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DETROIT: Downtown Living

9 Nov

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Location, location, location… Today we’re exploring the latest and greatest residential developments in Detroit on the Hour Detroit & Detroit Home’s Downtown Living Tour. The introduction in my tour booklet goes like this: “With more than 3,000 newly constructed and historically renovated units currently online and thousands more in development, downtown Detroit offers lifestyle options for everyone.” The residential boom in the city is mind-boggling; buildings shuttered for decades have become vibrant living spaces, new structures have sprung up from vacant lots, all in a short time span. Curiosity has lured us to today’s tour, let’s have a look.

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Advance Plumbing and Heating Supply Co. is the check-in spot; established in 1920 they are the oldest plumbing distributor in the city. The 5,000 sq. ft. showroom is stuffed with lighting and plumbing fixtures; it’s dazzling. The building itself was constructed in 1918, the facade has been restored, windows re-installed, inside some of the original terazzo floors remain. Merchandise displays are visually stunning; from sinks, faucets and tubs to lighting, vanity’s and mirrors, they have every style and color you can imagine. You can see and experience products through functional showers, tubs, toilets. faucets, steam units and lighting, how cool is that? Swag bag in hand, I grab Kris and I each a water and a cookie as we head out the door.

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The Assembly on W Fort St.  is an attractive, four-story, Neo Classical industrial building  we have admired for years. Made of reinforced concrete and dark reddish-brown brick, the 160,000 sq. ft. warehouse building was constructed in 1913 for the Edson, Moore Dry Goods company after they outgrew their former space. I think it’s interesting to note the development company hired by Edson Moore to construct the building was owned by John and Horace Dodge who in turn hired Smith, Hinchman and Grylls to design it and contracted Bryant and Detwiler Company to construct it. Edson and Moore continued to grow and evolve, they moved out in 1958. The building was sold twice more then Bedrock Real Estate purchased it in 2016 and turned it into what we see here today; a beautiful, active, useful building. We wander through attractive communal spaces offering cozy seating areas, ride the elevator and wander down long hallways making our way to several loft apartments; it’s a nice blend of historic architecture with modern comfort and style. Apartments have high ceilings, warehouse-style windows, quartz kitchen counter tops and hardwood floors. The best part is the outdoor terrace offered in some units. If you’re not lucky (or wealthy) enough to have your own private terrace, don’t worry, the top floor Residents Lounge has one large enough to share. Several seating areas, flower boxes, gas grills, fire pits, a spectacular view of the city and the West Riverfront can all be yours for a monthly rent check.

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I’m extremely excited to see the next venue. Over in Capitol Park the Art Deco Stott building soars 38-stories high into the Detroit skyline. The iconic skyscraper opened in June of 1929. The first 3 stories are faced with marble, granite and limestone, from there the slender structure is constructed of a warm-toned reddish-orange brick accented with terracotta; I love the way it tiers to the summit; architectural sculpture was done by Corrado Parducci. The Stott Realty Company built it in honor of its founder David E Stott. Due to the depression it was the last skyscraper built in Detroit until the mid 1950’s. You may remember the building as housing the Sky Bar back around 2011-12. It was then sold at auction in 2013 for 9 million. Unfortunately the owners didn’t bother heating it through winter; pipes burst, water flooded the building destroying everything in its path. Luckily Bedrock purchased it in 2015, pumped out 1.8 million gallons of water and completely restored the Stott to its former glory; it’s now a mixed-use tower. The lobby is stunning; ornate tiles, woodwork and lighting were saved and restored, plaster walls were repaired or replaced. Look at that gorgeous ceiling, the gloss of the marble, the brass surrounding the reception window, the letter box…

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We are directed to the elevators, back when the building was new these were some of the speediest elevators in the United States! Apartments range from 418 sq. ft. studios to 3-bedroom, penthouse-level suites with about 2,600 sq. ft. Guess which one they’re showing today. You’re right, we’re in a penthouse. Except for built-ins and appliances the space is empty, I mean why bother with furniture when you have a panoramic view of the city? Let’s all gaze out the window…

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This time we’re at the corner of Bagley and Clifford in what was formerly known as the historic Rockwell-Standard building (1965), previously the Detroit City Gas Company HQ (1918), now going by the name Philip Houze. The lobby is what I would call Modern-Industrial; funky light fixtures, bright colors and a fabulous wall treatment behind the reception desk. The building is pet-friendly and offers studio, one and two-bedroom apartments all with open floor plans. A sign at the desk tells us which units are being shown. Apartments have high open ceilings, hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances and are simply furnished.

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We’re off to Brush Park to see 104 Edmund Place to check out 9 condominiums in what was Lucien Moore’s Victorian mansion circa 1855. The exterior is lovely; orange brick, gold and burgundy painted accents and an elegant wood entryway. Each unit has a unique floor plan, 12-foot ceilings, exposed brick, double-pane windows and open kitchens. We walk through all of the units in the main house, the largest takes up the entire third floor. Styles and colors vary from one to the next, I like the condos with the great architectural angles, it reminds me that I’m in an old house. There are 3 additional units out back in the carriage house. From here it’s an easy walk to the QLINE, Little Caesars Arena, restaurants and coffee shops. It’s nice to see the old mansions in Brush Park brought back to life.

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The final building we’ll visit is Jeffersonian Houze at 9000 E Jefferson. If you travel Jefferson through Detroit you’ll recognize the Mid-Century Rivertown building immediately. Built in 1965 in the International style, 30 stories high and constructed of glass and steel, every unit has a private balcony with views of the city skyline and the turquoise Detroit River. Having recently undergone a multi-million dollar renovation I’m curious to see what they’ve done. The lobby is still very Mid-century; large open spaces, rectangular marble columns, modern light fixtures, terazzo floor, surrounded by glass walls. The building is constructed on a slope, the Jefferson Ave entrance is 17 feet higher than the back entrance along the river. There are 410 one, two and three-bedroom units, we are seeing two of them today. Whether from the floor-to-ceiling windows or the balcony, here’s no denying the view is spectacular. From here we can gaze out into the river, Harbortown Marina and the Olympic-size swimming pool. These are both renovated units, we were hoping to get a peek at one of the classic Mid-Century units, none-the-less these are lovely. From here residents can bike or walk along the River Walk. play tennis or just hang out in the 6 acres of waterfront landscaping.

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How about a cocktail? Sounds good to me. The Monarch Club is the penthouse level of The Metropolitan Building and includes a rooftop bar. Got your attention with that didn’t I? The Neo-Gothic Metropolitan, also known back in the day as the Jewelers Building was built in 1925, designed by Weston and Ellington. It is so beautiful. From the Great Hall on ground level to the luxurious deep blue, red and gold of the bar to the elegance of the Tower Keep, it’s a spectacular place to have a cocktail. Outdoors the sweeping views of downtown Detroit are breathtaking. It’s hard to decide where to sit; if it’s a little chilly cozy up to a fire pit, love architecture, sit near the parapet, I guarantee you there’s not a bad seat to be had. I can’t think of a better way to end a day of exploring some of the best architecture in the city, can you?

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Wheeling Around Lansing

31 Aug

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Curiosity has lured us back to REO (pronounced Rio not R-E-O) Town, Lansing’s oldest settlement, on this hot summer day. Like many districts in Midwest cities this part of Lansing had fallen on hard times. Independent businesses have breathed new life into the area where Ransom E Olds began producing automobiles in 1905. Beginning with the fancy curved-dash models, production continued with utility vehicles and finally semi-hauling big rig trucks into 1975. Today the landscape is one of small shops, sidewalk cafes, flower pots, murals and parallel parking.

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REO Town Marketplace has been open nearly 2 years, filled with all female-owned businesses, it’s a great place to wander into and have a look around; let’s do that. Original terrazzo floors lead the way to several vintage shops; Vintage Junkies has a little bit of furniture, home decor items, candles, glassware. Thrift Witch carries oddities, handbags, clothing, jewelry and art from mostly local artists. If you like spiders, you can pick up plenty of spider-inspired items. She has an outstanding collection of Care Bears too! Community Finery has the largest footprint offering retro and vintage clothing and accessories from the 1920’s to modern day. She carries sizes from 0-4x, very unusual and greatly appreciated. The owner is also a seamstress so she’s able to rescue and repair clothing that might otherwise be thrown away. She has a wide selection, you could purchase a party dress and a Halloween costume all in one trip.

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HomeMade Capital City shares the adjacent space selling industrial cabinets, unique rolling coffee tables made of pallets and creative shelving. Places like this give me great ideas for things to do in my own home. The Record Lounge is Mid-Michigan’s only all-vinyl store; they buy, sell and trade. It’s a really great space with a listening lounge, vintage stereo equipment and a ton of new and used vinyl; I love looking at the cool art work on the album covers. They even have an album from the 1958 dealer announcement show called “This Is Olds mobility” starring Bill Hayes, Florence Henderson and the original Broadway cast; I don’t think it won any Grammy’s…

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We dash across Washington Ave to Blue Owl Coffee Co. They were closed last time we were in town so we’re anxious to drop in today. The community-based coffee shop uses essential oils for flavoring instead of syrups. The interior feels light and airy with big front windows, open ceiling and exposed brick. Sitting at the counter we talk with Heather who transplanted herself here from West Africa about a year ago. We ask her advice on the many selections of Nitro and Cold Brew coffees. Goodies come from Sweetie-licious in nearby DeWitt, it’s hard to choose so we give the white-chocolate-chip orange scone a whirl. Both the coffees and the scone are excellent, as is the conversation. I love when we can connect with people in such a casual and comfortable environment. One of the baristas suggested we check out the gardens up Washington Ave so we’re off.

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We pause outside to take in the super-cool REO Town mural, I like the phrase “this is not your father’s Oldsmobile” worked into the scene. Walking further up the street we cross the river coming to the Water and Light Central Substation. A narrow sidewalk follows the river alongside the building, we come to an open space, plants are clustered into a living garden wall; up ahead on the left is Scott Park and the sunken garden.  In 1907, on the corner of what is now S. Washington Ave and Malcom X streets stood the former residence of Michigan Supreme Court Justice Edward Cahill. Richard H Scott, former president of REO Motor Car Company purchased the residence and adjacent property. He razed the home then in 1934 used its foundation to construct the sunken garden to be enjoyed by the residents of Lansing. In 2018 as part of the construction of the Lansing Board of Water and Light’s Central Substation the garden had to be moved to the west. It was disassembled and reassembled brick by brick, 99% of the plants were kept and have been replanted in the new garden. Original plants include Blanket Flower, English Lavender, Bachelor Button, Sedum and Fern-Leaf Peony. The plants are struggling a little in the heat, I expect they will thrive as soon as it cools down.

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Cooley Gardens were planted in 1938 when Eugene F Cooley gave the land to the City of Lansing for a park. The family home was demolished, a pavilion now stands on that part of the site. The design of the garden was based on the English concept of a series of outdoor rooms, it was completed in 1942. The gardens were rescued decades later from serious neglect, this is now a popular space for outdoor weddings, gatherings and formal photographs. We walk through the lower garden, past the old carriage house now used for storage. Peonies have finished blooming and are gearing up for next year. Mature plantings of Shasta Daisies, daylilies and roses are keeping the butterflies and bees busy, a sweet fragrance lingers in the air, barberry bushes are really colorful. The pavilion is lovely, I can imagine a wedding ceremony taking place. Stone pathways lead us through sun and shade. Off in the distance is an automotive plant with a big picture of a Cadillac CTS and the caption “Built Right Here”. If you want to buy local this might be the car for you.

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Our next stop is the R E Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing. I have a special connection to the museum in that they have my dad’s triple red 1979 Delta 88 Royale in their collection. Visiting the museum is like taking a tour through history. Displays begin with a young Ransom Olds and the P.F. Olds and Son company in Lansing in 1880. Things have been moved around and re-arranged since our last visit, I like when museums do that. The first section is the personal side of Ransom, black and white photos of the family and home, personal items and furniture. Throughout the museum you’ll find a wonderful collection of photos, signs, advertisements, name plates, hood ornaments, and of course automobiles.

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Most antique automobile enthusiasts are familiar with the curved-dash Oldsmobile, it was his signature and what made him different from the hundreds of other auto makers at the time. Did you know the original Lansing-made mower was designed and built by R E Olds? The man did everything (well, almost…) He patented his design for his Ideal Engine Co in 1916, he made stationary engines. Later, REO Motors got into the lawnmower business, his lawnmower engine was easily recognized by the unique slant head cylinder; his mower was driven from the cam shaft not the crank shaft. They look very stylish too! At the peak REO was the largest builder of power lawnmowers in the world. The unique REO engine was also used to power snowblowers and the one-of-a-kind Trollabout, a complete kit to convert your rowboat to an inboard-powered craft. In 1954 the mower operation was sold to Lansing’s Motor Wheel Corp. Be sure and check out all of the cool wheels on display too. See what you learn when you stop and read all of the signs.

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There are engines all over the place from stationary to experimental, about 70 in all; an engine is covered in the signatures of the people who built it. We look at old dealer signs and promotional items, old time bicycles share space with classic automobiles from 1886-2003. They can’t display all of their vehicles at the same time so they rotate the collection. The 1926 Olds 2-door Roadster is stunning in Turquoise, an old Lansing police car is guarded by a German Shepard police dog. They say the 1937 Olds Model L37 Club Coupe was really the first 98. You could get an L Model (luxury) or an F Model (standard), this was the first time in the modern era that Olds offered two models. How about the Olds Mini Toronado, a one-of-a-kind built for use as a push car.The REO Speed-Wagon takes up a lot of real estate, I like these old trucks.

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There are too many beautiful, amazing cars for me to list, you can look at the photos Kris has taken and get an idea of their superb collection. I like the names of things back then: The Olds Rocket, The Hurst Hairy Olds, trim pieces and hood ornaments are mini-sculptures, available colors span the rainbow. Look at the awesome vintage “Sun” Motor Tester, traffic lights are huge when you see them up close. I like the exhibit filled with awards for Years of Service or Retirement, they’re all automotive-themed; a mini crankshaft, engine block, rods, neat. Near the exit is a poster featuring all of the vehicles made in Lansing: Camaro, Cadillac CTS, Cadillac ATS, Buick Enclave and the Chevy Traverse; something to keep in mind next time you’re shopping for a new car.

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At last we arrive at Zoobies Old Town Tavern at the east end of Old Town, we have admired the mid-century sign outside for years. Though the current owners bought the building in 2012 it has been called Zoobies since 1973. They came in and renovated, respecting the history of the place and leaving the original 80-year-old bar. It’s a mix of styles that work well together, I’m especially fond of the Sputnik light fixtures. We focus on the Pizza Pie side of the menu settling on “The #9 in the world”, which turned out to be an excellent choice. Boursin cheese, red sauce, tasso ham, andouille sausage, roasted red peppers, mozzarella cheese and cajun dust, delicious! They have 14 beers on tap and are known for their unique wine selection, truffle-oil popcorn… and their pizza. Next time you’re in town for a Spartan Game or to visit your kids at school be sure and get out and explore all that Lansing has to offer.

Detroit: Just A Taste

31 Jan

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Detroit has always been a city of makers; today’s subject is booze. Alcohol was big business in Detroit; in 1850 Stroh’s produced an annual capacity of 500,000 barrels of beer.  The largest distiller was Hiram Walker, (yes he was an American and a Detroiter) he started out as a grocer distilling cider vinegar in 1830, he moved on to whiskey 1854. During prohibition Detroit became a bootleggers paradise, the Detroit River is less than a mile across in some places making Canada a short trip by boat, sled or automobile. It’s estimated that the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River carried 75% of the liquor supplied to the US during Prohibition. Bootlegging, smuggling, rum-running, whatever you want to call it, was Detroit’s second largest industry in 1929. 

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Two James Spirits has the unique distinction of being the first licensed distillery to open in Michigan since Prohibition. Today we’re doing a tour, grab yourself a drink and c’mon along. Founders David Landrum and Peter Bailey opened the distillery and tasting room in 2013. The name comes from the coincidence that both of their fathers are named James. The building is an oldie, a Dodge/Chrysler dealer in the ’20’s, an auto repair facility & cab company later in life. We have about 30 minutes to kill before the tour  starts, just long enough to enjoy a Nutty Irishman. Andreas places the cocktail on the bar, a layer of half and half floats above the dark brown spirits, I combine the layers, stirring gently with my straw; I love the way it looks as the cream swirls in the glass. Kris and I chat as we watch lemons and limes being sliced, egg whites dropped into shakers and cherries being skewered; all for your drinking pleasure.

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Our glass is empty, time for the tour. We cross from the tasting room to the distillery, the temperature drops noticeably. My attention immediately goes to the 500 gallon custom-made copper pot still,  it’s a real showstopper. We’re surrounded by heavy-duty shelving stacked with American Oak barrels, stacks of cardboard cases on pallets, tanks, hoses and pipes.  Up first, 28 Island Vodka. The name references the 28 islands in the Detroit River that served as a safe-haven for Detroit’s clandestine distillers during Prohibition. The Barrel Reserve Old Cockney Gin lets the gin rest in new American Oak for a minimum of 6 months before being bottled.  How about a little rum? Doctor Bird Jamaica Rum  is actually made in the Caribbean then blended and aged in a special moscatel barrique in Detroit.

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Whiskey anyone? Try Grass Widow Bourbon, Rye Dog, Catcher’s Rye or Johnny Smoking Gun. The newest spirit in the arsenal is J Riddle Peated Bourbon. Look at the label for a minute, see that cute little ‘red fox’? Hhmm, J Riddle, could that be James Riddle Hoffa who disappeared from the Machus Red Fox in Bloomfield Hills? I’m not tellin’. The Nain Rouge Absinthe Verte starts with the traditional 19th Century French recipe and then gets Two-Jamesd. It has great depth of flavor and a pretty green color, I’m a fan of licorice so I really like it. We scope out the production area learning about the distilling process, different grains used and the bottling process. Up a few stairs we have an up-close view of the mash tub, the yellow-ish goop inside bubbles and pops, we even get to taste it. Pipes lead to fermentation tanks, finishing tanks and the gravity bottling machine; It’s all very technical. 

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In 1993 Joe Mifsud purchased the building that now houses Two James and his recently opened restaurant Cork and Gabel. We’ve admired this building for years and are really excited to finally go inside. Joe has a deep affection for these old Detroit buildings, he likes to re-use what’s there in addition to adding other Detroit found objects–like the giant oil drum used for the entryway to the restaurant. What a super-cool way to enter a building, I like the graffiti. I’d describe the interior as rustic industrial, there are old pulleys and other things left from the building’s automotive days, there’s an old bell, even the light fixtures were rescued from an old structure. Chairs are mis-matched, tables are made of old bowling lanes, can you find the Easy Bake Oven? An eclectic blend of old and new giving the place a modern, cozy feeling.We sit at the bar only to learn the kitchen doesn’t open for another half hour, so we order a cocktail… The menu is a fusion of Italian, German and Irish offerings, everything sounds good. When the time comes ours is the first order to reach the kitchen. We start with the Caprese Salad which can be a no-no in January, the tomatoes are ripe and tasty, nice slices of mozzarella drizzled with balsamic vinegar, set upon pesto; well done and a nice surprise in January. The Schnitzel BLT is huge! A crispy, well seasoned, breaded slice of pork loin sits atop Ma’s rye bread (made in house, it’s fabulous!), slices of crispy thick-cut applewood smoked bacon, bibb lettuce, tomato, the other slice of bread is finished with boursin cheese. Yum!

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Have you ever heard of Brew Detroit? They have a 68,000 sq. ft. facility in Corktown. In addition to brewing their own beer they are a contract brewery, making beer for Stroh’s, Motor City Brewing Works, Bad Ass Beer, Lake Brothers Beer Co and others. Guess what? They do tours too! We pay for the tour and choose our ‘walking beer’, this is the one we get to take on the tour; Kris chooses a stout made with Germack coffee, I’m drinking the East Sea Baltic Porter, it’s delicious. The production area is home to eleven 400-barrel and two 200-barrel fermentation tanks, they’re gigantic. Our guide talks about tanks, vessels, grain, fermentation, temperature-controlled yeast propagation, spectrometer, alcolyzer and all kinds of other things I’ve never heard of while Kris and I just look around and think, WoW! The place is huge, the tanks are enormous, there’s just so much BEER! We have journeyed from the brewhouse to the canning and bottling line or as they say, from “hops to glass”.

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The tour ends in the merchandise area where we are given souvenir Brew Detroit pint glasses and wooden tokens good for a beer in the tasting room. Taking a seat at the rectangular bar we enjoy a beer while checking out the selection of 30 rotating draft taps of beer, wine, cider and meads. There are pinball and air hockey machines, arcade games, shuffleboard, darts, billiards and foosball spread out over two floors. This place is definitely worth seeking out for a beer, tour or just to hang out with friends.

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It’s dark and it’s cold but we can’t leave Corktown until we check out Winterfest at Michigan Central Station. Ford has put together a celebration of the to-be-restored 1913 train station that includes a 3D light show, fire pits to keep warm and roast marshmallows for S’mores, food trucks and an exhibition of “found” objects from the building. We park on the street and make the trek to the building, a crowd of parka-wearing, scarf and mitten laden pedestrians have gathered around heaters and fire pits to watch colorful images flashed upon the 18-story building. Magically the building comes to life, the past and future splashed across the surface, a train thunders by. It’s graffiti covered, draped in newspaper then covered in blocks of colors, windows appear to light up, a hand draws the Ford logo; it’s a constantly changing canvas of amazement. As much as I’d like to stay, my face is frozen and I can’t feel my toes; it’s been fun.

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Port Huron: Hangin’ on to Christmas..

12 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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