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Detroit: The Train Station

4 Dec

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Finally…. For years Kris has avoided taking photos of Michigan Central station. It wasn’t that he didn’t love the building, the architecture, the history; he has fond memories of this place. The family vacation to Colorado in ’72, the Freedom Train in ’76, remembering the beautiful castle-like space from his childhood. But it had become the symbol of the death of the city, the ruin porn capitol, an iconic image of Detroit’s decline. Time after time we’d pass by watching the cars with Illinois, Ohio, Ontario license plates snapping photos and selfies out front, propagating the image of Detroit as the graveyard of skyscrapers… Kris, ever the contrarian, was having no part of the cliche’. Today all of that changes, today we’re going inside and for all the right reasons; the station will live again!!

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It’s Friday evening Kris and I have the unique opportunity to see a film inside Michigan Central Station (aka the old train station) in Detroit. Ford, History and the Freep Film Fest are hosting a special screening of Detroit: Comeback City inside the building that inspired the film.  The film explores the rise, fall and epic re-birth through a single building; Michigan Central Station. Detroit, once one of America’s richest city’s is now America’s comeback city. After the film we have about 45 minutes for a self-guided tour. I’ve never set foot in the building, I’m so excited!

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The temperature tonight is below average–it’s downright cold, an email suggests we bring blankets so I do. Standing in front of the building I am awestruck by the sheer size and grandeur; it’s beautiful. I have never been this close before, walking with my head tipped back I have to be mindful of where I’m stepping, Kris competes with other tourists taking photos. We pass through that grand arch, a smile plastered to my face, we sign waivers and are given packages of hand warmers, I only half-pay attention, the building and the exotic lighting are captivating. Rows of folding chairs are set up in front of a large screen, we sit in the back, there’s no escaping the frigid breeze that blows through giant window openings; I’m glad I brought a blanket. As I wait for the film to start I gaze at my surroundings, all of the rubble from years of decay and vandalism have been removed, a net clings to the ceiling in case a random brick comes loose, architectural details are highlighted by cool LED lighting. The film begins. Sit back and enjoy Kris’s photos while I tell you about MCS.

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Michigan Central Station opened in 1913. It was put into service before it was finished; the old train station caught fire, trains were rushed over to the new station where they came and went until 1988. Designed in the Beaux Arts Classical style it was the tallest train station in the world at that time. The main waiting room stretches the length of the building, it was modeled after the public baths of ancient Rome with walls of marble, vaulted ceilings, bronze chandeliers and massive Doric columns. A large hall called an arcade housed a cigar shop, newsstand, pharmacy, barber shop, telephone booths, baths and an info booth. Brick walls and a copper skylight surrounded the concourse, a restaurant was at the far end. Detroit was a thriving city, an industrial powerhouse; this is where it greeted its visitors and new residents.  I’ve looked at a ton of vintage photos; the massive main waiting room, broad coffered arches, the reading room with potted palms, leather chairs and wood-beamed ceiling, white table cloths in the restaurant, light streaming through the grand Palladian window. It made a statement about the city; when you stepped into MCS you knew you were someplace great.

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Soldiers heading off to forts, boot camps, WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam left from these tracks.   At the beginning of WWI more than 200 trains left the station daily, in the 1940’s more than 4,000 passengers a day passed through its doors. Whatever was going on in the city or the world the activity centered around MCS. Think about it, at one time the majority of autombiles came from Detroit, trains delivered them across the country. When the factories needed workers, trains brought a huge influx of men from the south. Presidents, movie stars, industrialists arrived in the Motor City by train. We were the Arsenal of Democracy, the capital of innovation, the Silicone Valley of the early 20th Century; from the Model T to music there was a feeling there wasn’t anything Detroit couldn’t do. And then it changed. Here we are today; after decades of decline the city not only survived bankruptcy, it’s thriving. It’s only fitting that MCS, which has become a major symbol for the city through both good and bad times will be restored to its original glory.  Ford Motor Company plans to move 2,500 employees into the building which will be Ford’s research campus for autonomous vehicle development and deployment. The main floor will be public space with shops and cafes.

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With my blanket wrapped around my shoulders I follow Kris’s lead through the main floor of the building, I feel minuscule in the space. Historic photos explain what we are seeing, for the most part each area is still defined; the arcade with its inset spaces, the ticket windows, the restaurant. Much of the detail remains, surprising considering rain, snow, explorers and vandals have trespassed the building for 3 decades. The roof over the concourse has been removed, yesterdays rain lays in puddles on the floor, the brick walls are intact.  Volunteers are positioned throughout to answer questions, I enjoy listening to people telling their stories about the building; coming to see the Freedom Train, the trips they took or coming to pick up a relative, there are great emotional ties to the building. I stand off to the side to take it all in, just seeing the people here tonight it’s easy to imagine excited travelers arriving and departing. When it was announced that Ford purchased the building an anonymous caller told them where they could find the iconic clock that he had been ‘safekeeping’, there have been more than 2 dozen calls offering the return of a historic fountain, a plaster medallion and light fixtures, no questions asked. It’s a weird thing, somehow we Detroiters feel like the building belongs to all of us.

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We’re having dinner at Rocco’s Italian Deli in the Cass Corridor. The red-brick building has a parking lot on the side, very convenient. The interior is one big open space in white with concrete floors, open ceiling, retro lighting and table or counter seating. A pantry area features dry pasta, canned tomatoes, vinegar, oils and crackers. Refrigerated cases are filled with cured meats, cheeses and olives, the chalkboard menu is filled with delicious sounding sandwiches and salads. We sit at the counter and place our order, I’m having a glass of the house red wine to help warm me up. The chicken noodle soup is set in front of me, there’s nothing like a good bowl of soup! Kris digs into the Chop Chop Salad; cubes of cucumber, tomato, beet, garbanzo’s and carrot tossed in house balsamic, the veggies have a nice crunch, it’s delicious. The Breast Chicken Parm sandwich is a fried chicken cutlet topped with tasty marinara, mozzarella and grated parm on the perfect Italian bread, it’s so good. Easy parking, fast and friendly service and excellent food, a nice addition to the city.

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Willis Show Bar opened on the corner of Willis and Third in 1949. The facade of the building is burgundy and pink with a great curved entrance. It opened in the glitzy show bar era of live entertainment and Jazz, it was a Detroit hot-spot. Same old story; neighborhood declined, bar turned seedy, padlocked in 1978. Investors from California partnered with the Detroit Optimist Society to breathe new life into the old building. Upon our arrival we are greeted by the official doorman, the entryway is a wood-paneled circular space with a terrazzo floor, a big “W” sits in the middle. The waiting area is closed off from the main space by a thick velvet curtain, we pay our $7 cover charge, get handed glasses of champagne and are led into the bar. I love it.

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The only thing left of the original interior was the curved Art Moderne ceiling which has been completely restored, the new bar follows the same curves as the ceiling, the elevated main stage rests snugly behind the bar. One long banquette runs nearly the length of the bar with tables pulled up in front, a second level of booths sit against the back wall; every seat faces the stage. The band starts their set and suddenly it’s 1949 again; the decor, the music, the craft cocktails, the burlesque dancer. Waiters wear matching suits, service is top-notch, no detail has been left out.  Wills Show Bar is reborn.

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When the city of Detroit burned to the ground in 1805 Father Gabriel Richard said: Speramus meliora; resurgent cineribus. We hope for better things, it shall arise from the ashes. It seems that is the story of Detroit, a testament to the resilience of Detroiters. We rise, we fall and we get back up again. 

St Joseph

5 Nov

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From the tip of the Mitten to the cuff, there is no shortage of charming little towns along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Today we’re about 190 miles west of Detroit in the city of St. Joseph.  It’s locale, about 90 miles northeast of Chicago, made it a huge tourist destination complete with miles of sandy beachfront and an amusement park back in the day. This lovely port town sits on a bluff overlooking the lake, a pair of lighthouses flank the St Joseph River; inland some of the country’s finest orchards and vineyards cover the rolling countryside. This is the largest non-citrus fruit-growing region in the nation. Every summer tourists swarm the city; they swim in the cool blue water, shop in unique boutiques, eat ice cream and fudge and watch spectacular sunsets. At this time of year the bulk of tourists have gone home, there are no lines, we share tree-lined streets with locals and parking is easy.

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The first order of business is lunch; we prefer someplace with a scenic view, Schu’s on Pleasant Street is perfect. The restaurant has an old-school, resort town feel; lots of wood, a stone fireplace, an upside down boat dangles from the ceiling, and of course, it has a view of the water. Service is speedy and friendly, before we know it we’re enjoying a delicious burger cooked perfectly medium with a pile of crispy fries. When we’re finished I grab my umbrella out of the Jeep and we take a stroll through town. Rain has begun, we duck into Cafe Tosi to grab a coffee, the caramel bomb looks too good to resist, I meet Kris at the table with our drinks, a sweet treat and two forks. The sunny yellow interior is opposite of the dreary scene out the window. The place is buzzing with activity, everybody seems to know each other, I like that. When I think of St Joseph one of the first things that comes to mind is the elegant Maids Of The Mist Fountain. Cherubs join two female statues nicknamed Constance and Hope sitting beneath the largest of three basins as water cascades into the pool below; I really love these old fountains. Built in 1872 by JW Fiske Ironworks of NYC, the owner of the Whitcomb Hotel purchased it out of Chicago and moved it to Lake Bluff Park in 1892, it has become a city landmark.

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By the time we’re finished the rain has stopped; time to explore. Many of the storefronts look unchanged, flowerpots are filled with colorful blooms, water bowls offer furry friends a little refreshment. In and out of shops we go, Michigan-themed shirts, hats, bags and drinkware are found in Lazy Daisy. There’s a cool consignment shop called Re Imagine filled with do-dads, art and craft supplies, fun gifts, repurposed items, jams and honey. The whimsical cows of the ‘cow parade’ make me smile. A couple of shops offer wine tastings from local vineyards, South Bend Chocolate Company has all kinds of chocolate treats, cakes and cheesecakes. No Michigan tourist town is legit without a Kilwins, I can smell the fudge from the sidewalk; this one is doing a brisk business today. We find the antique shops in town have a nice selection of Mid Century Modern pieces. In addition to furniture and accessories this one has a fantastic collection of cameras tucked snugly into wooden cubbies. The only brand names I recognize are Polaroid and Kodak. They have some great movie cameras too along with vintage advertisements.

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Black Rose Jewelry’s storefront is gorgeous; black vitrolite and unique showcase windows that you only find in a jewelry store. I wonder if this has always been a jewelry store. I imagine many businesses have come and gone through the decades. Perennial Accents is a good example, now a kitchen-goods store filled with gadgets, small appliances, linens, colanders and graters, a brass plaque on the floor tells us this was originally Gillespies Drugstore in 1866. Schaller Gallery housed in an attractive brick building sells fabulous handmade pottery. White walls and simple tables and shelves allow the pottery to get all the attention. Teapots, dishes, mugs are all beautiful, you can eat off of art. Our favorite building is an old bank that houses Wanderlust, an outdoor apparel and gear store. We go inside to see if any of the old architecture remains, we’re delighted to find thick moldings, columns and original ceiling details. The coolest part is the safes, they’re gorgeous! Look at the hinges, gears, decorative patterns everywhere, they use some of them for dressing rooms–makes me want to try something on.

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 In 1891 the Silver Beach Amusement Park opened on the land between the lake and the mouth of the St Joseph River, think Coney Island in NY; rides, concessions, games of chance, bumper cars and a boardwalk; they added a roller coaster in 1904 called Chase Through The Clouds. In 1910 a carousel was brought in; 44 hand-carved, life-like horses; it was hugely popular.The carousel operated continuously until 1971 when the amusement park closed. Today thanks to the dedication and fundraising ability of the Silver Beach Carousel Society a replica carousel has been placed at Silver Beach Center, an entertainment center below the bluff just yards from Lake Michigan’s Silver Beach. We park in the center’s lot, the building is part museum, part activity center. Inside large black and white photos and memorabilia  give us a peek at Silver Beach in its heyday; crowds of people on the beach, a rollercoaster, rides and several buildings including Shadowland Ballroom which opened in 1927; a caption reads “This place was so cool”.  People came by car and train to this amazing summer play land. Next we check out the carousel, in operation since 2010, it was built by Carousel works in Mansfield OH. There are only a few riders this afternoon. We watch as bejeweled horses rise and fall to old-fashioned music, there’s a serpent and a peacock chariot for those who prefer an even ride. Rounding boards around the top depict historical themes of southwest Michigan; computer graphics artists created the boards using a montage of colorized, historic photos. Around the carousel we find vintage cars from rides, penny arcade machines and a gypsy who will tell us our fortune for pocket change.

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We only have 1 day in St Joseph so we’re trying to do as much as possible. This area of Michigan is largely agricultural, grapes are plentiful, which means so is wine. The northern route of the Makers Trail runs through Stevensville, St. Joseph, Benton Harbor, Coloma and Watervliet. Let’s start with Karma Vista Vineyard and Winery. The view of the vineyard and farm from the tasting room is outstanding. Light rain continues to fall across the landscape, it feels good to be inside. I head straight to the counter to do a tasting, Kris looks around a little taking photos out the large windows, you can see the tractor marks in the freshly mowed lawn, vines are dense with leaves and heavy with dark clusters of grapes. With Kris’s help I taste about 6 different wines, I’m impresses with their Cabernet; I like all of them, seriously. I choose a few bottles to take home and we’re off to the next winery.

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Vineyard 2121 is on Red Arrow Highway, it’s pretty popular on this late Friday afternoon. Wooden steps lead us from the gravel parking lot to the red-sided tasting room. There’s live music on the far side, there are 2 open seats at the circular bar. A group of girlfriends have gathered for a bite of food and glasses of wine. I order a glass of white wine and sip on it while checking out the merchandise; they have many varieties of wine along with t-shirts, glasses, all the usual things one finds at a winery. As we drive to the next place we pass rows and rows of grapevines, they are loaded with fruit, part of me just wants to stop and pick a grape and eat it straight from the vine. It’s harvest season, someone told us that on a nice day an enticing grape scent fills the air–like smelling grape juice. Speaking of grape juice, this is where a lot of the grapes are grown for Welch’s Grape juice.

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12 Corners Vineyards is my favorite winery of the day. The cozy interior has a knotty pine ceiling, large wooden beams and a stunning view of the vineyard. It’s a big place; there are a couple of bars for tasting, cafe tables for drinking and rack after rack of Estate and Ice Wine, oh and Big Daddy Hard Cider too. I check out the tasting menu, it’s a long list. People around us are super-friendly and share tips on their favorites. We tried a little of everything; red, white and fruit wines. When we were finished and making our decision on what to purchase they served us each a piece of chocolate from Vineyards Chocolate, wine and chocolate? It doesn’t get better than this! 

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Flint: We’re still here…

15 Aug

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We’re in Flint MI for the Be A Tourist In Your Home Town event.  There’s still a ton of stuff to see and do, we better get moving…

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The Capitol Theatre opened in 1928 as a venue for live Vaudeville performances. It became a movie palace then a rock venue hosting concerts like Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Green Day, it closed in 1996. The building was purchased by Uptown Reinvestment Corp and The Whiting; after a complete $37 million dollar restoration the theatre is once again hosting live music, comedy, film, dance, and it’s on today’s tour. The exterior is definitely unique, they call it Hispano-Italian style, I call it gorgeous! The terracotta form work along the top of the building is exquisite, molds were made from the existing pieces and meticulously replicated, I can’t tell the original from the new. The original ‘Capitol” blade sign and marquee were restored, I bet it looks super-cool at night. Just inside the front doors lies the outer lobby, a geometric maze of plaster painted in gold, burgundy and purple hints at what we’ll find inside. In the lobby the ceiling arches up, rosettes fill coffers, everything is trimmed out in gold. Heavily textured walls are parchment colored, the original light fixture seems small for the space, stairways lead off to the sides. We make a slight detour exiting through a side door into a long hall. Almost everything except the floor has been updated, this section is home to concessions and ticket sales.

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Now we make our entrance into the grand auditorium itself; it’s stunning. At first we’re in an area with a low ceiling, we’re actually under the balcony, the plaster work is spectacular, really chunky and with great depth. Our guide points out an original section of ceiling they left untouched during the restoration, you can see how they matched the original colors and took them up a notch, I love that they left that. Walking deeper into the theatre we have a clear view of it in its entirety, this is what they call an Atmospheric Theatre, this one is made to look like a Roman Piazza, some make-believe village in Italy. I don’t know where to look first so I start at the top. A lovely blue glow illuminates the night sky of the domed ceiling, stars twinkle in the twilight, if you look closely you can pick out constellations. My eyes travel down from there, row after row of ornate molding surrounds the stage, the proscenium arch is richly detailed. Ornate plaster is everywhere, lots of leaves, scrolls, faces. Looking at the sides gives me the feeling of being in a tiny village, lower block walls give way to mock structures with doorways, gates, windows, balconies; no two are the same. The light fixtures and sconces are opulent, all of them original and re-worked for l.e.d. bulbs. 

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The group is invited onto the stage, it has perfect sight lines to get the entire atmospheric effect, wow! Some in our group talk among themselves, I overhear them telling others about how they used to come here in their youth, others are seeing it for the first time. The rigging and lighting systems have all been updated with state-of-the art technology. Because the stage area is small, large productions such as musicals are held at The Whiting. Descending from the stage we make our way across the main floor and up the stairs to the balcony, everybody spreads out, some sit while others are busy taking photos. From here we have a completely different view of things, now it’s like we’re right in the village; I feel like I could walk through the gate or sit on one of the balconies. It took 14 months to complete the restoration, the theatre officially opened in June.

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The street level of the Capitol Theatre building is home to new businesses Shift and Floradora share a space. The boutique sells eclectic items for the home, jewelry, gifts, fun accessories and clothing; I like the funky decor. Floradora is an extension of the shops main space in the Flint Farmer’s Market. Pick up a bouquet of fresh flowers or place a custom order for that special occasion. It’s great to see new retail coming into the downtown area, shops like these really attract foot traffic to the area. Now you can shop, eat and grab a coffee or cocktail in a walkable district.

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Alley Fest is taking place in the Buckham and Brush alley’s between 1st and 2nd streets, all we have to do is follow the sound of the music. Strings of lights zig zag between buildings, artists display their wares under canopy’s, pastel portraits of iconic stars are painted on the wall. The free festival is just getting started so it’s not too crowded yet. We check out clever t-shirts, painted skateboards, large canvases and metal jewelry. A crowd has gathered in front of the band at the far stage. The festival focuses on all things Flint from the bands to the artists. There are lots of things with the image of the water tower, it gives me chills.

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A steel door is propped open, people go in and out, I want to see what’s inside. Near the door a dog lays comfortably in his bed, beyond him a set of shelves hold men’s shoes and boots, we’re inside Sutorial Boot and Shoe Makers. This place is way cool, old industrial sewing machines are put to use creating custom hand-made shoes and boots for clients. Cut-outs of soles and forms lay scattered about, the owner is talking to a group of curious people like us. There’s barely room to walk in the space that serves as showplace and workspace. It’s nice to see things being done the old-fashioned way.

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We’ve covered everything in the downtown area, we’re ready to move on a little further. As we drive over to Grand Traverse Street I read a piece of graffiti on a wall that says “The world is a dangerous place to live. Not because of the evil but because of the people who do nothing about it.” The people of Flint know that all to well. Time to kick back and have a beer. Tenacity Brewing occupies a beautifully renovated brown brick building that used to be a firehouse; food trucks are parked out back, hops grow on the patio. The interior is casual, low-key, comfortable. Unique little gathering spaces are tucked away here and there, clear growlers turned into pendant lights hang above the L-shaped bar. Unable to choose one or two to share we do a flight of six; they also have cold brewed coffee and root beer on tap. We drink hard cider, stout, a smoky porter and ale, a really good variety. The stout is my favorite, Kris’s is the Honey Blu Blu Cider. By the amount of pewter mugs filling the shelves behind the bar I’d say they have a loyal following. Here’s what it says on their website: “The story is quite simple. A few of us who happen to like beer and love Flint got together and decided that our town needs a brewery. So we went to work creating one. Keeping with the resolve and determination of Flint despite its ups and downs, and because we knew opening a brewery would not be easy, we named it Tenacity Brewing.” These are the kind of people who make a difference, they change a city, change perceptions, change minds. I hope you’ll make your way to Flint soon and see all the good things happening for yourself.    

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The Thumb: Be Cool…

21 Jul

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It’s in the mid 90’s… again; we scan the weather forecast, looks like the Lake Huron breeze is going to help us out, low 80’s on the thumb coast. We point the car north and aim for the tip of the thumb, in less than 2 hours we’re looking at the beautiful blue waters of Lake Huron. Kris zig zags his way north and west to Caseville Rd, we make a right on 25, this is where the view gets really good. The lake is gorgeous, a kaleidoscope of blues and greens, cars fill cottage driveways, beach-goers have their arms full carrying towels, coolers and floating devices, I swear I can smell Coppertone in the breeze. We follow the shoreline north and slightly east, public parks and beaches are in high demand today. We catch glimpses of the lake between cottages; many look like they were built in the 1950’s, others are new and stately like something from HGTV. We reach Port Austin, park and walk out to the lake. The town is buzzing with tourists, lines form at restaurants and cafes, we have something else in mind.

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A short drive from downtown Port Austin on Grindstone Rd leads us to The Tap Room At Bird Creek Farms. The 40-acre farm grows alfalfa for local dairy farmers, vegetables, strawberries, raspberries, edible flowers; their largest crop is garlic. The large white farmhouse has an inviting wrap-around porch, pretty planter boxes and colorful hanging pots; all of the activity is out back. The covered deck plays host to a corrugated metal bar, mismatched bar stools and tables; a brief menu lists today’s food offerings, a chalkboard lists beverages. Kris is drinking B Nektar’s Zombie Killer, I’m having Blake’s Flannel Mouth; crisp and cool it’s perfect for a day like today. Before long cardboard serving cartons arrive filled with Sausage Gravy Poutine Fries, traditional BBQ Pulled Pork Tacos and Baja Tacos. Everything is very tasty, they even manage to keep the fries crispy under all that yummy gravy. 

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Continuing our lakeside journey we drive on to Grindstone City. In the mid 1800’s two companies operated out of two quarries producing grindstones; by 1888 the population rose to 1500 people. Unable to survive the Great Depression the companies folded. There are two buildings left in the Historic District, one of them is the 3-story grain mill, the other is Rybak’s Ice Cream Store built in 1884 by Capt. A.G. Peer. Visitors sit on benches placed on the deep front porch when we arrive, each has their hands full eating humongous ice cream cones. The building is charming in that very old-fashioned way; floors creek, black and white photos line the walls, antique lights illuminate the space, posts are quite decorative. There are a variety of items for sale, candies, cards, gifts and notions; I’m here for the ice cream. I study the list of Guernsey flavors and choose the mint chocolate chip, it has some kind of dark chocolate cookie chunks in it too, it’s sooo good! I have to eat it quickly before it all melts.

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White Church Gallery is just across the street, I meet Kris inside. The building is a simple white church with red-trimmed Gothic-style windows. Inside purple paint covers the walls, a mix of old and new light fixtures hang from the ceiling; the way the light is coming in right now everything seems to glow. In the front room a gorgeous Art Nouveau cabinet is used to display the works of Michigan fine artists. We wander around on wide-plank floors looking at photography, lovely jewelry, life-like paintings, stained glass and  attractive wooden bowls.

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We are headed south and east on 25 passing through Historic Huron City. This was a lumber town back in the mid 1800’s, several of the original buildings still remain, they are maintained through the Lyon Phelps Foundation. The buildings are open to tour on Saturdays in July and August from 11 am – 4 pm. The Pointe Aux Barque Lighthouse is next. The original lighthouse was constructed of stone taken from the shores of Lake Huron in 1848,the light keepers house was separate from the tower. This area was complete wilderness back then, winters were rough, storms were wicked. The weather and a fire took their toll on the building, a new structure was built in 1857, this time living quarters were attached to the tower. The light is still in use making it one of the oldest, continuously operating lights on the Great Lakes.

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The house and tower have been completely restored, it’s now a museum open to the public and it’s free. Let’s go in. We walk around in the house where the light keeper lived, rooms are tiny, I like the turquoise stove in the kitchen. Artifacts are on display; models of ships, books, newspaper articles, blueprints of the building and a lens. The sleeping quarters are upstairs, there’s an old wood-burning stove to keep the family warm and a pitcher and bowl for washing up. You had to maximize space so rooms were multi-purpose, beds share the space with a sitting area and desk. Back on ground level we learn more about the history of the lighthouse and the people who lived here. 

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Outside we walk around the grounds, in 1875 a Class A lifesaving station was built south of the house, it was the first lifesaving station on the Great Lakes. In 62 years of service the crews performed over 200 rescues. Walking toward Lake Huron I stop and read the signs telling us about shipwrecks and storms, the Great Storm of 1913 also referred to as the “White Hurricane” is legendary, it was a blizzard with hurricane-force winds. It killed 250 people, destroyed 19 ships and stranded 19 others. Today the lake is calm and beautiful, bluish-green water laps at the rocky shore, trees cling to the coast line, wildflowers grip the sandy soil, the water is clear to the bottom. Kris traverses the rocks, you can see how they’ve broken away from the shoreline. Notice their unusual coloring, almost like they’re rusty, moss covers the ones closest to shore, it’s slippery so he has to be careful. Meanwhile I stand on shore looking out into infinity.

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25 leads us through Port Hope and Harbor Beach, the beaches, lake and piers are shrouded in swimsuit clad visitors. We stop in Lexington to get something cold to drink, to our delight the Cadillac House Inn and Tavern is open. The building has been completely renovated back to its 1859 glory. When it opened July 4, 1860, it was such a big deal they celebrated with a parade and a steamer ship brought guests all the way from Detroit for the occasion. The 3-story Italianate structure has never looked better! We enter the building and are greeted with a blast of cold air, the dining room is busy, guests are in a waiting area to be seated. There are empty bar stools at the bar, perfect. Kris orders a craft cocktail with Gin, blueberries and lemon, I’m having a Kalamazoo Stout. I like the simple interior; antique-looking lights, wide moldings and wood beams. It feels good to sit back, cool off and enjoy a drink. It’s nice to see people embracing the old Cadillac House once again. It’s been a full day of Lake Huron adventures, we’ve enjoyed good food, good booze lake breezes and unbeatable views.

Up North: Bay View Wine Trail

28 Jun

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Today’s excursion takes us to northwest Michigan’s Bay View Wine Trail. We picked up a brochure in town with a list of all of the wineries and an area map, let’s go. Heading east out of Charlevoix we quickly find ourselves looking at beautiful countryside, roads are smooth and absent of traffic. Rudbeckia Farm and Winery is tucked away on 190 acres of farmland and open fields, a small metal building welcomes visitors. You can sit outside, have a glass of wine and something to eat, play Bocce or corn hole, go for a walk, you can even fly a kite. We’re here to do a tasting. Inside we have the pleasure of meeting one of the owners, he tells us the story of how he went from living on the east coast to having his own winery here in northern Michigan; let’s just say it’s a dream come true for he and his wife. We taste wines and continue our chatter, they serve both wine and beer in Riedel Crystal tasting glassware. We enjoy everything we try, decisions made, we make our purchase and it’s on to the next place.  

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Walloon Lake Winery is family owned with 7 acres of grapes on the 36 acre farm; they produce boutique wines made from cold-hardy grapes. I really like this place and always look forward to coming back. The building is unique, made from stacked cordwood, it’s pretty inside and out. Sunlight floods the tasting room, it has an open, airy feel, lots of wood, Michigan-themed artwork, wooden crates hold bottles of wine and Walloon Lake Winery merchandise; their logo, of course, is the shape of Walloon Lake. The resident dog greets us at the door, he checks us out then finds a place on the floor to take a nap. We begin the tasting process, I find I like everything they produce here; before long I realize we’re going to need a box… We go out to the patio to take in the view, it’s absolutely gorgeous; vineyards, rolling hills, valley’s, wooded areas, check out their tractor–sweet! 

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The drive to the next winery rewards us with stunning vistas, changing elevations, farms and plenty of fresh country air; Kris could drive forever up here. Up ahead we see a historic red barn with the American flag painted on the side, this is Resort Pike Cidery And Winery. The petite red building in front of the barn is the tasting room, white lights and flags dangle from the pergola that covers the patio. Their logo is part apple, part grape, love it. The interior is compact, rustic and casual feeling. The back bar is home to 20 taps delivering sparkling wines and ciders, they make root beer too! We have the place to ourselves so we can take our time tasting and talking, that’s one of the perks of coming up north before the tourist season is in full swing. One more bottle to add to our box…

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We traverse inclines and slopes, twists and turns through tranquil surroundings, Mackinaw Trail Winery is next. The building is larger and fancier than the previous wineries, situated on 30 acres, 15 of them are dedicated to growing grapes. Family owned, the winery is best known for its fruit wines. Having been awarded over 50 medals and 6 Best of Class awards it is one of Michigan’s most awarded and recognized wineries. The tasting room is spacious, there are tables and chairs, multiple shelves filled with bottles of wine and a large bar for tastings. At this point we’ve had a lot of wine and we’re starting to get hungry so we get an order of pretzel bites, served with mustard and a cheese sauce for dipping I find myself wishing we got 2 orders. I’m not really fond of fruit wines but I have to admit Michigan wine-makers produce some really excellent varieties. We go down the list choosing and tasting, I like to try and get something different at each winery we visit; we’re bringing home a bottle of their Estate Grown Frontenac Gris.

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Petoskey Farms Vineyard and Winery will be our last stop before lunch. We turn in off of Atkins Rd to find a farmhouse-looking-building in saddle brown with red trim with a breathtaking view of  22 acres of farmland, an 11-acre vineyard and lush green pastures. The 60′ long outdoor patio is empty today, I imagine it’s in high demand on the weekends. The quaint interior is done up in wood, stone and warm colors. One of the owners is behind the bar, we strike up a conversation immediately; turns out they relocated from Rochester MI to Petoskey to take on this amazing adventure. You can’t go wrong with a Michigan Riesling, the 2016 Whitecap is really nice too, but the 2017 First Crush, an Estate Sweet Rose is the one we’ll take home. 

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Walloon Lake Village is just a hop and a skip from here, when we asked for local restaurant recommendations Barrel Back was suggested every time. This is our first visit to Walloon Lake, I’m looking forward to checking it out after we eat. Barrel Back Restaurant sits on the shore of Walloon Lake, the building is shared with a marina; the restaurant is on the upper level, the lower level is Tommy’s, a water-skiing and wake-boarding Pro Shop. The term ‘barrel back’ refers to the boat design of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s wooden boats, think Chris Craft. The restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating, we opt for the patio, looking around I think you have a view of the lake from anywhere you sit. Food is prepared using a number of wood-fired appliances including a pizza oven, grill and a rotisserie smoker. We order off the happy-hour menu and are eating in no time. The black bean nachos are topped with tomato, sweet onion, pepper jack and provolone cheese, salsa and cilantro-lime sour cream, yum! The Asian lettuce wraps are equally delicious, Asian-spiced ground chicken, peppers, cashews, black sesame seeds and romaine lettuce to scoop it into. I’m so glad we found about this restaurant.

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A little Walloon Lake history. The lake itself is glacier formed, they say the water is so clear you can see the bottom 30′ down. The late 1800’s were the heyday of Northern Michigan’s lumber industry, over a 20-year period all of the White Pines were cut down, the industry then moved south to hardwood forests. That left railroads with trains and nothing to transport, hey, how about people? The railroad companies turned northern Michigan into “Vacationland”, they built hotels and resorts creating a destination for city folk to escape the summer heat. They ran publicity campaigns drawing people from Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St Louis, Kansas City and Chicago. They touted crystal clear water, beautiful views, great fishing and boating. In 1891 Walloon Lake Village was accessible by a spur from the main trunk line of the railroad. People came, and they continued to come, year after year, many built their own cottages, visitors became residents. Ernest Hemmingway’s family had a cottage here, he spent his first 22 summers at Windemere on Walloon Lake. He often used the area as a setting in his short stories featuring Nick Adams. The cottage is still owned by the Hemmingway family.

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The village was hit hard by the most recent recession and a number of other ongoing factors. Developer Jonathan L Borisch stepped in and rescued the village where he spent his childhood summers. He and his son have opened retail shops, Barrel Back Restaurant, many businesses and the 32-room Hotel Walloon; let’s go inside. From the street you’d swear this was a historic hotel, the architect did a marvelous job capturing that back-in-time elegance that’s so sorely lacking today. The lobby is a wonderful blend of old-fashioned opulence and modern flair. To the right is a lovely seating area with turquoise-painted wood panels and ceiling, bold fabrics and a red-clad chandelier, I feel like I’m on Mackinac Island. The hotel manager spots us and comes over, we explain that we’re ‘just looking’, we are offered a tour. The hotel is stunning, everything is gorgeous, impeccable, every last detail has been thought of. The hallway to the elevator features wainscoting and tin ceiling. Rooms are spacious, comfortable and inviting, there’s an underlying historical feel in the space. Lots of painted wood, wainscoting and serene water views. Instead of taking the elevator to get back to the main floor we opt for the stairway through the hall of mirrors. We’d love to come back and stay at the hotel.

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Across the street are a few small businesses, the antique and sweet shop are both original cottages from back in the day. We take a look through  Vintage Mercantile, they have an eclectic mix of items from vintage toys to glassware, metal signs to furniture; I like the old wagon out front. Sweet Tooth lives up to its name; candy, ice cream, fudge. There’s an old-fashioned ambiance here; glass jars filled with colorful candies, pretty wooden shelves, antiques here and there; a black and white photo shows the cottage back in the 1940’s. You can even purchase a shovel and pail for playing in the sand. Of course it wouldn’t be vacation without ice cream… We take one more look at Walloon Lake, the sky has become overcast, the sun hidden behind the clouds, the water placid. Northern Michigan is filled with treasures from charming small towns and magnificent lakes to picturesque landscapes and did I mention wine?

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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