Tag Archives: Capitol Park

Detroit: Alive & Noel…

13 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DETROIT: Capitol Park

11 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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