Tag Archives: City Flats Hotel

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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Grand Rapids: Check it out !

3 Feb

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After a peaceful night’s sleep, we pad down to the main floor of the City Flat’s Hotel for breakfast in City Sen Lounge; not being early risers, we have the place to ourselves. A table by the window affords us a view of the going’s on up and down Monroe Center St. The sun shines brightly in the cloudless sky, folks are dressed a little lighter today as we are expecting above normal temps. Breakfast arrives, Kris is having waffles topped with macerated blackberries and a dollop of vanilla whipped cream. For myself, City Benny, poached eggs, ham and béarnaise sauce on brioche and a side of salted baked potatoes, yum!

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We take a detour through the building on the way back to our room, the sign says Ballroom at City Flats, we want to check it out. Up the double stairway we go to 77 Monroe Center, the room is stunning, not at all what we expected. Gorgeous wood panels, beams stenciled in a floral design, elegant archways line the room, columns and a balcony. The room is being prepared for a wedding later in the evening, what a snazzy place for a reception or party!

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We are checked out of the hotel, we leave the Jeep parked and walk the short distance to the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM). The 125,000 sq. ft. Contemporary-style building opened October 2007, it is the world’s first Gold Certified LEED art museum. Stacked 3-stories tall we ascend the elongated stairway to the third floor where the permanent collection is on display. Light floods the galleries through glass skylight lanterns, walls are white, floors pale-colored wood, hallways are vast. Alongside permanent pieces we find selected works of art from ArtPrize 2013, chosen from 9 different venues we see paintings, drawings, photographs, sculpture and textile art. My favorite piece on the floor is by Sophia Collier, she carves water-like surfaces from acrylic block, it’s like looking at an actual piece of the water’s surface!   

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The second floor is home to temporary exhibits, featured today: Masterpieces of American Landscape Painting 1820-1950. Pieces represent America through the eyes of painters such as Thomas Cole, Martin Johnson Heade, Winslow Homer and Georgia O’Keeffe, a total of 48 paintings on loan from the prestigious collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Large gold-framed landscapes hang on gallery walls, they are absolutely lovely. 20 works of art are on a 5-year loan, pieces are by well-know artists such as Picasso, Renoir, Rodin and Mary Cassatt grace the museum. A pair of giant Orchids stand tall near the stairway, everybody wants their picture taken in front of them. We study Joey Ruiter’s Objects in Motion; prototypes of bicycles, cars and a motorcycle…. quite interesting. We both like the Modern Furniture Collection, after all, Grand Rapids is Furniture City.

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We cross over to the other side of Monroe Center to catch a coffee at Madcap. With a fine reputation for roasting, retailing and wholesaling specialty coffees, we thought we’d try ’em out. It is definitely one of those places where the hip crowd hangs, not to worry, regular folks are equally welcome. It’s a nice space, bright, lots of windows. As soon as we get inside we are treated to the scent of fresh ground coffee, burlap bags of coffee beans are stacked on the floor, the beverage menu is behind the coffee bar. Kris orders a cold brew, while I go with an iced mocha, we take a seat and plan where to go next.

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Outside the sky is the color of summer, we walk back to the ice rink, families crowd the ice, the littlest of skaters use a walker-like object until they get the hang of it. The architecture downtown is marvelous, much of it Late-Victorian in style, buildings are ornate, the Ledyard (the first location of the Grand Rapids Public Library) is outstanding! We find ourselves in front of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel…..never pass up an opportunity to go inside! Originally called The Pantlind Hotel, it was built in 1913, know for its elegance and grandeur, it has one of the world’s largest gold-leaf ceilings. Purchased by Amway, the original building was refurbished, a glass tower added, it re-opened in 1981. The lobby is magnificent; the gold-leaf ceiling glistens in the light of the three impressive crystal chandeliers. Poinsettia surround the centrally located fountain, potted palms flank the room, wood is dark walnut, furniture is arranged in cozy settings. We peek into the ballroom, Corinthian columns and a sculptured ceiling are straight from a bygone era, the chandeliers even match the ceiling pattern.

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Gerald R Ford was the 38th President of the United States, serving from 1974 to 1977, he was the only President from Michigan. The museum bearing his name sits along the Grand River, covering his life from childhood to star football player, Naval officer to US Congressman, Vice President to President, it tells the fascinating story of Grand Rapid’s favorite son. Just inside the museum stands a section of the Berlin Wall, Christmas trees line the lobby area, a large Seal of the President of the United States hangs on a wall. We begin our tour by watching a short film on Gerald Ford in the crescent-shaped theater, it will give us the background on what we will be seeing in the exhibits upstairs.

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On the second floor the mood is set for the 1970’s; Fads such as the Pet Rock, Mood Rings, platform shoes, 8-tracks and Disco were alive and well. Photos of Janis Joplin, John Lennon and Yoko Ono represent the music of the time, Posters feature Peace signs, videos chronicle war protests and marches, these were turbulent times. Displays take us through his youth, born Leslie Lynch King, his mother later married Gerald R Ford, whom he was named after. His life was earmarked by hard work and the successes that came from it, he served 25 years as the Representative from Michigan’s 5th Congressional district. Ford was the first person appointed to the Vice Presidency after Spiro Agnew resigned amid controversy, he became President August 9, 1974 when Nixon resigned. He is the first and only person to have served as both Vice President and President without being elected. The museum is engrossing, well laid out, it is easy to follow and understand, the life-size replica of the Oval Office and Cabinet Room are pretty cool. I have to say, I think anybody visiting Grand Rapids should make it a point to come to the museum.

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The day before we passed The Grand Woods Lounge, it looked super charming, so today we are having lunch here. Resembling a cabin up north, the interior has a wilderness feel to it. Log and stone walls, several fireplaces, it is modeled after restaurants in the Pacific Northwest. We are seated at a table near a fireplace, through a door we can see the outdoor heated porch, I imagine it’s packed on the weekends. The menu consists of sharable appetizers, salads, sandwiches and entrees; our waitress is quick to take our order and bring our drinks. The Rodeo Burger is a 1/2 pound patty topped with crisp bacon, melted cheddar cheese, haystack onions and a tangy BBQ sauce, it is prepared perfectly. Alongside the burger is a generous portion of fries and a side of slaw, delicious.

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Our last stop for the afternoon is Founders Brewing Company, ranked in the top four breweries in the world, they recently opened a brand new Tap Room. We park in front of the building, we can hardly believe our eyes, it is late December, the outdoor patio is packed with customers. Inside, the German Beer Hall-inspired Tap Room is even more crowded, the room is gorgeous, the high, wood beam ceiling puts you in the mind of Germany. A glass wall allows patrons to look in on the brewing process, I love that. The line to order beer and food seems endless, we try our luck outdoors. A group of gentlemen make room for us at a table, heat lamps and fire pits keep the temperature comfortable. Before we know it our pints arrive, we are each trying a different type of Stout, both are delicious. There is a constant flow of people coming and going, the food that passes us by looks tasty…….next time. We stop in the gift shop, T-shirts bear the names of their most popular beers, clothing and accessories wear the Founders badge. People come from all over for the beer and a souvenir. We have had a wonderful weekend in Grand Rapids, but the time has come to head back to the D, we’ll be back!

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Grand Rapids: Grand Getaway !

27 Jan

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Today we are heading West across Michigan, to a thriving city named Best Place to Raise a Family by Forbes Magazine, 1 of 10 best vacation cities for beer lovers, home to five of the world’s leading office furniture companies, 2010’s most sustainable midsize city and Michigan’s second-largest Metropolis, any guesses? That’s right, Grand Rapids. With its picturesque location on the Grand River, growing foodie culture and the Art Prize competition, the city is receiving positive accolades in newspapers and magazines across the country. Once you visit you’ll understand what all the buzz is about.

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We begin our visit in East Grand Rapids, an area called Gaslight Village. Once a resort area complete with an amusement park, theatre, pavilion and steamboat rides on Reeds Lake, the land was redeveloped into Gaslight Village after the park closed and fell into disrepair. Today it is a charming little village of boutique shopping, dining, public spaces and places to purchase everyday necessities. We park on Wealthy Street in front of Ramona’s Table, where we will be having lunch. Inside the contemporary interior a corner fireplace heats the room, we order at the counter then have a seat in the sunroom. We have a lovely view of the streetscape, the sky is blue and the sun is shining, the sidewalk is busy with the hustle and bustle of pedestrians. Our food arrives at the table, the Strawberry salad is topped with sweet strawberries, candied walnuts, blue cheese and a homemade strawberry vinaigrette. The Venetian Swing sandwich is layered with ham, brie, greens, tomato and an apricot wasabi dressing served on grilled sourdough bread. They were nice enough to split the sandwich and pasta salad,  brie gently oozes from the cut side of the sandwich, I had to take a bite, yum! The team at Ramona’s concentrate on local food and flavors, everything is homemade, and delicious.

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We join the foot traffic along Wealthy and pop in and out of shops along the way, by the time we reached Mary Ann’s Chocolates, we figured it was time for dessert. It’s a darling shop with a dazzling gold-colored tin ceiling, candy fills glass cases running the length of the store, from chocolate to candied fruit slices take your pick. Kris and I head straight for the chocolate, one truffle each, they are excellent. Continuing our walk, we check out the Christmas Tree on display in the public space, in the summer people gather to enjoy the fountain, there’s always something going on here.

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Back in the Jeep we drive west into downtown Grand Rapids, over to an antique district on Century Ave SW. A huge brick building stands five-stories tall, windows line the facade, a smallish sign near the center of the building says “Antiques”. We begin at the far end, a place called Buckley & Douglas, it doesn’t seem much warmer inside than out, after a few moments I no longer notice as my attention is captured by the vast variety if items on display. Resting on worn shelving vintage blenders and toasters have been re-purposed into whimsical lights….. slick, we meander across the worn wood floor, an old Standard Oil sign, antique typewriter, desks, and tool cabinets fill the room. Some of the pieces are in nice original condition, others have been spruced up or re-worked, some just left in their rusty, patina glory. Remnants of a laboratory are found throughout the area; beakers, petri dishes, glass tubes and microscopes, stuff I don’t usually see. Kris points out the clever use of window panes as a space divider, cool.

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The next shop, Lost & Found, is an unexpected surprise, with most of the pieces ranging from the 1950’s through the 70’s, we are right in our element! At first glance it looks as if we have wandered back in time to a furniture showroom, pieces are grouped into room displays complete with lamps, wall hangings and accessories, I can’t even decide what direction to go first there’s so much I want to look at. Taking our time, we explore the extensive collection of pieces; lighting, bar stools, radios, cabinets, dishes and more. I could stay here all day, but there’s more to see…..The next couple of shops in the building are more of what you’d expect from an antique store; depression glass, dishes, figurines, books and magazines, decorative items and small pieces.

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The new Downtown Market opened just a few months ago to great fanfare. Built using reused, recycled and re-purposed materials the end result is a gorgeous two-story building filled with artisan foods, there’s even a greenhouse on the roof! We park by what will be the outdoor market in season, inside, the building has an open, airy feel, everything is a neutral color except for the splash of lime green accents. Lighting is easy on the eyes, there’s sort of a Zen feel to the place, vendors are grouped into neat spaces sans walls, it smells good in here. We begin by strolling past fresh produce, a fish market, and meats. Field & Fire Bakery has samples of whole grain bread for shoppers to taste, chocolate, a taco stand, juice bar and fresh pasta all are worthy of our consideration, but it is the Sweetie-licious Bake Shop that stops us in our tracks. Think Betty Crocker doused in pink….Vintage recipe books, aprons, rolling pins and doilies decorate the counters, did I mention the Easy-Bake Oven? Pie is the specialty here, but the oversize cookies and cupcakes appear equally delicious. It is snack time, the decision of what kind of pie to get was tough, Pumpkin Cheesecake won. What is pie without ice cream? Kris is heading over to Love’s Ice Cream for a scoop while I grab a couple of coffee’s from Simpatico Coffee, we meet at a table on the second floor. From here we overlook the entire market as we indulge in gourmet goodness from the local vendors.

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We are staying downtown at the City Flats Hotel on Monroe Center, the building, formerly the legendary Fox Jewelers Building, has been transformed into a 5-story, 28 room boutique hotel. What makes it unique is its LEED Gold Certification; the furniture and decor was all designed and manufactured with local materials and rapidly renewable resources. The majority of all finished products were manufactured in Holland MI. We like the hotel for its great decor, rooms are super quiet, the bedding is the most comfortable of anyplace we have stayed, they have a full service restaurant and bar on the first floor, and it’s centrally located downtown. Once we have checked in and relaxed for a bit we hit the street in search of dinner. It didn’t take long to find what we were looking for, XO Asian Cuisine drew us right in. It is a weekend, the restaurant is busy, we are seated quickly and given thick menus, the food on surrounding tables looks wonderful. Kris chooses a specialty sushi of the house, I go with Pad Thai, we will share both dishes. The sushi is fantastic, edible flowers decorate the plate, the noodle dish has a unique seasoning here and is quite tasty, when we can eat no more we surrender our chopsticks.

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Walking along Monroe Center St we follow the glow of the blue LED lights to the public skating rink, it is jammed with skaters. A long line forms of folks waiting to take the ice, skilled skaters show their stuff in the center of the ice as the less experienced hang onto the side railing. The snow-covered grass glows under the blue and white lights. The scene is beautiful, festive; trees throughout downtown are smothered in lights, horse pulled carriages clippity-clop over the brick streets, winter in Michigan.

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Back at our hotel, we stop at the bar for a night-cap and chat with the bartender, we talk about all the exciting changes taking place in the city. Time to get some sleep, we have so much more to do tomorrow.