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DETROIT: Purdy…

1 May

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There are places or things that one never tires of seeing, for me, the Fisher Building is one such place. No matter how many times I pass through the revolving doors I am always taken aback by the sheer magnificence of the place. Did I ever tell you I saw Debbie Reynolds in the Unsinkable Molly Brown here at the Fisher Theatre? It was amazing. Kris and I are here for  Stella Good Coffee; you’d be hard pressed to find a more elegant space anywhere to have a cup of Joe. The compact shop features locally roasted coffee beans, tea, Avalon baked goods, soups from Russell Street Deli, gift items and beverage accessories. You can sit inside surrounded by murals or do like we do, sit at one of the cafe tables in the lobby. Today we are drinking iced coffee and sharing a delicious cookie with moist, chocolatey chunks of brownie. Look at that ceiling, elegant chandeliers, gold leaf and marble–oh my!  The corridors are beginning to fill up with people, it’s time for Pure Detroit’s free tour of the building. We’d better be moving along.

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The Junior League of Detroit is hosting the 2018 Designer’s Showhouse SNEAK A PEEK today. The house is the Charles T Fisher Mansion on W Boston Blvd. Kris and I have been in this house on public tours before, spectacular is a word that comes to mind…. I’m anxious to see it again. We park on Boston Blvd with relative ease, I pay the entry fee and am given a handout about the house. What??! They’re not allowing photos of the interior, argh… Sans pictures here’s what I can tell you about the Fisher Mansion. Designed by George D Mason ( Masonic Temple, DYC, The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island), constructed in 1922, the 18,000 sq. ft. estate was outfitted with hand-carved American Walnut panels, Flint Faience tiles, ornate plaster; it even has its own gymnasium. There are 14 bedrooms, 14 bathrooms, a liquor vault (think prohibition) and a pipe organ. The Estey Opus 2383 was installed in 1925, there are nearly 1000 pipes throughout 4 levels of the house.

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We meander through rooms guided by arrows, docents and pathways. In every room a smart phone appears, a tourist trying to capture some beautiful detail, a chandelier, fireplace or doorway, they are gently reminded of the no photo policy. I feel like I hardly recognize the house, walls have been removed, walnut paneling is gone, ceilings are bare, much, much rougher than expected… I was happy to see the hand-carved Italian marble fountain still in place in the solarium. Up one flight of stairs, bare studs and visqueen sheeting, then another flight, here we find the maids quarters and gymnasium. We are routed back down, through the kitchen and into the lower level Grand Ballroom. The space is basically a construction site, gone are the elegant plaster ceilings and the pub. There is a glass wall panel that allows us to see the inner-workings of the pipe organ, we have a perfect view of the self-playing Mills Violano. Around the corner the vault is still in place. Actor, best-selling author and philanthropist Hill Harper purchased this house in September 2017. He has generously allowed the Junior League of Detroit to use his home for the 2018 Designers Show House. Be sure and visit the finished product September 15-October 7. Oh, and you will be allowed to take pictures.

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Lunch time. le petit zinc moved from its longtime home in Corktown to Midtown about a month ago. This is our first visit to the new location. The restaurant occupies the ground floor space in the Strathmore Apartment Building recently vacated by Dangerously Delicious Pies (Oh how we miss those pies!) The interior is decked out in shades of blue, heavy blue curtains seal the dining room off from the rest of the building, the open kitchen is in the center of the room, diners sit at cafe tables and counter seating. The vibe is laid-back and comfortable. The restaurant serves French-inspired breakfast and lunch items; sweet and savory crepes, baked eggs, croissants, Quiche, toasted baguette with jam. We’re having the ham and brie Quiche, it comes with a side salad. Cutting into the neatly folded crepe I am delighted to see melted brie ooze onto my plate, it’s so good. We follow that with a butter and sugar crepe, as I chew I get that nice butter flavor mixing with the sweet, soft crunch of sugar, yum! 

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The Milwaukee Junction neighborhood recently welcomed a new bar to the neighborhood, Kiesling, it rhymes with Reisling. The building was constructed sometime in the 1890’s, in the 1920’s it was the Kiesling Saloon; it also spent time as a cafe and a general store before becoming Edith’s Hideaway, a bar where cops hung out in the 1970’s. The place closed in the 1990’s and stood vacant; time, money, imagination and a good dose of elbow grease have brought it full circle. We arrive at 4:00, just as the bar opens, we’re greeted by a familiar face, Rob Wilson is the bar manager. We have his enjoyed his cocktails all over Detroit, looks like he’s landed in a pretty sweet spot.

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The place is beautiful, sort of a mix of stylish speak easy and cozy saloon. Unique character comes from the eclectic light fixtures, wood beams, original terrazzo floors and wainscoting. Custom, handmade wallpaper covers ceilings and walls. During the restoration original murals from 1913 were revealed, now meticulously restored, the panels depict deer in all 4 seasons. We sit at the end of the 14-seat bar, the bar top itself is oak and quartzite with copper rails, a remnant from the recently closed Lord Fox in Ann Arbor. The antique back bar came from an old bar in southwest Detroit.  Kiesling serves classic and original cocktails, beer and wine. The menu offers a nice variety of seasonal and classic drinks, all on the one-page menu. Kris orders whiskey, I’m having the Honey Bearing; gin, green Chartreuse, honey, lemon, bitters, salt and a dash of bee pollen on top, I find it outstanding. In fact it’s so good I have two! 

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Time to go to Cleveland…

18 Feb

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In late December we packed a few bags and pointed the car toward Cleveland. The city is full of good restaurants, great architecture and fun things to do. Instead of  heading directly to the 216 we stopped in at the Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton OH. Established in 1991 to showcase WWII aircraft, the museum is located on the grounds of the Erie-Ottawa International Airport. We enter off of State Rd, the complex is huge, parking is easy. The lobby gives way to Gallery 1, Civilian Aviation, display cases and glass shelves display aviation items and National Air Race memorabilia; I’m not really into planes so I’m not sure what I’m looking at. I walk around looking at displays and reading signs, suddenly I find myself fascinated. We are near the Lake Erie Islands, you’ve probably heard of, if not been to, Put-In-Bay, I guess I never really thought about it but airplanes were an important form of all-season travel between the islands and t0/from the mainland. An old billboard reads “Fly Island Airlines” on the famous Tri-Motor, hhmm, what is this Tri-Motor? 

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The Ford Tri-Motor is an American 3-engine transport aircraft brought to the world by Henry and Edsel Ford, production started in 1925 and ended in 1933, 199 were made, it was nicknamed The Tin Goose. Henry Ford brought us the first paved runway, the first passenger terminal, hangar, airmail and radio navigation. Over 100 airlines flew the Tri-Motor, the design was superior to other airliners providing comfortable passenger service, safety and reliability. It spurred the first coast-to-coast flight by Transcontinental Air Transport (later TWA), in 1927 a Ford Tri-Motor was used for flight from Key West to Havana Cuba. Locally the Tri-Motor was a familiar sight over Lake Erie, it hauled passengers and freight, was used as an ambulance, school bus, hearse and mail plane. The plane had the capability to take off and land on short runways like the ones on the islands. Tri-Motors were used by second and third-tier airlines well into the 1960’s, I read some are still in use today.We continue through the gallery looking at black and white photos, TWA uniforms, models of planes and steamships; we watch a short film about Lake Erie ice fishing. Tables are being set up in Hangar 1 for an upcoming special event, we pop in for just a minute to check out the red plane, a silver 57 Chevy and an beautiful green Chrysler.

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It’s a short walk out the back door to the next building into Hangar 2, here we find a bevy of military vehicles; tanks, Jeeps, motorbikes and planes. Information and photos accompany most displays, there’s a lot to take in. A Grumman TBM 3E Avenger and a North American Harvard IV look small in the vast space. A vintage B-25 airplane named Georgie’s Girl features a beautiful woman with a halo (scantily) dressed in white, this would be Angela, the other side belongs to Helena, in red, with horns and a tail–cute. Another section of the building is dedicated for restoration, there’s a lot of it going on. We get a guided tour of the area, the big project is the PT 728 WWII boat. Sitting disassembled on jacks and cinder blocks there’s much work to be done, pieces are scattered about, new engines are covered, waiting to be installed. When finished, the hope is to be able to take tourists out in it. The museum is also home to the Tri-Motor Heritage Foundation and the Tin Goose Diner, a 1949 diner out of Elizabeth NJ.

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We’re off to the Cleveland Museum of Art, one of the world’s most distinguished comprehensive art museums and one of our favorites. Our DIA membership gets us into the special exhibition The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920’s for free. This is the first major museum exhibition to focus on American taste and art during the 1920’s and 30’s. I love this time in American history, think about it, WWI had ended and we won, confidence was high, money was flowing, women earned the right to vote, European designers came to America, American artists studied and traveled abroad, social mores were redefined. It created a culture of elegance, glamour, decadence, extravagance; it was an era of change and contrast, and it was oh, so beautiful!  

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Look at these pictures; vibrant colors, streamlined designs, sumptuous materials. Cleveland’s own Rose Iron Works created the stunning Muse With Violin Screen, made of wrought iron, brass, silver and gold plating it’s a real eye catcher. The jewelry is to-die-for, dazzling diamonds, emeralds, pearls, much of it Art Deco in design. One look and you know what period the furniture is from, great lines, not necessarily comfortable. I recognize the white chair with the striped fabric, it’s on loan from the DIA, the super-cool green desk and chair were manufactured in Grand Rapids MI. Extravagant clocks and watches, amazing silver tea service sets, coffee servers, candle holders. Check out the massive chandelier, it’s incredible, opulent, all of that crystal, it reminds me of a fountain, it was made for the 1928 International Exposition of Art and Industry, as were many of the items in the exhibition.

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Attention to detail was really important, everything was pretty; perfume bottles, mirrors, hair brushes. The trophy for a 1923 ice skating competition is made of rock crystal to look like frozen water, silver, lapis lzuli and marble. Moving on to fashion, there’s a lovely display of dresses, think ‘flapper’; fringe, rhinestones, multi-levels, scalloped hems. Gone were tight fitting waistlines; women threw away their corsets and opted for a loose fit, they bobbed their hair, smoked cigarettes and danced. Automobiles followed fashion and design, the red 1937 Cord is a perfect example of streamlined design. I’m hoping the exhibit will travel to Detroit, I’d love to see it again.

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Every time we get to Cleveland there’s something new on Lorain Ave, tonight we’re having dinner at Xinji Noodle Bar. Located in a 2-story brick building the decor is industrial and playful. The brief menu is filled with Asian and Korean favorites, I sip on hot green tea waiting for our dinner to arrive. The Vegetarian Ramen is mushroom broth with a variety of mushrooms, Napa choy and of course, noodles, it’s soooo good! The Korean Fried Chicken Bao is outstanding; white chicken, sweet and spicy chili, pickle and Taiwanese cabbage, I think I could eat another. The Spicy Pork Dumplings came highly recommended, I can see why, they’re delicious. Another great find!

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Having a nightcap at Stone Mad Pub has become a Cleveland tradition for us. The place is charming; lots of wood, not too loud, a fireplace and great service. We hang out at the bar people-watching, chatting with the bartenders; Kris enjoys his whiskey, I’m having Bailey’s, my idea of dessert. It feels good to relax, to escape the real world, even if it’s only for a little while. 

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Detroit: Alive & Noel…

13 Dec

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Tonight we’re just wandering around Detroit; we’ll dip our toe into Noel Night, visit the downtown Holiday Markets and finish up with dinner and drinks in Southwest. All of the featured places are new to Detroit’s growing list of places to eat, drink and shop. Let’s begin with Noel Night, being seasoned veterans of this event we tend to steer clear of  the crowds at larger venues such as the DIA, Library, Science Center and the like. Instead we head over to Third Street, the Detroit Design Center has a sculpture park next to the building, one-of-a-kind pieces decorate the open space, flood lights illuminate the art casting funky shadows on the wall. Tonight the building is open to the public, artists are busy putting on the finishing touches. Huge carbon steel sculptures reach toward the ceiling,  metal statement pieces are grounded to the floor, I’m crazy about the swing. Pieces are made of glass, metal and wood, you can purchase art for a wall, a tabletop or desk; the metal skyline organizer would look great on my counter.

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In 1949 the Willis Show Bar opened on the corner of Willis and Third Street, it was an entertainment hot spot featuring live Jazz. As the area declined so did the clientele; the building was closed down and padlocked in 1978. Today the building wears a fresh coat of paint, the Art Moderne exterior shines, a sign painted on the Willis side of the building announces the re-opening of this memorable venue. The Detroit Optimist Society and a group of L.A. investors plan a January 2018 re-opening, the 75-seat bar will serve 1960’s inspired cocktails and bar snacks, the stage will host live Jazz, Blues and Soul artists cabaret style. I can hardly wait!

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Does anybody remember the Hammer and Nail building on Woodward? This 12-story Mid-Century building was built in 1965, the hammer and nail was originally intended as a tribute to a local carpenter’s union. The building, now called The Plaza, recently underwent a complete restoration and is now home to 72 apartments. As part of the Noel Night festivities the building is open for tours, let’s take a look. A lovely Christmas tree adorns the lobby, through a glass doorway the neon hammer and nail have found a new resting spot on an interior wall, we are told this space will be a public bar in the future, it’s fun to see this landmark lit up again. A tour guide loads 5 of us into an elevator stopping on the 10th floor, we are seeing a 1-bedroom corner unit. From the dimly lit entrance we follow a short hall past the laundry room into the living space, one left turn and we’re looking out a wall of windows at the Detroit skyline. Everybody stops in their tracks, our host has not turned on any lights, giving us a clear look at the spectacular view, each of us gravitates toward the windows; Ford Field glows in Christmas colors to the left, Little Caesars Arena to the right, the Ambassador Bridge further in the distance–wow! We see pedestrians crowding the sidewalk on Woodward, the towers of the Renaissance Center are red, I can see Motor City Casino too. 

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Next we drive over to Capitol Park for the holiday markets; from now until January 7 a series of pop-up businesses will fill the park. At first I don’t even know where I am, I mean, I know the surrounding buildings, but the outdoor space has been completely transformed. Local shops fill terrarium-like little glass booths; you can purchase art, a toboggan, a wreath or even a fresh-cut Christmas tree. The air smells of evergreens and food, deck chairs surround a log table, people are making s’mores at the fire pit, visitors are packed into Eatori’s booth drinking cocktails by the Christmas tree. White lights are strung everywhere, zig-zagging above public spaces. We walk down State Street to Woodward and find trees tightly wrapped in miniature lights, fresh landscaping includes garlands and branches spray painted in red and white, it’s a winter wonderland.

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Campus Maritus is buzzing with activity, ice skaters fill the rink, the Christmas tree is the prettiest one yet, the line to rent skates is long, with hot chocolates in hand, nobody seems to mind. We cross over to Cadillac Square, picnic tables, deck chairs and fire pits fill the space between to long rows of glass booths. Food trucks, Detroit City Nut Company, fudge and popcorn are available to hungry spectators. The Cadillac Bier Garten is a good place to rest and take in the city, and have a beer of course. At the far end a large tent has been transformed into a Lodge; couches, comfy chairs, blankets and rugs welcome chilly pedestrians. Chandeliers are made of branches, strings of white lights make the tent festive. People are waiting in line to get in, we take a peek inside then continue walking. 

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The Woodward Esplande is gorgeous; the concrete pathway leads us though grapevine arches, surrounding landscape is lit with spotlights and miniature lights, people are taking advantage of the many photo ops along the way. The pathway opens up, here LED lights are strung above us, colors rotate from one shade to the next, it’s stunning, I feel like I’m in a Hallmark Christmas movie. The One Woodward building is decked out for the holidays; a tall, slender tree, elegant in white stands on one side of the lobby while a trio of gold and white ornaments anchors the other side. Standing at this level we overlook the Spirit of Detroit Plaza, clear igloos offer passersby food and drink, while large blocks make up an ice-cube maze; we need to get a closer look. This is amazing! In one igloo we find ping-pong and air hockey tables, another sells goodies from Good Cakes and Bakes, how about a cup of coffee from New Order? Unfortunately we’re here after most of the shops have closed for the evening. Families giggle as they make their way through the ice-cube maze, again everything lights up and changes colors, I swear the Spirit of Detroit is smiling…

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How does pizza sound? PizzaPlex opened a few short months ago on W Vernor in Southwest Detroit. It’s more than just another pizza joint, there’s a strong sense of community here from the employees to the events that take place in the adjoining space. The pizza oven came straight from Napoli, a pizza cooks in just 90 seconds, that’s good news for us, we’re starving. I order at the counter, #17, the Nikolette is a combo of fresh mozzarella, porcini mushrooms, roasted poblanos, parmigiano, basil and olive oil. I add a house salad and a pour-over coffee. In addition to tasty food, offerings also include coffee drinks and a limited selection bar. Sitting in a booth we are awash in blue LED light, basil grows on shelves mounted to the wall, a movie plays on the screen in the community room. Our food is brought to the table; the pizza is delicious, the crust the perfect amount of crisp and chewy, a nice balance of toppings, we eat the whole thing…

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Just down the street the Detroit Optimist Society has opened a Tiki-themed bar called Mutiny. Inside, the casual space has all the thing we’ve come to expect from a tiki bar; Hawiian-shirt wearing bar tenders, bamboo, the ceiling a mass of colored lights, netting, high-back wicker chairs, large paper umbrellas, thatch, framed vintage menus from high-profile bars back in the day, you get the picture. Tiki mugs and interesting serving glasses line the back bar, check out the photo of the waterfall. The tropical cocktail menu lists all your favorites, with a twist. We order drinks at the bar and watch as the bartender measures shots, shakes concoctions, pours them into specific mugs, he even sets some on fire. Kris’s drink comes in a stemmed coconut glass, mine in a fish mug advertising Plymouth Gin. The drinks are good, the atmosphere laid back; a nice ending to an incredible night.

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DETROIT: Capitol Park

11 Nov

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When Michigan became a state in 1837, Detroit was chosen as the Capitol city. An existing courthouse on a triangular piece of land surrounded by Shelby, Griswold and State streets became the state capitol building. In 1847 when the city of Lansing became the new capitol of Michigan, the building in Detroit was used as a high school until it burned down in 1893. The land was then converted into a park with plantings, benches and a fountain; Capitol Park was born. Detroit experienced rapid growth during the late 19th and early 20th Century, buildings went up all over downtown, architectural styles include Romanesque, Colonial Revival, Victorian, Beaux-Arts and Art Deco. In Capitol Park that half-acre plot of land was soon encircled by 17 buildings for a block in each direction. Michigan’s first governor Stevens T Mason, was buried here, at age 25 he was the youngest governor in American history; Michigan’s first constitution was authored here too. Finney Hotel and Horse Barn, at the intersection of State and Griswold was one of the final stops along the Underground Railroad. Detroit thrived, offices, shops, restaurants and residents filled skyscrapers and ornate structures, sidewalks were teeming with shoppers and businessmen. And then the buildings and streets were empty.

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It’s a funny thing about Detroit, while the rest of the nation underwent Urban Renewal, much of Detroit was left untouched, the buildings and property had little value, nobody was interested in investing money in a ghost town. Because of this mindset, Detroit is left with a marvelous collection of early 20th century architecture. Capitol Park is a prime example; not much has changed since streetcars traversed city streets. Abandoned, windowless buildings stood silent as their facades slowly crumbled, witnessing the worst decline in America. Fortunately for all of us they persevered.

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Today the Capitol Park Historic District is alive and well. Buildings have been renovated or are in the process of historic renovation; scaffolding, barriers and men in hard hats are a common sight. Check out the Detroit Savings Bank building, built in 1895 it’s the oldest existing high-rise in Detroit; it’s now home to 56 loft apartments and office space, it’s gorgeous. The 38-story, Art Deco, David Stott building opened in 1929, because of the Great Depression it was the last skyscraper built in Detroit until the mid-1950’s. With a reddish-granite base the brick changes in color from an orangey-tan to buff as it soars skyward. You may remember the Sky Bar formerly located on the 33rd floor. 

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Griswold is our favorite street in the city, Capitol Park, our favorite district, I love the unique sense of enclosure the buildings provide. Let’s take a walk. Here on Griswold there are lots of new businesses, Bird Bee is a women’s boutique filled with trendy fashions, accessories, shoes and home goods. The interior is bright and airy, live plants are tucked into the honeycomb-shaped shelves behind the counter. The shop has a wonderful selection of clothing from casual and comfy to business and evening wear. Also located on the ground floor of the Albert Building (f.k.a the Griswold Building)Detroit Bikes  designs and sells bicycles handmade in Detroit using high-quality American chromoly steel. The building opened in 1929, showroom decor pays homage to the early 1900’s; red flocked wallpaper, antique display cabinets, a Victrola collection, vintage lighting; stunning. Bicycles come in Type A, B or C, they also have a versatile model called the Cortello. My favorite? The Faygo series, you know, the soda pop. You can pedal through the streets on an Orange, Lime, Grape, Red Pop or Cotton Candy colored bike, sweet! Detroit Bikes is investing in American manufacturing by making bicycles right here in Detroit.

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Next door is La Laterna, a pizzeria and bar featuring brick oven pizza. We step inside to peek at the menu and decide to stay for lunch. While we wait for our pizza I read an article in the April 1958 issue of Michigan Restauranteur that hangs on the wall. Edoardo Barbieri opened the original La Lanterna right across the street in Capitol Park in 1956, the family went on to open 3 Da Edoardo restaurants and Cafe Nini in Grosse Pointe. Now, almost 40 years after La Lanterna closed, Edoardo’s grandson has brought the pizzeria back to Capitol Park. The decor is simple and attractive; stainless steel, wood, 12-seat marble bar and teardrop lighting. The centerpiece of the tiny open kitchen is the Marra forni Neopolitan pizza oven. Our Primavera pizza is outstanding, the crust is tender and chewy, lots of tasty vegetables, fresh mozzarella, yum! It’s pretty cool the family business has returned to the city where it started.

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And we’re walking… The Capitol Park Building built in 1912 has been renovated into 63 apartments, Prime + Proper occupies the ground floor. The restaurant wasn’t open yet the day we were there but the staff let us take a peek inside; no expense was spared, it’s pretty luxe. If you like meat, this is the place for you. Next door on State Street, Lear completely renovated the Brown Brothers Tobacco Company Building; built in 1887 and designed by Gordon W Lloyd, it was the largest cigar factory under one roof in the world. The six-story building is now Lear’s Innovation Center. Back on Griswold the Malcomson Building has also been resuscitated, on the left side is The Ten, a nail bar, the right side is home to Eatori Market, a specialty grocer selling produce, pantry staples and prepared foods with a full bar in the front of the space. This was the original location of La Lanterna back in 1956, they managed to salvage the original metal railings and reuse them. We take seats at the L-shaped bar, the bartender offers us cocktail menus, as soon as Kris spots the distinct Blanton’s bottle his decision is made, I go for Eatori’s version of a French 75 called Violet 75, the Creme de Violet gives it a lovely violet hue, oooohh, that’s nice. We take a walk through the market area, everything looks delicious; paninis, salads, meatballs, lots of grab-and-go items. I like the “Invisible Gentleman” paintings by local artist and singer Ben Sharkey.

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Down the street the Farwell Building is in the process of being renovated; built in 1915 the interior design was that of Louis C Tiffany, they say the brass and marble elevators were unequaled in the city. The vaulted dome in the lobby was inlaid with thousands of pieces of Tiffany glass, I can only imagine how beautiful it must have been. When finished there will be 82 apartments, office spaces, retail and a restaurant. The building on the corner wraps around the south side of Grand River, originally called the Bamlet Building, it was built in 1897. After several name changes it was finally renamed Capitol Square Building in 1931, the name has stuck. The Detroit Institute of Music Education, a for-profit college for ‘serious musicians who desire a long-term professional career in modern music’, occupies the building. I’m very fond of the way the windows curve around the corner of the structure. There’s a brand new residential building kitty-corner from DIME, a sign in another building announces Cannelle Patisserie will soon open, Loverboy Hamburgers is on the way too.

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Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters was one of the first new businesses to open during the recent Capitol Park renaissance. It’s a huge, raw, open space with large windows overlooking the park. They roast their own beans, offer a nice selection of desserts, have live performances and sell their own merch. Kris and I grab a couple of coffees and sit at the bar in the front windows. As I look outside I see people out walking their dogs, hipsters on their way to somewhere trendy, 20-somethings carrying shopping bags, bicyclists, men in suits; I feel like I should pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming. The transformation has been amazing and there’s still more to come…

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MARSHALL: Overnight

29 Sep

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Take I-94 west out of Detroit and in just under 2 hours you will find yourself in charming, historic, Marshall MI. The National Park Service calls Marshall “the best virtual textbook of 19th Century American architecture in the country.” It’s also just a great little town to visit; stroll neighborhood streets, shop at local businesses, enjoy a nice dinner, have a cocktail in the walkable district. We plan on doing all of those things while we’re here.

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First we check into our hotel, we are staying at the National House Inn on Parkview. This Greek Revival structure was built in 1835 and has spent time as a hotel for stagecoach travelers, a wagon and windmill factory and again as an Inn. Crisp white trim surrounds the doors and windows of the red brick building, the Inn has a direct view of Fountain Circle, the parking lot is on the side. As soon as I walk in the door I can tell it’s really old–in a good way. There’s nothing like the feeling of an old building, I imagine this one has its share of stories. A large brick fireplace greets us in the center of the room, the wood-beamed mantel holds a black and white photo of George Washington. The floor is wood plank, early beams criss-cross the ceiling, an old Detroit Times rack holds current area newspapers. We check-in at the massive wooden desk.

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We are led up the stairs to the second floor. A cozy sitting area sits quietly in the center surrounded by guest rooms; there are 16 in all. A bench rests in front of the fireplace, antique pieces mingle with the comforts of the present day. Our room is lovely; floral wallpaper, dark wood, hand-embroidered pillows and a modern bathroom will suit us nicely. Our host invites us to have a look around the unoccupied rooms, we amble from one to the other, each different and distinct; I’ve always liked canopy beds. We have some time before dinner so we sit on the back porch overlooking the garden.

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I love tradition so for me there’s only 1 place to have dinner in Marshall: Win Schulers. Schulers is a Marshall institution, a family owned business for more than 100 years, the 4th generation now runs the restaurant. One of our favorite menu items is “So much more than a veggie burger”, at this time of the evening it’s only offered on the Pub menu so we head to Winston’s Pub adjacent to the Centennial Room. Dark paneling, low lights, antique photos and paintings give the room a quaint feeling. I enjoy looking at the black and white photos of the Schuler family through the years. We start with the trademark Heritage Cheese Spread and crackers, honestly, I could make a meal out of this, maybe a Schuler Brew (made for Schuler’s by Bell’s) to wash it down. It’s so good. The veggie burger is quinoa, black beans, cilantro, oats, horseradish mayo, guacamole, onion straws, tomato and greens on a homemade bun. The meal alone is worth the trip.

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After dinner we stroll through downtown; it’s a beautiful night, the sky is clear, the moon bright, the stars are twinkling. The streetscape is frozen in time; state historic markers and Michigan milestone plaques dot the landscape. These buildings have been standing here on Michigan Ave since the late 18 and early 1900’s. Businesses are closed for the night, illuminated shop windows let us peek at merchandise inside. Shelves and display cases inside Hodges Jewelers look original to the building, the neon sign for the Rexall drug store is one of our favorites. Off Skate Vintage has some great pieces, I wonder what time they open tomorrow… At the end of the block is the iconic, replica Temple of Love fountain, a gift from Harold C Brooks to the city of Marshall in 1930. It’s even prettier at night. I watch as people pass on their evening walks, stopping at the fountain, enjoying the sight and sound of the water. We make the turn onto Kalamazoo Ave following it down to Dark Horse Brewery, it’s a perfect night for a beer on their patio. People are spread out all over the outdoor space, some are playing games, others are on the deck, we choose a couple of stools at the bar. I sip on my porter, Kris on a stout enjoying a late-summer Michigan night.

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In the morning we come down the stairs to the breakfast room. Tables are set, food is placed on serving tables. Fresh fruit, cereal, Quiche, homemade coffee cake, coffee, tea, juice; it all looks delicious. Waffles are being baked in the kitchen area, Kris will have on of those. After breakfast we pack up our stuff and load the car. We have one more stop to make before we head out of town. Last night at Dark Horse we noticed Dark Horse Commons, a combination coffee roastery, bakery, candy shop and creamery. We’re going to check it out and grab a couple of coffees for the road. Everything is made on site, they even roast the coffee here. The place smells amazing inside, kind of a mixture of fresh-baked bread, coffee and something sweet . We look at the ice cream flavors: cream soda, buttered popcorn and Double Crooked Tree IPA, very unique. Loaves of sourdough, beer bread and baguette are tempting, the croissants are picture perfect. I’m happy to see cold-brew coffee on the menu, I order 2, pay at the register and we’re off!

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Lansing: Modernism

5 Sep

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Lansing is known as a blue-collar town. In 1897 Ransom E Olds first drove a Oldsmobile down a Lansing street, soon laborers flocked to the city to work in factories. These hard-working men needed a place to go after work, somewhere they could grab a cold Amber Cream Ale; the Lansing Brewing Company was born in 1898. Prohibition closed down the brewery in 1914. Fast forward 100 years later, the city is building Camaros and Cadillacs and the Lansing Brewing Company is once again producing its Amber Cream Ale along with The Angry Mayor IPA, the Official Union Golden Ale  and a list of other craft beers. LBC is the only full-scale production brewery in the city, they also produce Vodka, Gin, Rum and Rye. And they serve food; we’re starving! Located in the Stadium District  it’s surrounded by things to see and do.  

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The spacious interior features community tables, reclaimed wood, an open ceiling and white subway tile. We choose a high-top table right in front of an open roll-up door; Kris checks out the food menu while I study the beer. After a few samples I order the Velvet Villain Ale, a Porter-Imperial/Double style beer, it’s fantastic. Overlooking the large patio we watch as people play lawn games in the afternoon sun. Our server arrives with our lunch. The Couscous Ca Choo salad is a bed of peppery arugula topped with Israeli couscous, dried cranberries, toasted walnuts, queso fresco and tomatoes dressed with an orange balsamic vinaigrette, delicious. Lots of flavors and textures going on. The Hamburguesa De Desayuno is a chorizo burger loaded with queso fresco, bacon, egg, and a maple syrup and smoked pepper hot sauce, the combination just works, its fabulous; the fries are really good too.

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We’re at the Michigan History Center to see the “Minds of Modernism” exhibit. Items include architectural drawings, building models, photographs and commercial products from the Modernist Era. One of our favorite architects, William Kessler is featured along with other notable Michigan architects and designers like Saarinen, Yamasaki, Eames, Knoll, Dow. Kessler came to Michigan to work with Minoru Yamasaki in the early 1950’s, he eventually opened his own firm; as a matter of fact he designed the building we’re standing in. It was challenging to design one building to serve as the Library, Archives and Museum. He used Michigan’s natural resources like copper and white oak, a color palette of greens and blues and a White Pine planted in the center of the courtyard surrounded by a reflecting pool echoing the 4 Great Lakes that touch Michigan. Photographs, blueprints and placards take us through his career. There’s an exhibit of the bank he designed in Mt. Clemens, commonly referred to as the “Flying Nun”, it’s for sale if you’re interested… The Beckwith house in Farmington, an urban housing development in Mt. Clemens, his former residence in Grosse Pointe, he even designed the Timber Shores Travel Trailer Resort near Grand Traverse Bay.

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More than 130 modernist structures were built in Lansing and East Lansing between 1940 and 1970. We look at photos of commercial buildings and residences. Kenneth Black’s Lansing Public Library, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home designs and Alden B Dow’s Washburne House made of styrofoam and sprayed with concrete are all very cool; how about the Airplane House? Furnishings had to be re-styled to fit these new spaces, architects and designers opened their own shops; think of Saarinen’s Tulip Chair, Ray and Charles Eames, George Nelson, Harry Bertoia, Herman Miller. Some of the greatest Modern designers and architects were in Michigan, they won prizes from LA to Paris for their designs. A space is set up as a Mid-Century family room, I like the starburst-design clock, the wallpaper is groovy too. Have a seat on a reproduction chair and watch a full episode of the Jetson’s. Designs were very futuristic, space age, vibrant and fun. Art was part of everyday living, even playground equipment was cool, like Jim Miller-Melberg’s turtle.

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Further on in the museum we check out more Mid-Century in permanent displays like the interior of a home with its pendant lights, stone fireplace, iconic Eames lounge chair and ottoman, pink appliances in the kitchen–sweet. The replica S&H Green Stamp store has lots of modern goodies available for redemption; pastel colored dishes, one of those funky clocks, a badminton set, metal tumblers or a stand mixer. Kris is already admiring the 1957 Auto Show exhibit when I wander in. From the Faygo-orange Corvette and the Plymouth Fury to the spectacular dashboards chrome trimmed and loaded with gauges, the world was certainly a more colorful place back then.

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We leave the museum and head over to Moores River Drive, this is one of the prettiest residential areas in Lansing. We follow a street that leads to Frances Park, we get out to have a look. Dozens of rosebushes are blooming in the Memorial Rose Garden, I walk the rows breathing in the perfumed air from pink, white and red blossoms. Up ahead an arbor resides on a hill, the overlook provides a breathtaking view of the Grand River. This is a popular spot for weddings, it’s easy to see why. Canna Lilies, Caladium, tall grasses and pink annuals crowd rectangular flower beds.

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We drive around finding ourselves in the Riverside Homes Association neighborhood, you will find Lansing’s greatest collection of early 20th Century homes here. Established in 1921, this is where the wealthy built their mansions. The house on the right looks strangely familiar, wait, it’s the Airplane House we saw photos of in the museum. It has a low-pitched roof, wide-eve-overhang, there’s curved plexiglass in the end windows to give the effect of a cockpit; amazing. Mr. and Mrs. Talbert Abrams were both licensed pilots, while flying over the Atlantic they saw the shadow of their airplane on a cloud, that was the inspiration for the design of their house. Completed in 1951 it was built using the best materials and technology of the day. On the next street is the Kenneth and Mary Black house; this home was also featured in the museum exhibit. The structure is long and low, the concrete ornamentation is a combination of solids and voids, I really like it. Back when this neighborhood was platted residential lots were big, these home designs favored horizontal lines to fill the wide spaces, streets are winding; it’s really quite lovely.

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We’ve had a great time in Lansing. I have to admit I didn’t realize the amount of Mid-Century architecture that exists here; it seems each time we visit we discover something new. New shops and restaurants are opening all the time, the downtown area has a lot going on. Can’t wait to see what happens next!

CLARKSTON: Touring..

11 Jul

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We’re in the Village of Clarkston MI for the annual Home Tour benefiting Clarkston SCAMP. You’re probably wondering, what is SCAMP? It’s a five-week, summer day camp that provides daily activities such as music, art, games, crafts, swimming, hiking, fishing, puppet shows and dances for special kids with special needs such as physical disabilities, autism, spectrum disorders, cognitive and emotional impairment. Since 1976 the Clarkston community has provided a unique day camp for kids who otherwise would not have to opportunity to enjoy such recreational activities. The event begins at Depot Park, this is where we purchase tickets; we are given a tour booklet and tote bag complete with those stylish blue booties that fit over your shoes that we are all so fond of…

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We begin in a lush, secluded neighborhood just outside of downtown; mature trees, rolling hills, and unique architecture make this a lovely place to call home. Our first stop is a multi-level home tucked into a hilltop, the current owners purchased the home in 2009 from a Dallas Cowboy football player. The front of the home has a grand stairway flanked by concrete lions that leads to the main entry door.  I can tell you the interior is gorgeous; the fireplace in the great room is amazing. We walk through all of the rooms feeling like we’re in an episode on HGTV. This home has two basement levels both with access to the outdoors;  patios, a stunning pool, waterfall, fantastic landscape and a putting green! The home next door is also on tour, we take the pathway the neighbors put in specifically to get to each others houses. This family bought their quaint, storybook-looking house sight-unseen in 2011. The interior looks like it should be in a magazine. The room that stands out the most (to us) is the boy’s bedroom; custom painted and decorated to look like a stable there are even two horses that share the room! The basement is pretty fabulous too, old barn wood imported from Bois Blanc Island adorns the ceilings, picture frames and other details. They have a custom bar, wine cellar, cigar room. Stone columns, cool light fixtures, cozy seating areas make this one great place to hang out. The yard is pretty sensational too; pretty gardens, a waterfall and a huge brick fireplace. The family is moving back to California, so if you’re in the market for a house, check this one out.

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A distinctly modern, 3-story, wood and stone home rests high on a hill at the end of the street. We climb the (extremely) steep driveway, which, by the way, is heated so they can actually drive up it in the winter, to get to the front doors. You enter on the lower level, one short flight of stairs takes us to the main floor. This house is very different from its neighbors; very contemporary, lots of glass, magnificent views and a pretty snazzy theatre room. There are two decks in the back yard each with its own fire pit. This is the home this Clarkston couple has always dreamed of. Back on Main Street we are touring the Dubeck Home, a large white Colonial-style home with dark green shutters.  This home was originally owned by JR Vilet who sold it to Edwin Jefferson in 1896, it became a duplex in the 1920’s and in the 1980’s it was converted back to a single family home. The current owners have lived here since 2011. There’s a big, open kitchen and dining room, the substantial back porch is perfect for entertaining. The last home on the tour is over on Clarkston Rd, built in 1864 it sits on two acres of land. The current owner has completely rebuilt the house opening up the floor plan, installing new electrical, plumbing, roof–you name it, he’s done it. Today the house is staged to attract potential buyers, Harrison’s of downtown Clarkston did a great job. The rooms are all white and grey with dark floors, appliances are all high-end, I love the white marble counter tops. Anybody looking for a beautifully renovated farm-house?

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It’s time to eat. Clarkston has become a bit of a foodie paradise, Union Joints now has 3 restaurants in town: Clarkston Union Bar and Kitchen, Union Woodshop and their newest venture Honcho, which is where we’re going. Housed in a former gas station and adjoining car dealership, Honcho serves up Latin street food with a twist. The decor is a blend of Southwest meets industrial mingling with mid-century modern, it’s pretty great. We’re sitting in the coffee shop area surrounded by roll-up doors and patio seating. We start out with the Chop salad: romaine, quinoa, black beans, grilled red onions, radish, avocado, tomatoes, sweet corn, carrot and spiced pumpkin seeds tossed in a delightful cilantro-lime vinaigrette, perfect on a hot day like today. The Sweet Potato Enchilada Pie is roasted sweet potatoes, onion and poblano peppers layered between house-made tortillas topped with a cheese blend and salsa verde, very tasty; it comes with a side of Jasmine rice and miso black beans. The menu has a great mix of flavors. Looks like Union Joints has another hit on their hands!

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It’s a beautiful day for a drive in the country. Kris takes curvy scenic roads until we end up on Rose Center Road in Highland Twp. Back in the 1830’s the Doty family ran a farm that spanned about 300 acres here. Sometime around 1970 Susan Briggs Fisher bought the property. Susan has some pretty famous last names, her father was Walter O Briggs, the guy who owned the Detroit Tigers and Briggs Stadium, he made his fortune as the largest automobile body manufacturer in the country back in the day. Susan married into the Fisher family, it does seem like a natural fit right? In 1993 Bob Hoffman purchased the farm from the Fisher family, it is now the largest equestrian facility in Oakland County offering large indoor and outdoor arenas, stabling in multiple barns, large pastures and hunter jumper riding lessons. Most importantly (to us) it is also home to Hoffman Farms Winery and Tasting Room.

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Hoffman Farms winery opened quietly to the public in October of 2016. The large white building with grand portico is surrounded by pastoral farmland, it puts me in the mind of Kentucky. Umbrella’d tables rest on a recently laid patio, the landscaping went in just in time for the June grand opening. The tasting room is attached to the front of the indoor riding arena, a large window allows you to sip your wine or hard cider while watching riders work out their horses. The wine is produced in northern Michigan from Michigan-grown grapes, currently they have 6 varieties; Rose Center Cherry is our favorite. We are sitting at the bar having easy conversation with Bob, his daughter and fellow wine-drinkers. The vibe is always laid-back and friendly. When our glasses are empty we take a leisurely drive on the narrow dirt road that runs through the property; horses are eating freshly delivered hay and grass as the breeze rustles their tails. Goats mill around in their pen, one pair sits up high soaking in the sunshine, black and white cows lazily roam about, one is taking a nap. Hoffman Farms is the perfect place to relax, unwind, de-stress; from the picturesque farm to the wine and hard cider, you’ll be glad you came.

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UP NORTH: Just Beautiful…

13 Jun

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Today we’re in Wine Country driving next to sandy shorelines on roads that slope, meander and snake past vineyards, orchards and turquoise blue water. To get here we didn’t need plane tickets or passports we just pointed the car northwest and drove until we arrived in Traverse City. We cut into a neighborhood that follows the coast line, as soon as we turn onto East Bay Blvd our vacation officially begins; stunning blue water on the right, magnificent homes on the left, I could spend the whole day looking at this view. We continue on East Shore road and are treated the same spectacular scenery. It’s late May and it seems we have Old Mission Peninsula all to ourselves, only one thing to do now, let’s go visit some wineries.

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We make a left on McKinley Rd, Black Star Farms will be our first stop. Vineyards and orchards surround the tasting room and state-of-the-art wine-making and distilling facility. The quaint building of red with white trim overlooks east bay. Inside a round bar constructed of wine barrels takes center stage; here we taste wines, ciders and spirits. I like everything we try but one stands out from the rest, Sirius Maple, an apple wine with maple syrup, it’s really nice, wrap one up please. I walk around the tasting room looking at bottles stored vertically and horizontally, cork screws, stoppers, gift bags and wine glasses, each bearing the Black Star logo. At the register bottles of wine wear ribbons and medals as Michigan wines continue to earn accolades.

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Further up Center Rd an Italian-looking villa sits high on a bluff, this is Mari Vineyards. Owner Marty Lagina chose to grow exotic varieties of grapes that don’t normally grow in Michigan; Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, along with classics like Cabernet-Franc and Merlot. The planting of thousands of vines took place in 1999, it was quite an undertaking, at one point vines were grabbed haphazardly from their soaking tanks and planted, the problem was nobody knew exactly which varieties they planted so the first 7 rows are a random assortment of grapes. 2006 was the first year for the official production of Mari’s flagship wine named Row 7. We step inside the building, wood and stone make up the majority of the decor, Medieval-style chandeliers hang from antique-looking beams. A small group is at the tasting bar, I sidle up alongside them and study the menu. Kris and I share the tastes, this way we can try more without slurring our speech. Kris heads out to the patio, I join him after paying for our bottle. It’s a postcard view; west bay, hillsides, vineyards and wildflowers. Visitors relax in chairs, feet up on ottomans sipping rose’, not a bad way to spend the day.

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Hawthorne Vineyards is one of the most secluded wineries on Old Mission Peninsula, the tasting room is surrounded by woods and vineyards with a picturesque view of west bay. The owners purchased this 80 acre farm filled with grapevines, cherry and plum trees; they planted additional vinifera on 26 acres. This boutique vineyard features small production wines from their estate fruit. The private driveway weaves its way to the stone and blue-sided tasting room. Inside the quaint space pale green walls meet up with a white ceiling, large windows reveal rolling hills and barns. We try wines made from Lemberger, Merlot, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Cab Franc grapes and fruits. The Cherry Splendor was our favorite, made from Balaton and Montmorency cherries it is the perfect balance of tart and sweet.

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After all that tasting I’m thinking it’s time to eat. We cut over to Peninsula Drive and enjoy the drive along west bay until we reach the old Bower’s Harbor Inn and Jolly Pumpkin. Just inside the entrance a variety of Jolly Pumpkin swag is for sale, I like the t-shirts. We are routed to a table on the far side of the dining room passing a multitude of beer mugs hanging from the ceiling, glass grapes and an eclectic mix of light fixtures. We get right down to business and order some lunch, fortunately the place is kind of quiet this late in the afternoon so our food comes out quickly. The Rocket Arugula Salad is a tasty mix of arugula, apples, spiced walnuts, mango ginger Stilton cheese, fried parsnips, tossed in a champagne vinaigrette. The BBQ Chicken Pizza features grilled chicken breast, red onion, pickled jalapeno, mozzarella and white cheddar sitting atop a bbq sauce covered crust,  outstanding, all of it. 

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The front property at Bower’s Harbor Inn is Mission Table restaurant and tasting room. The upscale farm to table restaurant serves up local ingredients inside and on a gorgeous waterfront deck; we’re here for a tasting. Inside we make a sharp left to the tasting bar, taking our seats we are given a choice of tasting beer, cider or spirits, you can even mix it up, which we did. A couple of beers, a cider and some bourbon lead to a conversation about the Inn, turns out the place was built in the 1880’s. The building was remodeled in the 1920’s when lumber baron JW Stickney and his wife Genevive bought it. There’s an eerie story attached to the estate. Genevive had health issues so an elevator was installed in the house. At one point Mr Stickney hired a nurse to help care for his wife, the nurse became his mistress. Stickney died of a stroke, leaving the house to his wife but all of his money to the nurse. Genevive became depressed and hung herself from the rafters in the elevator shaft. They say she still haunts this place to this day; lights turn off and on, same with the faucets, mirrors and paintings fall off the walls…Boo! We’re able to have a look around upstairs and downstairs; lots of dark wood, leaded glass and pretty fireplaces.

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We continue our scenic drive north to the end of the peninsula coming back Swaney Rd. We stop at Haserot beach and marvel at the clarity of the water, tourist season hasn’t begun yet so the place is ours. Back to the car, we go south on Smokey Hollow Rd following the water to Bluff Rd; just us on a 2-lane road feeling like we’re in a dream. Vineyards, farms, hops, fruit trees; boats tied up to docks beckoning to go out into the big lake. Low clouds hover on the horizon, enormous, tasteful  homes being built in the sand, islands  in the distance, today it feels like they’re showing off just for us. We drive on, the water pacifies us, we delight in the beauty surrounding us; no billboards, strip malls, gas stations, traffic jams, is this heaven?

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We have time for one more stop, Bonobo Winery  has a different feel to it. It’s  more of a contemporary-rustic style with an elegant flair. Bonobo offers tastings, wine by the glass and small plates curated by Mario Batalli; here you are encouraged to linger, hang out for the afternoon. The winery is owned by Traverse City natives and brothers Todd and Carter Oosterhouse. If the name sounds familiar to you, you may have seen Carter as one of the resident carpenters on HGTV’s Trading Spaces, yes, that guy. The decor actually looks like it could be on HGTV, little sitting areas, lots of unique and vintage items carefully placed throughout the space. Grapes are estate grown and wine is produced on-site. Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling; we’re here for the wine. I order a glass of the recommended white and join Kris on the deck.  We sip slowly taking in the panoramic view, it really is breathtaking. 

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As hard as it is to drag ourselves away from all of this we still have a drive ahead of us. We’re able to catch the sunset in Charlevoix, gorgeous! Now on to Petoskey…

HAMTRAMCK: Out For The Evening..

26 Apr

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We’re in Hamtramck for a night on the town. First order of business, dinner. Sushi may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of eating in this ethnically diverse city but thanks to Fat Salmon Sushi it’s one more option to the wide variety of cuisines available. Fat Salmon has taken over the Joseph Campau space most recently occupied by Rock City Eatery and Maria’s Comida before that. Fresh paint, new furniture and a flat screen TV that continuously shows K-Pop music videos add a unique charm to the space.

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Servers are friendly, we are greeted immediately, seated and offered water and menus. The tables are full, there’s a steady stream of carry-out orders, still our food arrives in a timely manner. We start with vegetable gyoza, very tasty, followed by an excellent sweet potato roll. The Bibimbap arrives sizzling in its hot stone bowl, flavorful toppings sitting atop a bed of rice, a sunny-side-up egg the centerpiece. I gently mix it all together being sure to scrape the crunchy rice bits from the bottom of the bowl. I scoop the mixture onto plates, we each add desired amounts of deliciously spicy chili pepper paste–this is so good! We’re already looking forward to our next visit.

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Over on Caniff, Planet Ant Hall is celebrating its grand opening with The Detroit Musical. There’s about a half hour before showtime, Ghost Light Bar, Ant Hall’s adjoining bar is open, let’s grab a pre-show cocktail. The former Indian restaurant has been transformed into a dimly lit, funky space serving cocktails and food. The lengthy bar can easily accommodate a dozen or more patrons, liquor bottles rest on lighted shelves, the bartender is busy making an Old Fashioned for Kris. A few minutes before showtime we walk through the interior door over to the theater space. This new venue will allow for additional improv comedy, theatrical productions needing more space than the intimate theater across the street, live music and movie nights.

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For tonight’s performance of The Detroit Musical roomy chairs are arranged into rows and aisles, lights are low, scenery consists of a couple of flats; one is Detroit 1701 the other Detroit 2017.The show opens with cast members paddling their canoe down the Detroit River circa 1701, we meet Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Native Indians and The British. The talented cast of 5 sing and dance their way through Detroit history; from the days of fur trading to Marvin Gaye, the exodus to the suburbs and the arrival of hipsters. The timeline moves swiftly, songs are hilarious and clever, it’s so Detroit! Audience members laugh out loud, nudge one another and nod in agreement; they’re telling our story–and what a story it is!

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The night is young, we’re in the mood for a cocktail, I bet we can find a bar somewhere in Hamtramck… We drive around the city a little, over on Yemans St Polka Dot Bar is open, let’s check it out. Some of you may know the place from when it was Atlas, it’s come a long way from its days as a dive bar. A fire on the second floor made renovating a must. Burgundy walls, the original bar and tin ceiling make up the quaint interior, colored lights and stars strung from the ceiling are charming. Round tables wear checkered cloths, a pair of flat screen TV’s flank the bar. Kris orders drinks at the bar and brings them back to the table. We spot a familiar face, Carolyn owns the bar and also runs Polish Village Cafe. The bar is only open on weekends; tonight the crowd is chill, the pool table sits unused. This is a great spot to come when you just want to have a drink and relax, I’m glad we did!

 

 

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!