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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: 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.

The Shores: What a View !

12 Oct

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We’re in the exceptionally scenic Village of Grosse Pointe Shores.  The Shores is the smallest of the Pointes taking up 1.1 sq. miles of land with gorgeous views of Lake St. Clair, making it a very attractive place to live. Friends have invited us to the residents-only Osius Municipal Park for a classic car show, the public is welcome. A rare opportunity to see something we normally couldn’t, let’s check it out.

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As we pass through the park gate and take in the scene; classic cars are parked single file, weeping willows hug the shoreline, stately boats fill slips in the marina, Lake St. Clair sparkles as if someone has thrown buckets of diamonds across its surface–what a beautiful location for a car show! We start at the point, towering trees provide shade for over-heated visitors, participants eat coney dogs on park picnic tables. Vintage Chrysler’s seem to outnumber every other brand; it’s only fitting since most of them were built a stone’s throw away in Detroit at Lynch Rd, Jefferson or Dodge Main in Hamtramck. A trio of Roadrunners come in Vitamin C Orange with the Dust Trail stripe, the white one with a cool air-grabber hood is still wearing its Wayne State decal from its days as a test car and a silver sleeper with a blue interior powered by a monstrous Hemi engine; they all look great. 

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The South African Valiant is interesting; hey, the steering wheel is on the wrong side… Vintage drag racing enthusiasts will recognize the
Motown Missile; it’s getting a fair share of attention. The 1965 New Yorker and 1967 Imperial (built at Jefferson) remind us what a luxury car
really is. A bright red Mangusta sits low to the ground, this sleek Italian sports car is powered by a Ford drive train. Speaking of Ford, a yellow Model A from 1930 and a green 1926 Model T represent the early era of cars. I take in red-line tires, raised white letters, racing stripes, hood scoops and vinyl tops, there are convertibles and a station wagon; the silver 1969 GTX looks awesome with a red interior. A deep red Corvette has a funky custom paint job–very 1970’s style with stripes in orange, yellow and blue, the interior even matches!

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Our walk through the park leads us to the marina; a long dock takes us past fancy boats and elegant yachts. The warmth of the sun has built up during the day, a breeze coming off the lake refreshes us. On one side we see the backs of stately homes that reside on Lakeshore Dr, dozens of boats have dropped anchor just off shore while passengers take a swim or enjoy the view with a cold beverage. To our right a steady stream of boaters come and go from the marina, Scarab, Formula and Fountain are all represented, the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club can be seen in the distance.  Suddenly our attention is focused on an Intrepid Center Console, as it makes its turn toward the open water we catch a glimpse of the quadruple motors with American flag decals; at 627 hp each these are the most powerful outboards made today–that’s one serious boat. Sitting on a bench we hang out a while longer, a freighter passes in the distance as more boats come out to play. We walk back through the park past scenic overlooks and take in the exceptional vehicles one last time before we go.

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Here in Michigan we know how to appreciate beautiful days like today; one way is to dine al fresco with a commanding water view. Brownie’s On The Lake, up the road on Jefferson provides just that. We take the long driveway all the way to the water, there is ample parking today. The restaurant itself is actually a vintage Quonset hut; today we’re eating outside. The large patio welcomes patrons, umbrellas shelter diners from the harsh sun. Servers hustle from table to table serving ice-cold beer, Bloody Mary’s, Fish and Chips and the famous Brownie Burger. We’re having the Rustica Flatbread; basil pesto, bacon, blue cheese, caramelized onions drizzled with a cherry balsamic reduction, a great combination of flavors. The sweet potato waffle fries are addicting, crispy outside, moist inside–yum! We take our time savoring the flavors and the scenery; boaters continue their trek to and from Lake St. Clair, you have to make the most of a day like today.

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We’re extending our day with one more stop, Baffin Brewing Company on Jefferson in St. Clair Shores has been open about a year now and already has a large contingent of loyal customers. Today the brewery is decked out in Autumn decor; cornstalks and haystacks join Hops across the front of the building. The interior is an open space, beer-making is taking place in large kettles on the left, the bar is sort of zig-zag shaped to the right. I choose a spot with a straight-on view of the chalkboard beer list, today there are 10 to choose from. After a few samples and a lot of questions I choose the Backcrossing Brown-a nitrogen poured chestnut honey brown made with local chestnuts; mellow and tasty its smoothness really won me over. Kris is having the Don’t Tell Scotty, a Scotch Ale, which he enjoys. As we sip our beer and munch on popcorn we have light conversation with one of the owners and the bartender, I ask about the wall of mugs, turns out each one of those mugs belongs to a customer who drank 150 beers in a year; we’d better get drinking… 

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Eastern Market: More to Come…

28 Sep

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 It’s 85 degrees on a Thursday evening, artists from Detroit, the nation and around the world hit the streets September 15, armed with brushes, rollers, spray cans and gallons; their visions will transform building walls around the Eastern Market District. Their goal: to expand Detroit’s legacy of public art by adding 35 new murals by 50 artists in 9 days! Events throughout the year in Detroit focus on the city’s art, culture, designers and new business. Murals in the Market and Detroit Design Festival overlap in mid-September, Eastern Market After Dark gives us a chance to see the best of both events and affords us a sneak peek of to come in the Market. We start on Gratiot, New York artist Kevin Lyons is perched high in the bucket of a lift putting the finishing touches on his mural.  Round-eyed, goofy creatures in shades of turquoise and coral smile at us revealing names of Detroit Jazz giants in their teeth, Aretha Franklin, Dilla, T3, and Ron Carter are just a few represented. A block down Dalek has created a study in perspective using shades of red, black and blue; a pair of hands reach out from around the corner of the building.

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Further down Gratiot we park near the Maple Substation, Hueman has finished her piece; a mix of warm colors on the right, cool on the left, joined by a face, a hand seems to be brushing away a tear, images are layered one upon another. Nearby, a character rides his bike carrying water to those in need; it’s a magnificent scene. Around the corner a trio of artists are in the process of completing the word “Detroit” on an old Honey Bee Hardware warehouse. Black and white letters are splashed across the brick wall, pastel colors take over on the roll-up door. A few yards over NNII works his roller into gray paint blocking in large sections of his design. Everywhere I look something is happening, murals seem to be growing among the weeds and vines that have claimed the long-vacated area. Pixel Pancho’s old-fashioned portrait high upon a corner looks like it could have been here a century ago.

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We walk down alleys and streets not wanting to miss a thing. Two women sit on the ground filling in the final section on a wall that puts me in the mind of a kaleidoscope; blue, yellow, green and purple designs cover one area; red, pink, yellow, orange and lilac fill the other. We stop and talk, Kristin Farr is based in CA, her fellow artist formerly from Toronto lives here now. So far we’ve chatted with artists from NY, CA, NC and Canada; everybody is having a good time.

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An attractive group of Art Deco style buildings on the east side of Gratiot are slowly being restored; Inner State Gallery, a sponsor of Murals in the Market, has been one of the anchors as other businesses slowly open. The gallery is buzzing with activity tonight, the current exhibition features the art of the muralists working in the district. Outside, white lights are strung under an awning, Cyberoptix is hosting a soft opening of their retail space set to open in November. Inside, the tie lab displays original designs on neck ties, bow ties and scarves; Well Done Goods is also selling jewelry in the space, their retail space in the same building is currently in the works.

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SMPLFD, a Detroit-themed apparel manufacturer is the most recent shop to open. Selling unique designs focused on Detroit sports teams and cultural icons, items include t-shirts, tank tops and super-soft sweatshirts; everything I looked at was Made In The USA. They also sell headwear, sunglasses and tote bags. The building is beautiful, the space is beautiful, clothing is high quality, attractive and clever; a great addition to the neighborhood.

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We drop in at People’s Records, this is one of those shops that’s always fun to have a peek; I love the old black and white portraits that fill the wall, boxes and crates are maxed out with old vinyl. The next building is a fabulous example of Art Nouveau, the former TransLove Energies space is now Detroit Life; same owner, same great art, music and design. We traverse the building from top to bottom taking in photos by famed Detroit photographer Leni Sinclair, posters by Gary Grimshaw, both share an interesting history with the space. The second floor has a fantastic view of Gratiot, the city and the market district; darkness has fallen, traffic lights and headlights fill the lanes, buildings are dresses up in special lighting, storefronts are awash in light; I think to myself, this is so cool… The venue is constantly hosting live music and art exhibitions, we’ll be back.

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We cross Gratiot, it’s got to be 80 degrees still, the night is humid. Murals from 2015 cover several walls, tonight a gorgeous piece with 2 Native Americans is being finished, the artist working by spotlight up on a lift. We watch in amazement as he works. Walking on gravel between buildings we think we’ve covered everything new in this area. Now it’s time to head into the belly of the beast, events are going on all over the main market area; I’ll tell you all about it in the next post.

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Wandering Through Wyandotte

18 Aug

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We’re in the historic waterfront community of Wyandotte, about 11 miles downriver from Detroit. We begin our visit with a scenic stroll along the water; the sun is blazing overhead causing cicadas to break into song, seagulls glide above, boats zoom past as we gaze across the river at Canada. It’s quite beautiful here, in Michigan we’re spoiled by the abundance of blue water surrounding our state. Out on the fishing pier we stare at Grassy Island, a Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, further out is Fighting Island, a Canadian Island that looks equally uninhabited. Freighters pass on their way to or from Lake Erie. 

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Over on Biddle Ave we arrive at the Ford-MacNichol Home Museum. Built in 1896 the home is a wonderful example of Queen Anne Architecture, it also serves as history museum for the city of Wyandotte. The 2 1/2 story house features a lovely wrap-around porch, Tuscan columns and a corner turret. First let me tell you a story. In the late 1880’s while drilling for natural gas, huge salt deposits were discovered under the city. Over in Pittsburgh John B Ford, founder of Pittsburgh Plate Glass, got word of this, you see, salt is critical in the creation of soda ash, which is used to make glass. JB Ford established the Michigan Alkali Co. to manufacture soda ash for his factory. His son, Edward Ford, founded Ford Plate Glass Co. in Toledo, which eventually became Libbey Owens Ford. This house was built for Edward’s daughter Laura and her husband George P MacNichol. Let’s go inside.

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As you can imagine, money was no object, the interior is stunning. Occupying 6,600 sq. ft. are 32 rooms, 6 fireplaces, 65 windows and 53 doors. They had indoor plumbing, a coal furnace, and both gas and electric lights; furnished with period pieces, the home is quite elegant. The large living room is decorated in olive-green, the carpet was reproduced from an old piece of the original, curved glass fills the windows in the turret area. Throughout the house walls are covered in boldly patterned wallpaper, the textured style in the foyer is still original, framed portraits and hair art hang on the walls. Each fireplace has a different color tile, the antique Delft Blue tiles are gorgeous, each one unique.

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The huge mirror in the dining room was rescued from a house being demolished down the block, volunteers carried it down the sidewalk, right into this house, the Limoges china is incredible. The music room is home to antique instruments, another splendid fireplace and an early phonograph. Past the butler’s pantry is the kitchen, used only by the domestic help the room is quite plain. An old toaster and waffle iron rest on burners, large pots, an iron and washboard remind us how much work simple tasks used to be. Vintage bottles and tins from the Michigan Alkali Co. rest on shelves.

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The basement contains exhibits and items that tell the early history of Wyandotte; from the 1700’s when the Native American tribe known as the Wyandot roamed the land to the beginning of industry and manufacturing. Placards tell us stories, show us photographs, items are displayed under glass. Eureka Iron Works was the first company in America to use the Bessemer process which created steel rails. Michigan Alakli Co manufactured chemicals and salt based cleaning products such as baking soda and lye. In the 1930’s it merged with J B Ford, becoming the Wyandotte chemical company, which operates today as BASF and remains in the city. Over 300 steamers, tugs and ferries were built between 1870 and 1930, the hulls were made here, tugged to Detroit, then outfitted in the shipyards.

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On the second floor we peek into the grand master bedroom complete with fireplace. The tower room contains the Attic Gallery, filled with items representing Wyandotte history, sports, recreation and prominent businesses, I don’t know what to look at first. The room itself is cozy, lots of wood, team photographs, architectural elements, paintings, memorabilia. My favorite is the Wyandotte Plays exhibit; toys from All Metal Products company, better known as Wyandotte Toys, fill a case with trucks, cars, planes, animals–all painted red, yellow and blue. The company operated here from 1921-1957, it seems plastic became the favored material from that point on. The Melhouse Ice Cream pieces are pretty sweet too, the actual building has been restored and is now an architectural firm in town. Wyandotte has a pretty amazing past! We take the main stairway down past stained glass windows and stop for one last look around, the Victorian grandeur has been well-preserved, as has the history of this city.

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Time for lunch. Just down the street is Dangerously Delicious Pie’s Wyandotte location. The Detroit location inside Third Street Saloon closed August 1, we can get our Pie fix here until the new Detroit shop opens in the fall. The walls of the modest space are bright red, seating is available at the counter or tables scattered about the room. The same delicious varieties are available with a few seasonal choices thrown in. We order at the counter, take our seat and in about 10 minutes our food is delivered. I’m trying out the Crab & Cheddar, that unmistakable flaky crust holds a filling of crab meat and cheddar cheese in a quiche-like base, yum! Kris barely says a word as he digs into the Hot Rod Potato, tender potatoes, peppers and a spicy sauce make this one of our favorites. Large slices are served with a generous heap of salad greens with house dressing, the price for all of this is still just 7 bucks.

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We saunter up and down Biddle Ave wandering in and out of boutiques, galleries and shops. Both Sanders and Stroh’s are tempting, it’s Whiskeys on the Water that draws us in. This bar/restaurant has only been open since March but has already developed a loyal following. The original 1924 stone bank building is now an industrial-modern space decorated in brick, metal and reclaimed wood; huge windows bring sunlight into the large space. We sit at the bar and order cocktails, an Old Fashioned for Kris and the house version of a Moscow Mule for me. The after-work crowd begins to drift in, we sip our tasty cocktails as the Olympics are broadcast on flat-screen televisions.  Relaxed and refreshed, it’s time to go home. Good things are happening in Wyandotte, come see for yourself! 

 

 

DETROIT: Cabin Fever…

29 Jun

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Thomas Palmer, a Detroit resident, U.S. Senator, American ambassador to Spain and land owner—farming 640 acres of land that included orchards, cattle and Percheron horses, in what is now Palmer Park, married Elizabeth (Lizzie) Pitts Merrill in 1855. By 1885 Lizzie was looking for a place to escape the traffic, noise and crowds of Detroit. Her husband presented her with plans for a rustic cabin, built to her specifications, on land he owned along Woodward Ave, which at that time was considered out in the country; the cabin would be used  for entertaining and as a summer retreat. The team of George Mason (Masonic Temple) and Zachariah Rice (The Grand Hotel and DYC) designed the cabin which was completed in 1887.

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Nearly 130 years later the cabin still stands on its original spot. Eventually Palmer gifted the land and cabin to the City of Detroit, in 1897 the area was officially designated Palmer Park. Once a year the People for Palmer Park and the City of Detroit open the cabin to the public, today is Log Cabin Day. We follow the sidewalk along Lake Frances, a young girl expertly riding a Penny-farthing (or High Wheeler) passes by. We approach the cabin, volunteers are dressed up in 1880’s clothing, we hear musket blasts coming from the Civil War camp in the distance, the 102nd USCT  history group is putting on a demonstration. A policeman sits atop a beautiful horse, visitors have gathered waiting for their chance to pet the majestic animal. Behind the cabin the Saline Fiddlers Philharmonic play American folk, fiddle and bluegrass tunes as Appalachian step dancers perform on a makeshift stage, these high-schoolers are impressive.

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Walking around the cabin we pause to look at the building, it was constructed with trees harvested from the surrounding forest, awnings are made from split logs. The structure is in need of repair, the fireplace exteriors are shrouded in tarps that have seen better days. Cheery flowers have recently been planted in front, flowering shrubs are in full bloom, members of PFPP have been hard at work on the cabin. Inside, historians dressed in period attire speak about the Palmer family, they tell us about the cabin with its stone fireplaces, pocket doors, wooden floors and the indoor toilette–something that was unheard of in those days. The stairway is central in the house, the woodwork is in remarkably good shape, pretty fancy for a cabin. The home had 21 lovely stained glass windows, volunteers demonstrate the expensive restoration process, the remaining windows are protected by metal screens, a donation jar nearby is stuffed with 1 and 5 dollar bills. In another room the Detroit Unity African-American Quilters show off their handiwork, photographs and postcards cover the walls sharing Detroit history and memories. The American Jewel stove is the highlight of the kitchen, from where I’m standing I can feel cold air seep from under the cellar door. A continuous stream of visitors make their way from the front to the back door.

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Outside, a cast of 7 from Project Daydream is performing Cinderella, Guernsey Dairy is handing out scoops of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, kids and grown-ups are hard at work creating hats out of paper bags, scraps of material, ribbons, feathers and beads for the Mad Hatter contest. We see more members of The Wheelman group wearing vintage clothing and riding antique bikes. CJ Forge Blacksmithing demonstrates the craft of creating hand-forged items. We check out the bright yellow International pick-up truck, cool. The Detroit Mounted Police Unit moved to Palmer Park in 2010, we visit the horses, they seem to appreciate the company, leaning their heads against the fence hoping for a pet. Palmer Park is truly an urban oasis with 296 acres of lawns, historic woodlands, Lake Frances, hiking and biking trails. Be sure and check out all of the activities PFPP offers throughout the year.

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Kuzzo’s Chicken &Waffles is just minutes away, we’ve written about them before, but you can never have too much chicken & waffles. We slip in just as a number of tables leave, good timing. Today’s special is Motor City Blues; a blueberry Belgian waffle served with 3 chicken wings or tenders, we love the tenders. The waffle is delicious, beyond delicious if that’s possible; studded with sweet, juicy blueberries, dusted with powdered sugar and a scoop of butter, drizzled with maple syrup, YUM! The biscuits and gravy are a must; flaky, moist biscuits served with a bowl of creamy sausage gravy……enough said. We still have yet to try one of those fancy layered Kool-aid drinks served up in Mason jars–next time.

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Driving down 8 Mile Rd we notice the sandwich board on the sidewalk for Detroit Vintage, we drive around the block, park in back and stop in for a coffee. The building has been in the owners family since 1956 when it was the Paris Inn restaurant, the current incarnation is a whimsical, eclectic, coffee shop/tea room/espresso bar/gallery/boutique. Attractive displays fill the space; antique, vintage, interesting items are stacked, layered and hung. Seating areas are tucked in among the whimsy. Glass-domed dishes contain Italian creme, lemon pound and triple chocolate cakes, cookies and cupcakes look equally tasty. We make ourselves comfy, drinking iced coffee as we take in strings of white lights, large red stars, clocks, sconces and a bicycle that hangs from the rafters. What an absolutely delightful place.

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A Little North…..

2 Jun

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We are in the Village of Romeo, there’s an estate sale at the former Prospect Hill Bed and Breakfast at 439 Prospect Street. We’ve always wanted to see the inside of this 6,000 sq. ft. beauty, today’s our chance. We park on the street and approach the hill-top property, curiosity-seekers and shoppers enter and exit through the front doors. The imposing structure is quite lovely, immediately in the entry way a staircase leads us up, we make our way from room to room noticing antique light fixtures, wide moldings  surrounding the ceiling and doorways and the unique feature of inset sinks in the bedrooms. Fireplaces are marble, floors are wood, medallions grace a few of the ceilings. Everything is for sale. 

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Having satisfied our curiosity we decide to take a stroll through the neighborhood. The area now known as Romeo was originally inhabited by Chippewa Indians and called Indian Village, as more and more people moved into the village homes were put up, businesses began to grow; the town was re-named Romeo in 1838. Much of the architecture you see today dates to the 19th and 20th centuries, most of it Victorian in style, including the picturesque downtown. The entire Village of Romeo is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We stroll up and down Main Street, beautiful Queen Anne homes sport lattice, spindles, fish-scale and shake siding. Elaborate paint schemes make the most of architectural details, porches are large and inviting, baskets of flowers hang above. 

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Throughout the neighborhood homes have leaded glass windows, graceful columns, stone is a popular feature whether used for a chimney or the lower level of a house, I like the way it looks. Flowering trees are still in bloom, lawns are deep green and lush. Greek Revival and Italianate styles join the Queen Anne’s with their colorful exteriors. We spy a pale yellow home with the fanciest trim I think I’ve ever seen, from the distinctive columns and window pediments to the third-story dormers and decoration under the eaves, it’s spectacular. The green Second Empire at 240 Sisson is gorgeous, as are so many of these well cared for homes. Romeo still maintains its agricultural history with farms and orchards throughout the city. 

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A short drive and we’re at Blake’s Ciderhouse and Winery in Armada for lunch. Gerald and Elisabeth Blake along with their 13 children started the historic farm back in 1846, they now have over 500 acres of orchards and farmland. The business has passed down through the generations and is one of the most popular cider mills in the area. With the addition of hard cider, wine and beer a whole new clientele is being introduced to the Blake’s family. The Ciderhouse and Winery is housed in a charming, rustic-looking building. The interior is an attractive mix of wood, wrought iron and decorative concrete, a large open fireplace rests in the center of the room. Wood shelves and cabinets hold craft ciders in glass bottles and aluminum cans, wine is sold by the bottle in several varieties.We have a seat at the bar, check out the latest ciders and place our order. I am having the Cransylvania Cider, a mix of blood orange and cranberry, it’s refreshing and delicious. Kris is drinking the Flannel Mouth, a nice, sweet apple-y hard cider. Our bbq chicken flatbread arrives; a sweet tangy bbq sauce is layered with chicken, smoked gouda cheese and sliced red onion, yum! Have to leave room for dessert…..

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Achatz Handmade Pie Company has been making pies using recipes passed down through the generations since 1993, we are at the North Ave location in Armada. If you have seen the name but aren’t sure how its pronounced, it rhymes with jackets. The space is homey, comfortable, shabby chic, vintage items are re-purposed as shelving and displays. You can purchase salsa’s, salad dressing, jam, honey, popcorn and of course pie! The length of the room is one long string of tasty offerings from homemade soups to desserts. There’s a lot to choose from so we have to give this some serious consideration, we finally agree on the Turtle Cheesecake. We order a slice at the counter along with espresso for Kris and tea for me. We take our tray to a seat by the roll-up door. The caramel cheesecake rests on a chocolate crust then is topped with a chocolate ganache and pecans, rich and delicious. We take our time enjoying our sweet treat, the afternoon sun and the breeze coming in through the door. Life is Good.

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DETROIT: Y-not ??

27 Apr

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We’re in downtown Detroit today at the Boll Family YMCA for the Our Detroit photography exhibit; the show features 3 Detroit photographers: Amy Sacka, Bruce Giffin and Donita Simpson. We step into the light-drenched lobby, framed photographs, grouped by artist, temporarily hang on metal racks and wire partitions. Curious visitors meander the space; the photographs, taken in Detroit, feature faces of everyday people who call the city home. Kris and I met Amy shortly after she moved back to Detroit, we truly admire her work, she really has a way of capturing the true essence of her subjects; it makes her pictures come to life. Each of the artists has their own unique style. The photos reach out to the viewer, making us pause to consider the subject, the surroundings, before moving on to the next.

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While we’re here we might as well check the place out. Walking to the far end of the main floor a large window affords us a look at the indoor pools, one for swimming, one for laps; bathing suit-clad members are having a good time splashing about. We take the stairway up to the top, a 40′ climbing wall with a seamless rock face has climbing routes for both the beginner and advanced climber; we watch as athletes young and old practice their skills. We take a peek in the conditioning room, floor to ceiling windows give people on treadmills and ellipticals a wonderful view of downtown. The indoor track makes us feel as if we are floating among surrounding buildings, a pick-up game of basketball is going on one side of the gym, a volleyball game on the other.

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Much of the building is glass, making one feel connected to downtown, colorful artwork hangs on walls. Renderings follow the Detroit YMCA from its beginning in 1887 on Grand River and Griswold to the 1909 building on Witherall and Adams to today’s Y. Prominent Detroit families like the Fords, Dodges, Kresges, Fishers and Hannans all supported the Y through the years. This building is named after philanthropists John A and Marlene L Boll, their foundation supports education, the arts and health services, all of which can be found here on Broadway. 

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The evening is mild, we decide to walk the couple blocks to Vertical for dinner. Located below street level  in the 1913 flatiron shaped building, originally the Henry Clay Hotel, then the Milner Hotel, now The Ashley, it’s home to 67 one and two bedroom apartments, Vertical wine bar and restaurant and the soon-to-open Dilla’s Delights donut shop. We enter on Centre Street, the lobby is quite lovely in white with black accents; some of the original stained glass windows remain as does the tile floor. The restaurant is quite attractive, eclectic decor includes interesting chandeliers, partially restored tin ceiling, patterned soffets and bright red columns. Wine bottles are everywhere.

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We are seated at a small table in the main dining area, the menu is filled with a variety of tasty appetizers, composed small plates, salads and desserts–the wine list is expansive….We each choose two items to share. Flash-fried Spanish Queen olives are stuffed with Roquefort and served in a martini glass with curried honey, the focaccia of the day is a wonderful dense, tender bread brushed with chipotle honey and served with chive butter. The spinach salad is a combination of Mission fig, candied walnuts, tomato, red onion, Roquefort, tossed with a red-wine vinaigrette. The scallops (probably the most delicious we’ve ever had) are served with a corn coulis, bacon lardens, bacon powder, pea tendrils and a fig gastrique, this dish was exceptional. I have to say everything was excellent, flavorful and unique.

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When we’ve finished we head out on foot again to a little hideaway in an alley. The Belt is the alley between Broadway and Library Street, linking Gratiot and Grand River. Home to fabulous public art including murals and installations, it’s also the only way to enter the newest craft cocktail bar Standby. Strings of lights criss-cross overhead, a lantern lights an open doorway cut into the brick wall, the entrance is through an old elevator shaft. Inside, the space is dimly lit, the decor clean and simple; dark wood, dark colors, soothing. Two large, circular paintings hang on the left wall, small tables and blue banquette seating fill the room.

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Earlier this month the Detroit Free Press named Standby one of the Top 10 Best New Restaurants in Metro Detroit, tonight we’re here for cocktails only. We are seated at a cozy corner table and given cocktail menus; drinks are organized by spirits; Gin, Whiskey, Rum, Beer, etc. Ingredients for each drink are listed as well as flavor profiles–floral, tart, minty, woodsy, you get the idea. If you’re not sure, your server will help you out. Kris is having an Old Fashioned, I am giving The Last Straw a try; it’s, tart, botanical and fresh tasting—all the flavors I like.

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We sit back and relax as we enjoy our drinks in this (not so) secret (anymore) spot. The city is changing quickly. It’s hard to keep up with all of the new restaurants and bars opening their doors. Detroit is an exciting place to be these days, c’mon down and be a part of it!

DETROIT: Bank On It

30 Mar

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By the 1890’s Detroit was becoming an important industrial and manufacturing city producing consumer goods such as shoes, bicycles, beer, packaged seeds and pharmaceuticals. The city manufactured railroad cars, ships and stoves; in 1890 Detroit was the nations 14th largest city with a population of 205,876, all of those people needed to put their money somewhere…The Financial District was born. In 1899 22 of 23 banks in Detroit’s financial district were on Griswold, the economic boom of the auto industry brought new banks that swallowed up the old, mergers and closures. Of the 36 buildings within the historically designated Financial District, 33 are historic buildings, 18 of these originally housed banks or financial institutions. Today we are visiting Chrysler House f.k.a the Dime Savings Bank Building.

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The Neoclassical building designed by Daniel Burnham opened in 1912, the steel-framed structure is covered in white glazed brick with white terra-cotta trim. Built and paid for by the Dime Savings Bank of Detroit, you could open an account there for as little as 10 cents. The banks vaults and tellers were on the first floor, offices were above that. In 2002 $40 million was spent on upgrades and renovations making it into Class A office space. Bedrock Detroit purchased the building in 2011, in 2012 Chrysler Group LLC leased 33,000 sq ft; after nearly 100 years the name was changed to Chrysler House. The light-filled lobby is striking; stylish seating areas, large potted plants, polished marble floors and elegant columns surround the central light court. 

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The ground floor houses restaurants and retail shops, passing through the lobby, lanyard-laden employees come and go during the lunch hour, we walk towards the bank of elevators, make a left and find ourselves in a short corridor. Drought, founded by four James sisters from Plymouth MI, produces organic cold-pressed raw juice. They operate 6 locations in Metro Detroit including the small retail space in Chrysler House, selling glass bottles of juice, cold-brew coffee and candles. The stark white space overlooks Fort St, foot traffic is heavy today, now and again pedestrians pause to look in the windows. A single 3-door cooler holds bottles of colorful juices, customers come in, grab a bottle or two, pay at the counter and they’re off.

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Across the hall Bon Bon Bon has opened a second location. It’s Good Friday, with Easter only a couple of days away, the demand for chocolate is high, there is no shortage of variety or quantity today. I count at least 25 flavors from Bunny Butt and Hazel-What? to Cherry Lux and Boston Cooler, wait, does that one say Bacon & Eggs…..yup. The shop is cheery with bright orange walls, sunlight spills in from large windows, a steady stream of chocoholics make their way to the front of the line. When our turn comes I choose Bunny Butt, chocolate cake cream in a dark chocolate shell with a squirt of buttercream. Kris goes with the Swimming Turtle, toasted pecan and sea salt in a pool of caramel, it’s as good as your thinking it is right now.

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Now that we’ve had dessert I guess we should have some lunch! Dime Store opened on the ground floor facing Griswold in 2014. Funky vintage lights hang above the counters, an over-sized mercury head from dimes minted between 1916-1945 is painted on the far wall, old kitchen items rest on shelves. They call themselves an American Brunch Bar specializing in breakfast, lunch and booze; they do all of it well. It’s nearly 3 pm and the only available space is two counter seats, we make ourselves comfy as we read over the menu. Once we place our order we’re mesmerized by all of the activity in the open kitchen, staff members hustle among a sea of stainless steel preparing french toast, omelettes, benny’s, hash, salads and sandwiches.  

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Our server delivers a bowl of classic Mac & Cheese, topped with bread crumbs and chives the sauce is thick and smooth, the noodles are the perfect texture. Todays special is the Hercules Omelette, 2 eggs packed with house-made chorizo, roasted eggplant, spinach and smoked Gouda topped with tzatziki sauce and pickled onions. Filling out the plate is a side of breakfast potatoes and toast, every bite is delicious. 

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Now that we’ve eaten we take a little time to explore the building further. White walls are accented with embossed plaster panels painted in red, teal and gold, elevator doors wear decorative trim and elegant wreaths. The second floor is the mezzanine level, here we get an up-close look at the Corinthian capitols, plaster rosettes and designs. The old fireplace from the bank presidents office has been moved to create a cozy seating area, workers sit at small tables overlooking the lobby while on their break. Looking up through the skylight I notice the building becomes a U-shape on the upper floors, what a cool view of the building and sky. At 104 years old the Dime building, errrr…I mean Chrysler House is still looking good!

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A short walk away we stop in at Cornerstone Barrel House on Woodward for Happy Hour. Open for about a year now in the old Oslo space, the decor features reclaimed wood and exposed brick walls lending a rustic feel to the space. We pull up a seat at the bar, scan the menu along with the collection of bottles behind the counter and make our decision. I sip on a Left Hand Brewing Co. Nitro Milk Stout, Kris enjoys a Crown on the rocks. The vibe is mellow, patrons represent city and suburbs, visitors and locals in all age ranges. The restaurant serves lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, the lower level, called The Whiskey Disco, hosts international and local electronic music artists Wednesday through Saturday.