DETROIT: The Auto Show

25 Jan

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Detroit is still the Motor City, no name is more synonymous. We still build cars, engines, transmissions, axles and millions of untold parts in the city and its metro. Once a year we have our own red carpet preview; The North American International Auto Show. While not a hidden gem by any means, it is one of the most iconic, Spectacular and historic events in Detroit. It is estimated to gross hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the metro area, and this year alone raised $3 million for children’s charity.  Weeks of work and months of planning go into elaborate displays dedicated to what Detroit does best: build cars. Whether you’re looking for a Chevy Volt built in Hamtramck , a Chrysler 200 from Sterling Heights, a Mustang from Brownstown or an ultra exotic Falcon from Holly, they’re all here. For 105 years we’ve been proudly showing our vehicles to the world.

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  The first Detroit Auto Dealers Association Auto Show was held in 1907 at Riverview Park on Jefferson near the Belle Isle Bridge. The show grew from year to year, as it did, it moved from location to location; The Light Guard Armory on 8 Mile, Wayne Gardens Pavillion, and the Michigan State Fair Grounds. 1957 marked the first year international manufacturers displayed their vehicles at the show. In 1965 the Auto Show moved to its permanent home at Cobo Center. The show was  (and still is) a huge deal for Detroit, in the old days manufacturers would transport the vehicles to the venues ‘under wraps’, the wraps would stay on until the show opening. The dealer showrooms often copied this tactic; showroom windows would be covered over as the vehicle lines changed over from year to year. It was a big deal when the new model year was unveiled.  In 1989 the Detroit Auto Show officially became the North American International Auto Show, Detroit hosts the only domestic show to be distinguished as a Major International Show. In 2007 the DADA celebrated the centennial of the show which had grown from a regional event with 17 exhibitors to an internationally sanctioned show with over 90 exhibitors! With their headquarters located in metro Detroit, the “Big Three” have always been the life-blood of the city.

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Kris and I ventured down to the NAIAS on a Friday morning hoping to beat the crowds. I love this time of year downtown; city streets are filled with cars bearing license plates from neighboring states, scores of people fill the sidewalks leading to Cobo, local bars and restaurants overflow with folks on their way to or from the show. It is more than just an auto show, it is an event. Manufacturers transform Cobo into  an almost science-fiction type atmosphere; cars rest upon platforms and turntables at strange angles rotating to showcase every view. Entire sets and stages are constructed, there are multiple levels, funky lighting, lounge areas and music. As you pass from display to display beautiful models  recite dialog pointing out the most interesting features of each vehicle. There are give-aways, free tote bags, and plenty of brochures to place inside.  There is an electricity in the air here; American muscle is back and it’s cool; Boss 302 Mustang, a Supercharged ZR1 Corvette, Challenger SRT 8, the Charger SuperBee, ZL1  Camaro, even a 556 HP Cadillac CTS-V . Cars are exciting again, the lines are sleek, the colors are outstanding; the Black Diamond on Cadillac is rich with metal-flake, Ford paints cars in lime green and Grabber Blue, Chrysler has Header Orange, you should have seen the paint on the 2012 Hot Wheels Camaro, a cross between chrome and anti-freeze green it was wild!  I like to do a bit of research before I write each post, while reading the history of the  auto show I came across a quote I’d like to share with you: Detroiters have always endured, excelled and exceeded expectations. I think our auto industry is a perfect example of that.

For more Auto Show photos click HERE

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Back in the “Mad Men” days there was such a thing as the “businessmen’s lunch”, it would last longer than the typical lunch hour, it usually included a cocktail, and took place in a restaurant with a club-like feel; dark wood, dim lighting, small space.  The Caucus Club is located on the ground floor of the Penobscot Building, opened in 1952 it has been a long time favorite lunch spot for judges, lawyers, bankers and executives. The interior is dim, light by a series of Tiffany-style lamps, it consists of two rooms separated by a small kitchen, dark paneling, brass sconces, antiques and paintings decorated the spaces. The Caucus Club was opened by Les and Sam Gruber and was the sister restaurant to the world-renowned London Chop House. The Gruber brothers were well-known in the industry not only for their food, but for the talented young people they hired to perform at the Caucus Club. In 1961 Les received a call from Irwin Arthur in New York City, telling him of a young woman singer he thought would be perfect for him, Les agreed to give her a try. In February 1961 Barbra Streisand began singing in the back room of the Caucus Club for $125 per week. She performed there off and on from February to August that year. Sometime during her stay she was invited to be on the Jack Parr show, which of course kicked off her professional career. 

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It is a short walk from Cobo to Caucus Club, they serve lunch and dinner during the week and dinner only on Saturday. We were seated near the window, brought menus and glasses of water. The menu has changed little, you will still find menu items such as a Chef’s and Maurice salad, a tuna plate, the John Hancock and Old Glory sandwiches and of course their famous fresh lake perch.  We chose the Waiters Salad; iceberg lettuce, julienne ham, turkey and swiss, a hard-boiled egg and tomato with the waiters dressing. Along with that a good old-fashioned club sandwich; nothing fancy, just turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo on toast.  The restaurant still caters to the business lunch crowd, people from nearby offices came and went while we were there. Bobby Flay’s Food Nation visited a while back and featured the Caucus Club sautéed Lake Perch and Oysters in Champagne Sauce. I am sad to report that after 60 years in business, Caucus Club closed their doors in late 2012.

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 The Buhl Bar is a throwback to the time when each one of the buildings in the Financial District had its own after work cocktail bar. The bar is definitely old-school, located in the Buhl Building it is open from 3 to 8pm Monday through Friday. This former bank lobby has been transformed into a relaxing place for a drink after a long day. With its dark wood, dim lighting and ornate plaster ceilings this cozy space has a distinctly masculine ambiance. We arrived shortly after the bar opened, we were the first customers of the day, old standards played softly in the background. We sat at the bar and ordered our drinks, as we sat there a few regulars began to trickle in. Tables by the window provide a view of The Guardian Building and activity on Griswold and Congress.  After a short respite it was time to move along, but we will definitely be back.



One Response to “DETROIT: The Auto Show”

  1. Ardis Pearce January 26, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    Thoughly enjoyed the article on the history of the Auto Show. I was there Friday as well. Thought it was a great show. Sorry I missed you two. JIM

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