for reading. Then there’s the ceiling, I’d like to just lay on the floor and stare at it for a while, take in the whole room…The ceiling in the Art and Music room was a new design, it’s very simple compared to the others; Cass Gilbert liked it so much he used it again in the US Supreme Court Building.

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The tour ends in the Fine Arts Room, another gorgeous space. Tonight we’re in for a special treat, they have opened a window and allowed us access to the loggia. There are 7 mosaics underneath the loggia windows, each depicts quotes from Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man” monologue from As You Like It. The mosaics were created by Mary Chase Stratton (Pewabic Pottery founder), Horace Caulkins and Frederick Wiley; you can see their names affixed in gold leaf at one end, Cass Gilbert’s at the other. Just being out here is amazing! We have a picturesque view of the DIA lit in red and green for the holidays. Most people don’t even know the loggia exists, it’s a special privilege to be standing outside, under the stars on a Friday night. One of the volunteers has removed a colored gel from the spotlight so we can see the mosaics in their true colors–awesome. We climb back in the window; a woman sings as I stand in line for appetizers and wine. Kris ducks out into the hall for pictures, he has the floor to himself. It’s been wonderful to revisit this treasure and extra special to do the tour at night.

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We’re grabbing a bite to eat at The Peterboro in Detroit’s historic Chinatown. We were here for the soft opening and keep meaning to come back, tonight’s the night. Serving contemporary Chinese American cuisine they offer both small and large plates.  I find the space really attractive, large red lanterns cast a warm glow over the otherwise dark room, red and white lights wrap black-painted ducts, a large canvas features a fierce looking tiger. We decide on several small plates, each arrives at the table as it’s prepared. The Seaweed salad is the first to arrive, crispy quinoa and pickled mushrooms add crunch and unique flavor. The Market Veggie Rolls are nice, I like the sweet chili sauce. Mom’s Roast Pork is boneless rib tips marinated in hoisin and honey, nice flavor, odd texture. The Crab Rangoons are our favorite dish, crabmeat and cream cheese deep fried in a crunchy shell, what’s not to like? 

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MONROE: Looking Back

9 Dec

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Today we find ourselves in the historic town of Monroe MI. Located about 25 miles south of Detroit, 14 miles north of Toledo, the city is best known for the Battle of the River Raisin in the War of 1812. It’s also the boyhood home of Civil War hero Gen. George Armstrong Custer. Other famous natives include Christie Brinkley (born here in 1954), Valerie Harper, Paul W Smith of WJR and Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, Miss America 1988. La-Z-Boy and Monroe Shocks and Struts started here and remain here today. Kris and I find the best way to get a feel for a city is by visiting the local history museum, let’s go.

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The Monroe County Historical Museum is housed in the former Post Office, this stately building was built in 1913 on the old homestead of Maj General George A Custer. We use the back entrance, the first thing we see is the Monroe Shock Absorber display. A large case is filled with advertisements, endorsements, memorabilia and promotional items. A detailed timeline takes us through the history of the company and the men who started it; Monroe products are included in the collection. The main space is one large room with exhibits that line the walls. We learn about Fred J Routledge, marksman and inventor who designed and developed the “Mo-Skeet-O” backyard trap shooting system. You can check out the Trap Thrower, Hand Trap Thrower and a Remington-Routledge Shotgun. In addition to manufacturing Mo-Skeet-O components, Routledge specialized in choke-bore for small-caliber shotguns.

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The museum is in the process of decorating for Christmas, pretty trees draped in garland are seen throughout the space. A lovely mural “Romance of Monroe” hangs high on a wall, it was painted as part of the PWA project for the post office back in 1938, good to see they kept it. Framed maps of Monroe from the 1800’s fill a small hallway. We take the elevator to the second floor, we are greeted by numerous Christmas trees, the atmosphere is festive. This level is dedicated to The Custers, one of the largest public exhibitions of Custer artifacts. It begins with the romance of George and Libbie (Elizabeth) and follows their life, George’s national fame during the Civil War, his death and Libbie’s crusade to his lasting legacy.

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There are many personal items like their family bible, photos, furniture and mementos. We see George’s letters, uniforms, boots and medals; we follow his momentous occasions to Custer’s last fight. Libbie was responsible for getting the statue of her husband designed by sculptor Edward Potter, dedicated by President Taft in 1910 erected in Monroe; be sure and see it when you’re in town. We loop around, ending up back on the first floor at the La-Z-Boy exhibit, love the cool recliners on display. Kaye Lani Rae Rafko has her own little section; photos document her life from baby to beauty queen, they even have her crown. In the 1940’s the Port of Monroe steamship took passengers from Monroe to Put-In-Bay Island Park, they have some great posters and trinkets from back in the day.

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To complete our Monroe history lesson we drive over to the National Park Service River Raisin National Battlefield Park. Here’s the description from the website: “River Raisin National Battlefield Park preserves, commemorates, and interprets the January 1813 battles of the War of 1812 and their aftermath in Monroe and Wayne counties in SE Michigan. The Battle resulted in the greatest victory for Tecumseh’s American Indian confederation and the greatest defeat for the U.S. The resulting rally cry “Remember the Raisin” spurred support for the rest of the war.” We start in the visitors center, here exhibits, maps, military items and recreations tell the story of the battle that ensued just outside the door.

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The British had taken Detroit, there were two battles at this location to retake the city, both were bloody defeats. The event that spurred the rallying cry “Remember The Raisin” happened January 23, 1813, the day after the battles of Frenchtown (Monroe) that resulted 387 Americans killed, 500 taken prisoner. After sunrise the killing and scalping of Americans resumed; Native Americans killed 30-60 American wounded prisoners as a means of revenge. It is at this point US strategy shifts from a land war to a naval war; if you remember your American history you’ll recall US Adm Perry defeated the British fleet on Lake Erie, a turning point in the war. Outside we follow a paved pathway that leads from one historic marker to another, each gives us a description of what took place on this spot; infantry campsite, battles, skirmish line, reading them gives me the chills as the information sinks in. Learning about it in school is one thing, but standing here, looking around, makes a deep impression. 

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We’re cold and we’re hungry, we head over to Public House on Monroe Street. If the building looks vaguely familiar it’s probably because this used to be a Big Boy, that’s where the similarity ends. The restaurant is a regular stop for us anytime we’re on our way back north from a southern MI or out-of-state adventure. We’re seated in a booth in the comfortable dining room, we briefly scan the menu, we’ve made up our mind on the ride over. The service is always friendly, our glasses never empty. Without delay our food arrives; the Southwest Hash is a mix of potato, green pepper, onion, and chorizo topped with 2 over-easy eggs and a side of wheat toast. The flavor combination is outstanding, the eggs perfectly cooked, I love this dish. We’re also having the Banana Caramel Nut waffles; tasty silver dollar size Belgian waffles smothered in caramel sauce and bananas, sprinkled with walnuts, so, delicious! The sweet a nice contrast to the savory dish. The menu covers Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner; everything is made in house from soups and salad dressings to desserts, they have a nice wine list and serve  Interurban Ale from Arbor Brewing Co. Check it out next time you’re in the area. We’ve just had a sampling of what Monroe has to offer, there’s so much more to explore, we’ll be back.

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