DETROIT: Belle Isle After Dark

13 Jan

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For months, all eyes have been glued to the pale yellow building on the corner of Michigan Ave and Wabash, waiting for signs of the official launch of Detroit’s newest restaurant. After much anticipation Gold Cash Gold is now open. Brought to us by Phil Cooley, the man behind Slows Bar B Q, the building was formerly an old pawn shop, a re-paint includes the red-lettered advertising that gave the restaurant its name. The lower level sports new windows and smart black paint job, the old Sam’s Loans sign still clings to the second story. Inside, panels of upcycled stained glass act as a barrier between the door and bar area. The place has been packed daily, we are having a late lunch to avoid the crowd. We are led to a corner table in the dining room, I’m fascinated by the floor; taken from an old elementary school gymnasium, a huge eagle, wings open wide, is painted on the wood, it had to be put back together like a jigsaw puzzle in its new home, the serpentine patterned ceiling is also made from reclaimed wood. Jars of pickled and preserved vegetables are lined up on narrow shelves.

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The lunch menu consists of about 12 items, dishes feature seasonal ingredients and whole animal cookery. Our order is placed, we look around a little; clear glass globes illuminate the dining room, a brick wall is painted white, arches allow passage between the dining room and bar, here more stained glass windows are used in the decor. Our sandwiches arrive, we dig in without hesitation. The Ham & Cheese is grilled, the buttered bread has formed a perfect crunchy crust, thin slices of ham, pimento cheese and pickled peppers are warm and gooey between the semolina slices. The Lamb Sandwich is an individual sized whole wheat pita stuffed with slices of roasted lamb, pepper jam and spicy greens; both sandwiches are served with a handful-sized portion of salad. We’d like to come back and try out the dinner menu.

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Just after 5 pm we cross the MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle, tonight is the annual Holiday Stroll; the aquarium, conservatory and museum are all open until 8:00. Reaching the parking lot nearest the aquarium, I draw in a deep breath, the 1904 Albert Kahn structure is shrouded in bright blue LED lights, spotlights highlight the icicle-like stone columns, it’s gorgeous! The aquarium operated from 1904-2005, making it the oldest in North America to continuously do so, in 2012 it re-opened and is now part of the Belle Isle Conservancy; you can visit Saturday’s and Sundays from 10 am to 4 pm, free of charge.

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Colorful Christmas lights enhance the entrance, a decorated tree is off to the left. Every time I’m inside I feel like I am somewhere below the surface of the river, eerie, maybe it’s the reflection of the water off the green tiles or the barrel-shaped ceiling, whatever the cause, it’s cool. Many of the tanks have been restored and are home to multiple varieties of fish and other water creatures. As we approach a tank, the turtle inside swims to the front, he looks happy to see us, Kris reminds me it’s probably his dinner time. Multi-colored Koi swim back and forth, tiny fish cluster together, a trio of stingray hover just above the gravel, spotted patterns cover their skin, they have a sleek tail and eyes that protrude. Unrestored tanks are filled with interesting artifacts; one displays antique souvenirs such as plates, postcards and trinkets from the aquarium, photographs are blown up and provide us a look back in time. Another tank holds Frederick Law Olmstead’s architectural drawings and notes on his plans for Belle Isle, I love that they still have these things and share them with the likes of you and me. 

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Kris and I make our way over to the conservatory next door, lighted garlands are draped across the fence, from here we see red and green lights glow from within. The vestibule is buzzing with activity, boxes of Dutch Girl Donuts fill tables to the left, a large Christmas tree takes center stage, cups of cider are being passed out to visitors. Ambling through the Palm House we make the right into the Tropical House and follow the path to the Children’s Temperance Fountain; this is one of our favorite places. For nearly 100 years George Wade’s bronze statue of a young girl offering a bowl of water has stood in this spot, from time to time I have witnessed folks testing their skills, trying to toss coins into her bowl; tonight all is calm, delicate orchids bloom in purple and white. We loop back around into the Palm House, the dome soars 85 feet high, colored spotlights are aimed at exotic Palm trees as they reach skyward, the Show House is next. Beds are packed with red, white, pink and coral colored Poinsettia, Cyclamen bloom in purple and white, miniature lights are woven into trees. People are beginning to fill the empty chairs, the Deep River Choir will perform soon.

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Being here in the dark creates an entirely different atmosphere, the Cactus House looks stark, cold, other-worldy. Cactus and succulents are tall and spindly, they look like they could reach out and grab you. By contrast the Fernery has an ethereal look, lush ferns are awash in bold red, blue and white light, shapes and textures of leaves come to life in the form of shadows, I’m very fond of this room. Years ago we were permitted to walk in the lower level, repairs are yet to be made before they can open it up to the public again. Exiting the building Kris lingers outdoors, he walks the grounds a bit, taking pictures. Before we head back, he parks the Jeep facing the river,the city spreads out before us, view is spectacular. Renaissance Center stands front and center, blue lights encircle the towers, further back, the red ball on the roof of the Penobscot blinks off and on, Light radiates from the top of One Woodward, the irregular shape of One Detroit Center is unmistakable.  In the distance the cables of the Ambassador Bridge glimmer against the night sky all the way to Canada, quite a sight, I never tire of the view.

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4 Responses to “DETROIT: Belle Isle After Dark”

  1. Souleiado January 15, 2015 at 1:56 pm #

    Reblogged this on Bosborne’s Blog and commented:
    So much effort by many dedicated, passionate folks to reopen the Aquarium & restore Belle Isle! Also welcome, Gold Cash Gold!

  2. Vance January 15, 2015 at 10:41 pm #

    GREAT JOB!!!

  3. D Kobayashi January 22, 2015 at 7:51 pm #

    Hi, Renee! We are at The Community House reading your blog and seeing how well you are doing with it. LOVE your passion and dedication and stories and photos!
    — Joe Grimm

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