Tag Archives: Christmas in Detroit

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!


DETROIT: Firing up the Christmas Spirit

22 Dec

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It was the first weekend in December, the grass was still green and the temperatures mild, how is one to get into the holiday spirit? How about the 40th annual Noel Night in downtown Detroit? Yep, that’ll do it! We began our quest with a trip to the Masonic Temple, Handmade Detroit was hosting their seventh annual Detroit Urban Craft Fair. We secured a parking spot on Temple and quickly noticed numerous shoppers both coming and going from the entrance. Inside we boarded the elevator and pressed the button for 3M, we stepped off the elevator and walked over to the drill hall; we’re not used to being in this space without seeing the Detroit Derby Girls whipping around and flying through the air, but this edgy holiday craft show fit the space well.

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The room seemed so much larger; gone were the spectator chairs and tape lines marking off the track, the hardwood floor was now covered with row after row of tables, the lights were softer and the aisles were crowded with folks  hunting for holiday gifts. We walked to the far end and began to wander;  jewelry was prevalent, made from birch bark, glass, wrought iron nails and other interesting materials. Christmas trees decorated with hand crafted ornaments could be found on tables along with other home decor pieces, the mood was light and festive. Why is it when I’m shopping for other people I always find things for myself? There were unique objects like skate boards decked out in racing stripes and custom paint, original stuffed animal characters, and funky posters; no shortage of clever tongue in cheek items here…  T-shirts with original phrases and artwork were fun to look at, we saw beautiful hand dyed scarves, homemade jams, chocolates and greeting cards. Up and down the corridors we went, derby championship banners hanging from the ceiling, shoppers arms heavy with packages, so much more fun than shopping at a mall! The Masonic truly is one of the coolest venues in the city.

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The only hope for getting an easy parking spot on Noel Night is to get there early, so we did. With an upfront space outside Cass Cafe we stepped in for our traditional cocktail to kick off Noel Night. With two open seats at the bar we quickly procured them, ordered our drinks and checked over the evenings schedule. The event seems to grow each year, this year boasting over 200 performances in the Midtown district; all of it taking place in only 4 1/2 hours…impossible to do it all! By the time we had finished our drinks the line to get in had extended out the door; word was out, Noel Night is a blast.

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We began at the DIA, both of us being music lovers we decided to concentrate on the musical performances of the evening. Paul King and the Rhythm Society Orchestra were playing in Rivera Court and this year we got a seat! The atmosphere is magical, the music a delightful selection of old standards and Christmas tunes. I think I counted 15 musicians; they played beautifully as Paul King sang the lyrics, a couple of swing dancers entertained the audience from the side. When the set was finished we headed downstairs to the ever charming Kresge Court to hear a violin ensemble. A group of students dressed in black stood upon a stage playing their violins, the room was dimly lit, miniature white lights decorated the room, spectators watched and listened as the skillful musicians filled the air with holiday songs. 

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We proceeded outside and over to the International Institute on Kirby, they were featuring Holidays Around The World with international dance and song. As we arrived a group of elementary school aged girls took the stage; dressed in elegant white dresses they began to dance to traditional holiday music from Mexico. They danced carefree, a joyful smile upon their faces, parents and relatives gleamed in the audience. When they were finished the audience showed their appreciation with loud applause. Time was ticking and there was still so much to see.

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 Outside people were boarding horse-drawn carriages to take a ride through the city. Further up, the Park Shelton stands gracefully on the corner of Kirby and Woodward; the ground floor is now bursting with new businesses and all were open. We passed through Rodin, a new French inspired restaurant and wine bar recently opened by the same woman who owns Good Girls Go To Paris, loved the Eiffel tower in the entry way,I can’t wait to give it a try. A few doors down is Emerald, the place was packed! The furnishings came from the old Hudson’s and Crowley’s department stores from back in the 20’s and 30’s, the chandelier is from an old movie theatre in Wayne, gorgeous. They have a bit of everything from home goods and personal accessories to candy and paper products. You’re going to have to keep up with me now…..

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Across Woodward the St Paul Lutheran Church Bell Choir was playing on the Detroit Historical Museum‘s newly renovated plaza, inside the museum we listened to a few songs by the Deep River Choir; by now we were fully immersed in the spirit of the holiday. Every way we turned there were people out having a good time; some wore Santa hats, one woman was dressed from head to toe as a Christmas tree, she even had working lights. Walking south on Woodward we could hear laughing coming from the patio of The Whitney, so we went to see what it was about. We found an outdoor fire and folks sitting around it roasting marshmallows that would become the filling for smores, these Noel Night people think of everything.

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And so it went, everywhere we turned there was something to see, hear or do; we were in and out of churches, galleries and cultural institutions, and then, we were tired, and hungry. We made our way back to Cass, but instead of getting in the Jeep, we walked further, all the way to the Auburn Building. The Auburn is a brand new apartment building with retail space on the ground floor. New shops Hugh and Nora were a big hit with the crowd. Upstairs apartments were open to tour as was the large open terrace. With the great location and excellent view it’s easy to see why the units are renting out so quickly.

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With tens of thousands of pedestrians on the midtown city streets we thought it best to eat outside the activity zone. We can always count on Sala Thai in the Eastern Market district for a delicious meal. Fortunately there was an open booth when we arrived; we ordered the N-4 with tofu and sushi, it was on the table before we knew it. It felt good to sit down, relax and enjoy our meal. Detroit is on the move, it’s wonderful to watch the transformation back into a vibrant city; it’s even better to watch people discover it themselves.

DETROIT: Noel Night

15 Dec

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Each year Kris and I look forward to Noel Night in Midtown Detroit’s University Cultural Center. It takes place the first Saturday in December, from 5:00-9:30 pm, this year was the 39th annual. Noel Night is one of those things you really have to experience for yourself, for as hard as I try to describe what an amazing event it is, I can’t do it justice.

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We started the evening with cocktails and Dim Sum at Shangri-La on Cass Ave, it was just after 4 and the place was already jumping. Fellow patrons were perusing their Noel Night program to try to decide how to cram in as many activities possible in the allotted time frame, it’s impossible to do everything! We started  by walking a few blocks over to the DIA, in addition to the spectacular collection of art, the museum was hosting all kinds of entertainment and activities. You could decorate Gingerbread cookies, listen to a marching band, do some gift shopping in the Museum Shop, have a photo taken with Santa, watch a dance ensemble or like us have a seat in Rivera Court and listen to Paul King & The Rhythm Society Orchestra. The band is huge, the music classic big band, and the venue, wow! If you’ve never seen a big band perform in person, you don’t know what you’re missing, it’s like going back in time. The full band will play and then individual soloists stand and play their part, always followed by a loud round of applause from the audience, the music takes you over, you can’t help but tap your toe and smile.

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When they finished we scooted out the back entrance, crossed John R to the CCS Student and Alumni Art Sale at the Walter B Ford Building. If you like to shop, and are looking for something unique, this is a great stop. It takes place over 3 floors of the building, it’s always crowded. Prices are fair, the variety of mediums is great, and the students love it when you buy something. Outdoors on the campus were blacksmithing and glass blowing demonstrations, the temperature was quite comfortable, so you could watch without freezing. Next over to the Scarab Club on Farnsworth, I love this building, the brick and stone exterior is gorgeous, the second floor is my favorite; a gorgeous fireplace and large wooden beams make it feel cozy. WSU Press was having a Holiday Book Sale, artist designed wreaths were for sale, you could grab a hot cocoa or have something off the Caucus Club menu. We walked through the open artist studios located on the third floor before making our way back down the stairs and through the exit.

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We breezed into the International Institute on Kirby, they were between performances, so we browsed the Holiday Bazaar and then it was back outdoors. Just a couple of doors down is the Hellenic Museum of Michigan, we had never been, so we took a peek. The House itself is beautiful, the woodwork is dark, the staircase curving and elegant. We enjoyed a glass of punch and a few cookies as we looked at pretty pictures of Greece, then it was time to move on.  The next block over is Ferry Street, here a group of restored Victorian homes makes up The Inn on Ferry Street, Detroit’s premier Bed and Breakfast establishment. We have had the pleasure of staying here, I highly recommend it;  the homes are impeccable, the service top-notch. No two rooms are the same, and each is stunning. Two houses were open to the public to ramble through, potential guests wandered in and out of standard rooms and suites trying to decide which one they’d choose as holiday music by Trio Fiori played softly in the background. Out back one of the carriage houses was open, you could purchase a beer, and have a seat to regain your momentum. We had never seen the rooms above before, so that was a treat. We dashed into the Park Shelton, a new shop just opened on the first floor called The Peacock Room, selling new and vintage clothing and accessories, the shop was a hit with visitors. The space it occupies is lovely; ornately  detailed plaster, large arch shaped mirrors, and elegant marble floors. The Park Shelton has really come to life in the last couple of years with a mix of retail, Good Girls Go To Paris Crepes, and a new coffee shop, so good to see!

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You may have noticed by now the amount of activities to do and buildings to see is staggering. We like to jump around from place to place, but others may spend the entire evening at one place. We crossed Woodward and listened to a church bell choir at the Bank One Plaza outside the Detroit Historical Museum, this group is great, we always try to make time to catch a couple of songs. Inside the museum was packed, they had several choirs performing throughout the evening in addition to the Sweet Adelines and a dance performance. We zipped across Kirby to the Detroit Public Library, if you’ve never been, this is another building you need to see, the architecture is fantastic! The original structure was built in 1921,  be sure and climb the marble stairs to the third floor; the ceiling detail is out-of-this-world. Don’t leave without visiting Strohm Hall, it’s exquisite. The building was bustling with activity, singers, dancers, a puppet show, Thornetta Davis performed in the auditorium. Remember, all of this is yours for FREE.

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We went in and out of beautiful, historic buildings all night long, we saw breath-taking churches and decorative art work, we listened to children’s choirs, talented musicians and Christmas carols being sung on Woodward Ave. There were crowds of people smiling and having a good time, little ones sat on Santa’s knee and asked for their hearts desire. We had cookies and wine, popcorn and punch. We saw the African-American History Museum decked out in holiday lights, a live nativity scene and the Green Garage. Yet we still didn’t come close to seeing all there was to see. Noel Night is the best event of the entire holiday season; it’s authentic Christmas without commercialization. 

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The activities ended at 9:30 pm, so it would be a late dinner for us. You can always count on something being open late in southwest Detroit, so we hopped in the car and headed for Mi Pueblo. We have favorite dishes at each restaurant we frequent, at Mi Pueblo it’s their Botana. We ordered a small one with no meat, added a llomo tostada, and a tinga taco, with all the snacking we did this would be enough for two. Everything arrived simultaneously, it looked scrumptious. The botana is a stack of corn chips smothered in melted white cheese and refried beans, then it is topped with tomato, onion, green pepper, pickled jalapeno and avocado, it’s incredible. Llomo is spicy pulled pork, tinga is spicy pulled chicken, both were excellent. We sat there eating our spicy and salty dinner washing it all down with icy cold diet coke, thinking, Life Is Good!