DETROIT: Dakota Inn Rathskeller, The Redford Theatre

6 Jan

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It was the weekend before Christmas, It’s A Wonderful Life was playing at the Historic Redford Theatre; old theatre, old movie, we had to go somewhere old for dinner. The Dakota Inn Rathskeller fit the bill perfectly. Opened by Karl Kurz in 1933 the Dakota Inn exudes Bavarian charm; servers wear traditional German-style clothing, dark wood paneling and furniture combined with stone block walls, wrought iron and German style chandeliers give this place an old-world feeling. Family pictures and animal heads hang on the walls, a collection of beer steins are scattered about, hand-painted German scenes fill the faux arch windows.

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Along with its delicious food the Dakota Inn is famous for its sing-alongs. In the main dining area what looks like a huge wooden barrell lays on its side as a stage, as the  piano that sits inside is played, a man with a long pointer taps out the words to the song that hang on a plaque on a nearby wall. The first time Kris and I were here we had a great time and told our parents all about the place. Come to find out my parents had been regulars at the sing-alongs in the early 60’s, Kris’s parents had dined there maybe a decade earlier. We had the opportunity to take them there, each was amazed by the fact that time had changed nothing at the Dakota Inn.

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We had arrived well before the sing-along, we needed to be at the theatre at 7:30, so there was enough time to have dinner before people with reservations would start filtering in. We always have to have an order of potato pancakes, they are scrumptious, puffy and loaded with shredded potatoes, we like ours with sour cream. You can’t miss with the Jager Schnitzel, tender pork cutlet breaded and fried, topped with mushroom sauce, served with mashed potatoes, vegetables and soup or salad. Ok, here’s the thing, you can’t have soup OR salad at the Dakota Inn; they have this incredibly delicious hot bacon dressing, so the salad is a no-brainer, but they also make a Reuben soup that is out of this world; a cream based soup with chunks of corned beef and cabbage, topped with swiss cheese and pumpernickel croutons, you have to try it! The restaurant is still owned by the Kurz family and is operated by the second and third generation. It’s nice to know some things never change! Next time your looking for a good German meal you know where to go. Super Yum !

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 The Redford Theatre opened January 28, 1928 as a neighborhood movie theatre. The architectural design was unique in that it was done in a Japanese garden motif. I came to know The Redford Theatre on my Birthday many years ago. Kris was taking me out, but I didn’t know where to. I love old movies, especially musicals; I grew up on a steady diet of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Irving Berlin, Busby Berkley and George and Ira Gershwin. Stars like Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Shirley Jones and Debbie Reynolds seemed like old friends, black and white or Technicolor, I thought they were all wonderful. So when we pulled up to the Redford Theatre’s  marquee with the words “Tonight: Dean Martin and Judy Holliday in Bells Are Ringing”, I couldn’t wait to get inside.

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We bought our tickets outside at the ticket booth the proceeded inside to the outer lobby. Two people handled the job of taking tickets, tearing them in half, and returning half to patrons. The space was clearly in the restoration process, a glass case for donations was half full of paper dollars and change. What work had been done gave insight to how lovely it would be when completed. We passed through the red doors to the lobby and concession area,the first thing I noticed were the chandeliers. Hanging from the second floor barrel vaulted ceiling, they are constructed of glass panels painted with a delicate bird design, lit from the inside they have a scalloped edge that is also studded with small lights. There are medallions where each intersects the ceiling. A carpeted stairway on each side leads to balcony seating  and are connected by a walkway that overlooks the lobby. As for the concession stand, a group of volunteers wait on customers handing them popcorn, soft drinks, and other movie theatre treats like Snow Caps, Twizzlers and Dots. You haven’t seen prices like this for decades! While we were milling about the lobby checking things out I heard the Barton Theatre Organ come to life, what was that they were playing? Let Me Call You Sweetheart….We poked our heads into the theatre just as a group of senior citizens started to sing along, men and women with grey hair and lined faces held hands and sang the words. Right then I was hooked!

We ascended the left stairway to find seats in the balcony, once situated we sat back and enjoyed the rest of the organ overture. When 8pm came the curtain opened and an old Bugs Bunny cartoon began to play on the screen, yes, just like the old days, they show a cartoon before the main feature. As for “Bells are Ringing”, it was teriffic, a little singing, a little dancing, light-hearted and fun. As we left the Redford that night with “Just In Time” playing in my head I knew we had found some place special.

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We have continued coming to the Redford for years, we have brought friends who then came back and brought more friends. Once we took both sets of parents to see the Wizard Of Oz, how cool is that? The restoration has continued and looks marvelous; new carpet and seats, stencils have been repainted. Keeping with the outdoor Japanese Garden theme the ceiling is painted like the sky; pale blue with puffy white clouds, and the best part, it is filled with twinkling stars. Extending out from the walls on each side of the stage area pagoda-style tile roofs, figures in Asian dress are also painted on the walls. The Redford never sat empty, so they are lucky enough to still have the original Barton theatre organ, complete with dragons. On this night Christmas decorations gave the theatre a festive glow, old train sets traveled through a tiny village and a tall tree filled with lights sat on the stage. When the evening was over the song  Auld Lang Syne filled our heads, and we thought, yes, it is A Wonderful Life.

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Tickets for films are only $4.00, show times are Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm, with the organ overture beginning at 7:30. The Saturday matinee is at 2:00pm, with a 1:30 overture. The prices at the concession stand are low, making it an affordable night out. They have a 50/50 drawing during the intermission that includes cash and prizes. This is an all volunteer organization, all the money from the concession, tickets and 50/50 goes towards the restoration and maintenance of this historic gem.Through the years we have seen the attendance grow as a new and younger audience discover this special place. For us this night was as close as we could get to actually going back in time. Click on the link to see the film schedule, there’s sure to be an old movie you’d like to see!

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