Port Huron: Hangin’ on to Christmas..

12 Jan

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Every town has its hidden gems, unique places and distinct personality. Today we are in Port Huron to sample the old, the new and a little holiday tradition. The city is undergoing a much welcomed revitalization; frankly I wonder what took so long? An array of restaurants and shops in a picturesque Victorian-era downtown, situated on an international border, sandy beaches, panoramic Lake Huron views, all about an hours drive from Detroit.

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The old Michigan National Bank building on the southeast corner of the Black River and Military Street is in the process of becoming a City Flats Hotel. If you’ve ever been to their locations in Grand Rapids or Holland, you know how exciting this is. The 36-room hotel, ballroom, bar and restaurants are slated to open in May 2019. One of the restaurants, the Kitchen, is open for business; let’s grab a bite to eat. We park in the lot behind the building and enter from the rear, here we stop to admire a rendering of the Ballroom, samples of materials and dinnerware build anticipation of the space. A quick right and we’re in the cafe. Because it’s a casual space you order at the counter. I’m a little distracted by the house made scones and bagels on display, maybe 10 varieties of each (try the bacon, cheddar, jalapeno bagel–you’re welcome). Then there’s the coffee menu serving Grand Rapids-based MADCAP coffee. Ok, ok, let’s have the soup and this month’s special ‘bowl’. I fill our water glasses and join Kris at a table, one wall of the cafe is glass, a balcony overlooks the Black River and offers more dining space in nice weather. We watch the goings-on outside until our food arrives. The Tuscan White Bean soup is excellent; rich flavors, nicely seasoned. Our power bowl is a bed of quinoa topped with hard-boiled egg, avocado, diced red pepper, shredded carrots and sunflower seeds. The vegetables are fresh, the quinoa cooked perfectly, maybe tossed with a vinegar-type dressing, delicious. 

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From one of the newest business in town we drive to one of the oldest, the Brass Rail Bar on Huron Ave. Steeped in holiday tradition, this place is a must visit during the Christmas season.There’s parking available on the street in front of the bar, that’s a good sign; this time of year the bar can be packed. I love the old signage on the building, I always wondered about the Beer-Wine Takeout sign… Evergreen roping and ornaments decorate the awning, stained glass windows are aglow. Stepping inside transports us back in time, Christmas lights and decorations cling to every surface. We grab two seats at the bar and begin to take it all in. The centerpiece of the space is the spectacular back bar, made of mahogany and onyx with a Tiffany lamp built into the center, it measures in at a ginormous 13’2″ tall by 16’8″ wide; it’s been here from the beginning when this was Hibye’s Ice Cream parlor. The story goes this way; Tony Hibye purchased it in 1910 from a local drugstore that had purchased it from a local hotel who had it shipped from Italy. Tony, his wife and daughter Helen built a thriving business selling ice cream, candy and fruit; the depression hit, Tony passed away. Helen took over the reigns with the help of her mother and aunt, they went from selling “sweets to suds”; the Brass Rail was born in 1937. Remember the takeout sign I mentioned? Helen obtained a unique liquor license allowing the bar to sell beer and wine when the bar itself isn’t open, you can still come in and buy a 6-pack of beer to go.

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They say while Helen was at a bar in Detroit she had a Tom and Jerry, from then on the Brass Rail made the traditional drink from Thanksgiving weekend through New Year’s Eve, which is why we’re here today. Sitting patiently at the bar waiting to order I take in the sights and sounds that surround me; friends greet one another with handshakes and hugs, patrons are jolly, some don Christmas sweaters, one man wears a string of lights. A wide ledge above the antique wood paneling is the footing for new and vintage animated figures, snowmen, carolers, Angels, bears, toy soldiers and Christmas trees. Ceiling fixtures are surrounded by lighted wreaths,Tom and Jerry’s fill server’s trays. Audible is the constant humming sound of Kitchen Aid mixers whipping up egg whites and egg yolks separately before they are joined with a little powdered sugar, hot water, rum and brandy. It’s finally my turn, a cute little teddy bear adorns my mug, a short red straw and a green stirrer emerge from the frothy mixture that rises from the mug. I look around the room for a clue as how to properly drink a Tom and Jerry, it seems everyone has their own method so I go for it. I take a sip right from the mug, a smile creeps across my face, the frothy top combines with the warm liquid below; it’s a wonderful, slightly sweet, creamy combination of heat, booze and a little nutmeg, in other words, heaven.

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North of downtown, nestled along the Lake Huron shoreline is an Historic neighborhood called Sherman Woods. The first house went up in 1926, today 63 households make up the district. We like walking here any time of year; streets meander past mature trees, over gentle hills, giving homeowners views of the great lake. Each house is completely different from the next, built in different styles throughout different time periods. The neighborhood enjoys 700 feet of private beachfront, a sidewalk allows visitors like us a glimpse of the beautiful lakefront homes. This time of year is even more special, residents go all out with their decorations. The most common decoration, a theme you might say, is a ball made of chicken wire, drenched in lights and strung from high branches in towering trees. It’s hard to describe the sensation, bubbles everywhere, like you’re floating in a glass of Christmas champagne… We take our time walking from street to street, other couples, families, even dogs seem to be delighted by what we see. Darkness has fully arrived and with it a steady stream of cars taking in the splendor. That’s our cue it’s time to go.

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Kris takes the scenic way back, always on the roads that cling to the water. Christmas lights pierce the darkness, each little town has gotten in on the act. We cruise through a light display at a water-side park, oh good, that house near Junction Buoy did the blue lights on the tree. Even the Canadian refineries look like they’re decked out for the holiday. It’s been an amazing evening. Go grab your calendar, turn to December and make yourself a little note; Port Huron, Tom & Jerry, Lights. You’ll have as much fun as we did!

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One Response to “Port Huron: Hangin’ on to Christmas..”

  1. Nannette Hunt January 16, 2019 at 3:51 pm #

    Beautiful decorations. The food looks delicious.

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