Tag Archives: campus martius

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: Summertime Fun

4 Aug

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Since June and running through September 2, Detroit has been entertaining locals and visitors alike with fun activities: Beach Parties, live musical performances, movie night, volleyball, fitness classes and food truck gatherings  with Summer In The Parks. Every day brings new offerings to Campus Martius/Cadillac Square, Capitol Park, Grand Circus Park and Paradise Valley—and it’s all FREE! This evening we are headed to Campus Martius to see one of Nick Cave’s Dance Labs. Best known for his “sound suits” Nick Cave earned his MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, his show Here Hear will be at Cranbrook until October 11, 2015. Cave has spent the summer in Detroit working with local dance companies and musicians; tonight’s performance pairs Hardcore Detroit with Odu Afrobeat Orchestra. 

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We park about a block away from Campus Martius, this is Detroit’s point of origin, all major avenues radiate out from this point; I guess you could say it’s the heart of the city. The 2.5 acre public square is buzzing with excitement; green folding chairs set up in rows on the lush lawn hold anxious spectators, the beach bar is serving up cocktails in clear plastic cups for the occasion, funky plastic chairs host barefoot individuals in the warm, soft sand. The Compuware building looms tall behind the stage, a large screen at the back of the stage assures even those farthest away can enjoy the show. Performers take their place and the music begins. Dancers dressed in Cave designed sound suits move to the beat of the music, these vibrant-colored fabric sculptures twirl, rise and fall in rhythm. Lengthy fur flows with the music creating its own choreography. Six dancers move in unison, then take turns solo; one individual wears gloves and a mask in white, duplicating signature Michael Jackson moves. Two young children are brought on stage to join in, the audience shows their approval with loud applause.

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The production comes to an end, folks mingle, a reggae band starts to play at the opposite side of the park; the soldiers and sailors monument looks on with approval. Water sprays from the big fountain throwing mist into the air, refreshing the lucky ones it reaches. Across the street in the Sports Zone a volleyball game is in progress on the sandy court, four basketball half-courts are filled with guys going one on one, shooting free throws and showing off their skills; nearby benches offer pedestrians respite and court-side seating. The Bagley Memorial Fountain sits silently in Cadillac Park, carved in granite by Henry Hobson Richardson back in 1887 as a drinking fountain, it originally sat at the corner of Woodward and Fort, it has been on this spot since 2007–I’d love to see water flow from the lions mouth once again. Gardens line both sides of the park; Hydrangea, Purple Coneflower and neatly maintained shrubs create a pretty landscape.

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Greektown At Sundown is the latest activity to join Detroit’s summer line up. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from now until September 6, Monroe Street in Greektown will be closed to vehicle traffic from 5 pm until 2 am between Beaubien and St Antoine. Musicians, street performers and artists will replace cars on this pedestrian friendly block. Eight restaurants now offer outdoor seating on newly constructed patios, Ikea provided the furniture and umbrellas, Shinola has installed bike racks. We arrive at twilight to a scene of bustling foot traffic, the hum of conversation, and laughter; strings of clear lights criss cross Monroe, the glow grows as darkness sets in. Food is on our mind and Santorini Estiatorio is where we are having dinner.

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The restaurant’s patio is full of diners, the roll-up doors are open to the sidewalk, tonight we will dine al fresco. Waiters work at an accelerated pace on this busy Friday night. We place our order and sip on chilled Reisling as we watch folks eating ice cream and carrying white bakery bags pass by; we are surrounded by the sound of Greek speaking patrons, very cool. Long, white rectangular plates of food are set on our table, squares of Spanakotiropeta (spinach pie), Moussaka (layers of eggplant, potato and beef in a bechemal sauce) and Pastitsio (macaroni, spiced ground meat, parmesan and bechamel) and a couple of Dolmathakia (stuffed grape leaves in lemon sauce) make our mouths water. Without hesitation we dig in, the food is wonderfully fresh and delicious, it disappears quickly.

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Out on the street darkness surrounds us, signs and city lights shine bright; we gather with others to watch a street performer breathe fire then twirl batons of fire. Policemen on horses patrol the street, there’s a line to pet the beautiful animals. We stop in at Krema for something sweet. The modern space serves up Greek pastries, Gelato and Coffee, what else could you want? Their signature pastry is Bougatsa, a breakfast pastry made with phyllo and semolina cream, they also make a Kremnut—kind of a combo of a croissant and a doughnut, filled with tasty things like custard, nutella, key lime and strawberry. One custard for me please, Kris cannot resist the Nutella Gelato. We eat our dessert sitting at a table watching the line ebb and flow, gelato seems to be the most popular item tonight. I have to say my Kremnut is really good, the dough tender with lots of tiny air pockets, the custard filling is just the right amount of sweet, the gelato is equally as good.

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It has been a long time since we have seen Greektown looking so vibrant and attractive. Restaurants have opened balconies and rooftops to visitors, Ikea has a wonderful window display and pop-up shops appear here and there along the street. Bicycles with illuminated rims are pedaled through the district, friends group together in street-side chairs, everybody is having a good time. It’s a celebration of summer and you’re all invited!

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DETROIT: Holiday Style

9 Dec

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It’s the holiday season; trees are wrapped in lights, Christmas music fills the airwaves, cities and towns celebrate with events and activities. In Detroit, Campus Martius Park has been transformed into Winter Magic. Each weekend the park is filled with music, entertainment, ice skating, tents to keep you warm, food and cocktails. Shoppers can head over to City Loft in the First National Building where stores from the Somerset Collection will take up residence until December 23.

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It’s a crisp Friday evening, we park the Jeep and fill the meter with quarters. First stop, 1515 Broadway for a warm cup of coffee, as we approach the counter a woman asks us if we’re here for Unsilent Night……well, maybe, what’s that? Turns out we have stumbled into something oddly cool. Here’s how it works: participants record one of four tracks on a cassette, cd or mp3 player, the group gathers together, then walks through the streets of the city, when all four tracks are joined it creates an “ethereal, electronic soundscape”. A crowd has formed inside 1515, I haven’t seen so many boomboxes since the 90’s, anything that amplifies music will do. Coffee’s in hand we wait on the sidewalk as the mass moves outdoors, a few brief instructions and the music begins. We join the promenade through the streets of Detroit (one of 33 cities in the world to participate), at times it sounds like bells or chimes, folks on sidewalks pause to look and listen, as the group nears Campus Martius we branch off in our own direction; that was delightful!

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There it is, Detroit’s Christmas tree, placed prominently atop the fountain; thousands of lights wrap the branches, packages are adorned with big red bows, water flows and sprays below; dozens of cameras at a time record the beautiful image. Surrounding trees join in the festivities with their own lights, buildings are specially lit, rosy-cheeked skaters fill the ice rink, freezing cold hands are warmed by fires blazing in barrels throughout the park. As we amble, a stilt walker dressed up as a snow queen pauses for photos, a street performer practices his fire-eating skills, next thing you know we stumble upon an igloo on Cadillac Square. Inside, the light phases from purple to blue to green then white, 25 designer snowmen are decked out in fashions by Somerset retailers; top hats, beautiful scarves, capes,  I can’t decide which one I like best.

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Well past our dinner time we make our way to the Showcase D’ Holidays tent, ooh, it’s warm in here. Every Friday and Saturday they have live music in this space; Bermuda Mohawk is just finishing up, Dennis Coffey comes on at 8:45. Big snowflakes hang from the ceiling supports, lights glow in green and red, the ping-pong table is vacant at the moment. Food and beverages are on the left, seating on the right, the stage is all the way in the back. Restaurant vendors vary from week to week, today some of our favorites are represented, we get vegetarian chili from Mudgies and a Southwest bowl from Johnny Noodle King, yum! Sitting at a high-top table we notice the crowd increasing steadily, it’s nice to get off your feet and enjoy a little music.

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Outside we wander around a bit, the streets are busy with bundled up pedestrians, horses’ hooves sparkle with glitter as they pull carriages through the the maze of streets—- what a fun way to see the city, the Zamboni is hard at work refreshing the ice at the rink. Stopping in at the Compuware Building, we relax at the sound of water falling in the fountain, it’s quite lovely; Santa packed up at 7 pm, but he’ll be back tomorrow for pictures and wish lists. Outdoors, the line to rent ice skates zigs and zags, all seem in good spirits as they await their turn. At the other end of the rink stands a temporary bar, a table empties just as we enter, immediately we claim it. You couldn’t ask for a better view; tables are set up along clear plastic windows of the tent, the decor is straight from Ikea, the beer from Atwater, there’s also a full bar, too bad it’s only here until the end of the month….. Kris grabs us a couple of drinks at the bar, the space is cozy, tablecloths look like their made from logs, each table is decorated with a candle and centerpiece. It feels as if we’re part of the group out on the ice, expert skaters fly by as the inexperienced grasp the side rail, refusing to let go; someone is always stopping to take a photo. The holiday spirit has arrived in Detroit, come out and get some for yourself!


Afternoon Delight; Campus Martius, Fountain Bistro, Chez Zara

2 Aug

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From time to time everybody should be a tourist in their own town, you’ll be amazed at what you discover. Campus Martius Park opened downtown at the intersection of Woodward and Michigan Ave in 2004, immediately people flocked to it. I just love coming to this space, the fountain is probably the biggest attraction and can be seen from any location in the park. The large square granite basin sits centrally in the park, water gently cascades down the interior walls as jets of water arc from the corners. The interior of the fountain is composed of a smaller elevated granite square where water can shoot as high as 100 feet into the air. Jets of water dance to different patterns, visitors sit along the side or pull up chairs to watch the display, it is a favorite location for photos too. The fountain runs year round and provides a stunning background for the annual Detroit Christmas tree. 

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There are many places to sit and watch the activities of the day; small round metal tables and chairs are available throughout the park area, do you want your umbrella up or down? The Michigan Soldiers and Sailors monument is here too, it was moved to the park and made into a fountain; have a seat on one of the benches carved right into the stone and watch the birds delight in the running water. The western edge of the park is bordered by granite water walls; let the sound of the running water enchant you as you relish the perennial gardens. Immediately east is Cadillac Square park, at the far end is the ornately carved Bagley Memorial Fountain. Bocci anyone? How about Petanque? Similar to Bocci, both are played in Cadillac Square, and are very interesting to watch. Whether you are new to Detroit or not Campus Martius is the perfect gathering spot.

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Fountain Bistro re-opened in July and is a welcome addition to Campus Martius. Everything about it is new; from it’s sleek contemporary interior, outdoor patio and menu, to the recently acquired liquor license. We decided to have lunch there and check the place out. The staff was extremely friendly and welcoming, our waiter informed us that it was Happy Hour (Mon-Fri 2-7pm) and that all appetizers were half-off, domestic beer was $2.50, and wine was $3.00 a glass, yeah! The French-inspired menu has a lot to choose from, and it all sounds good; we narrowed it down to three. The Lamb Sliders, topped with homemade yogurt sauce that has a little kick to it, were delicious. The house salad was huge, for $4.00 we didn’t expect something that large; tossed in house made dressing it was tasty and not over-dressed. Sandwiches come with fries or a small house salad, we ordered the BLTA (applewood-smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado) served on a tender croissant it was entirely flavorful, the fries were good too. For $3.00 I ordered a glass of the house Cabernet Sauvignon, it was quite nice and a fair portion too. We really enjoyed our experience there and will be sure to come back. Next time you are in the city looking for someplace new to eat, or just have cocktails, stop in!

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Operating out of the historic Kresge Building on Woodward is Chez Zara. This tiny storefront coffee shop serves Lavazza espresso from Italy. Their menu consists of the usual coffee drinks; Cafe au Lait, Mocha, Cappuccino, and Caramel Macchiato, etc. But when you come here you must order the house specialty: Nutella Latte! The current heat wave does not put me in the mood for a hot drink, so when we were deciding what to order Kris asked if they could make the Nutella Latte as a Frappe,” sure”, said the outgoing woman behind the counter. While our drink was being made we had the opportunity to speak with the crew of three and had a nice conversation about all the positives coming out of Detroit these days. When done our frappe was placed on the counter looking all chocolatey and shake like, I couldn’t wait to have a taste so I pushed in the straw and took a sip……sensational!  It was blended perfectly, no big chunks of ice clogging the straw, creamy chocolate taste with a hint of hazlenut, a Nutella lovers dream come true. Seriously, this is probably the best frozen type coffee drink I have ever had. I’d be willing to bet whether you had it hot, on ice, or blended as we did you would love it. 

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NOTE: Chez Zara no longer operates out of this location. You can visit them in their new permanent home in the M@dison Building on Broadway, click on their link above for details!