Tag Archives: Coffee Shop Detroit

DETROIT: Cruisin’ Grand River….

28 Apr

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Detroit is full of unexpected surprises. In 2012 a majority of the Hollywood film Red Dawn was shot in and around Detroit. In one scene, a smallish, irregularly shaped building on Clifford St was blown up (kinda) in a fiery explosion, it was also a run-down liquor store in Transformers 3. Fast forward to 2014, there sits the building, wearing a brand new facade, wrought iron accents, lanterns and thick wooden door that looks as if it came straight from a castle.  A narrow vertical sign calls it Downtown Louie’s Lounge, the neon sign in the window says “open”, so we go in. The place is beautiful inside, they used high-end materials like dark wood, quartz and leather, the leaded glass entrance doors are gorgeous. Two stories tall, it is completely open to the second floor ceiling, a mezzanine level at the back of the restaurant is made cozy with a lovely fireplace and built-in booth across the far wall, did I mention the walk in wine cellar? The main level is a combination of high top tables, booths and the bar, there are several flat screen TV’s but they don’t seem obtrusive.  


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Given our choice of seating, we go up to the second floor, a table overlooking the place, light fixtures and wallpaper panels give it a bit of a Modern feel. The restaurant is owned by the same folks who give us Louie’s Ham and Corned Beef on Riopelle near Eastern Market; this location serves classic American Cuisine, craft beer, wine and cocktails. It’s hard to pass up a good Reuben, so we don’t…..we did order the house salad too, just to balance things out. The sandwich is delicious; piled high with tender corned beef, sauerkraut and dressing– don’t forget to ask for extra napkins. The house salad is large, full of leafy greens and veggies, the citrus balsamic dressing is tasty. We would not hesitate to come back again.

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On the corner of Grand River and Griswold is another surprise, among early 20th century buildings constructed of brick and stone is a clearly Mid Century Modern, all glass building. Two stories tall, long rectangular windows are both anchored and capped in orange, signature-style fixtures glow from within, this is the home of Urban Bean Co. Serving Great Lakes Coffee, baked goods from Pinwheel Bakery, Faygo, Better Made and Dutch Girl Donuts, this is a cool place to stop in for a coffee or a snack. The space is odd-shaped and funky, we order coffee at the counter and walk up the narrow stairway to the second level. Decorated in orange and yellow, molded chairs are distinctly Modern in style; here we get a completely different view of the streetscape. Separated only by panes of glass, we actually feel part of the activity going on outside. Across the street is a red brick building where George Clooney filmed scenes for the Ides Of March, the top of the Penobscot is poking through in the distance, the entrance to the Griswold parking structure is next door. On Sunday evenings Burst Radio, Detroit’s Electronic music station is broadcast live from Urban Bean Co.

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We make our way up Grand River to an area known as the Grand River Creative Corridor (GRCC). Launched in 2012 as a neighborhood revitalization project by Derek Weaver, the managing director of 4731, artwork and graffiti line the corridor between Warren Ave and Rosa Parks Blvd. The first mural we come across is a colorful collection of cartoon like creatures by Patch Whisky, big eyes and goofy smiles make me think some of them are having a great time, others seem to have a problem with escaping fluids….With the Jeep parked, we walk up the street, the Flintstones cast covers an entire wall, a cool robot lurks in a doorway offering the Peace sign to all who pass. A piece by Ramen feels ethereal, a twist of red outlined by a luminous green seems to glow against a black background. Continuing down the road the graffiti sometimes covers the entire exterior of the structure, some pieces are abstract, some life-like, there are unique characters, colorful doodles and faces of Indians, one door is an image of a tropical Detroit. A dancing bolt, nut and hammer advertise American Integrated Supply, the oldest fastener supplier in Detroit (Since 1943), some designs appear fluid, as if they are in motion, the colors are bold, the work mesmerizing.

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Graffiti artist Michael Owen is in town, he is the creator and lead artist of the “Baltimore Love Project”. Earlier in the week he completed his “LOVE” mural atop a Grand River building, now he is hard at work on another building and we are lucky enough to get to watch him work. He is standing on a light blue cherry picker creating a ‘billboard’ introducing the GRCC, awesome! We wander through the outdoor gallery near 15th Street, amazing. The artists are a combination of local, national and international talent, each of their pieces tell a story.

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One last stop on Grand River, Dabl’s African Bead Gallery and Mbad Museum. If you have driven by this area of Grand River you may have noticed the building and outdoor public art installations and wondered, “what is that?”, now you know. We first make our way through the outside installations, an old house is completely covered in random materials and mirror fragments, a long wall is painted in various colored patterns, the sun shines overhead, encouraging me to linger at each piece. Narrow planks surround a platform like a fence, a table is set up with a series of round boxes that resemble a layer cake awaiting a celebration. Lids of rusty paint cans are slathered in pastel colors, there’s an old tractor, coils of chain-link fence and a car covered in paint, you decide what it means.

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The Museum is contained in a red brick building, rows and rows of beads in every color, shape and size fill the walls. Their website says they are a “major repository for African artifacts including sculptures, textiles, pottery and bead works dating back hundreds of years from countless countries throughout Africa”, I can tell you it’s a fascinating place to visit. Near the back, shelves are built into the walls, multitudes of clear glass bottles hold thousands of beads, from a distance it looks like bottles of magic potions. I take my time investigating, I show Kris jars of sea shells and sharks teeth, Dabls shows us beads that are 800 years old! We see African hats, masks and figures, glass beads are assembled into strings and clusters, all quite beautiful. Before we leave I purchase some beads to take home, sort of a souvenir, a remembrance of our day.

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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!

Detroit APBA Gold Cup Race, Wasabi, 1515 Broadway

15 Jul

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Sometimes I take things about Detroit for granted, we hadn’t attended a Gold Cup Hydroplane race in years. When I hear people say numbers like 3,000 horsepower or 200 miles per hour, they just don’t mean that much to me. As we approached the river and I caught a glimpse of 200 MPH, the monsterous roostertails, the sound of the turbine engines screaming by, all I can say is WOW ! Being up close and personal with that much power and speed is a whole different thing! We were seated near a hydroplane aficionado, after hearing stories of the history and tradition of the Gold Cup race I have gained a new respect for the event .

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The century old APBA Gold Cup is the oldest active trophy in motorsports, the 2011 races took place on the Detroit River July 8-10. The minute we arrived to the race a group of boats went speeding by, they were so close it appeared like they were in the yard we were in! We had set up our chairs in the perfect location, providing a combination of shade and a great view, the river breeze and mist from the boats providing a welcome relief from the summer heat. Between heats there was an air show, first to perform was a bi-plane doing an aerobatic show, the stalls always make me nervous. When the bi-plane was finished, out of nowhere there was a sound that resembled some sort of explosion, before we could comprehend what was happening a Navy FA-18 flew overhead producing the loudest sounds I had ever heard. The US Navy West Coast Super Hornet Team was demonstrating the maneuvers of the aircraft. It was absolutely amazing, the sound so loud your entire body felt it.  There are several different kinds of boats that race; some louder than others, some have outboard engines, but the big piston engined offshores  are the loudest by far. I think the hydroplanes gather the most attention, they throw up an astonishing rooster tail, when you get several of them taking a curve it’s just a blast of water up into the air, very cool! I would highly recommend checking it out if you ever get the opportunity to come to Detroit to see the races.

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We were lucky enough to receive the invitation through Preservation Wayne, the event was held at a historic home on the same street as the Manoogian Mansion, and is a beautiful example of Georgian architecture, the front is as lovely as the back. The yard is 300′ long ending at the Detroit River and has lush gardens and towering trees to provide needed shade on a scorching summer day. We took a walk through the lively Berry  neighborhood, many other families were hosting parties as well. The homes here are upscale, lavish, and regal. Each is different and possess it’s own elegance and charm.

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The races were coming to a close and we were out of snacks, time to go eat. Wasabi is a Korean/Japanese restaurant in the Park Shelton on Woodward in Detroit. The menu is large and provides a good variety of choices, we like the Sushi. We sat in the modern interior of the restaurant, but you can also sit in the section that is actually in the Park Shelton lobby itself. They have tables set up as if you were outdoors on a patio, some even have umbrellas. From here you can admire the the interior of the building itself; marble floors, ornate ceilings, beautifully carved moldings. When our food arrived we couldn’t wait to dig in, the Sushi was delicious, the perfect meal on such a hot day. We tried the Gyoza this time and loved it. Overall we had a really nice meal, in a wonderful setting.

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Time for a coffee and something sweet. It can be tough sometimes to find places open in the late afternoon of a Sunday, especially in the summer. We can usually count on 1515 Broadway, and were happy to see not only that they were open, but that there was an available table outside.  Besides serving espresso, coffee, desserts, sandwiches and salads, 1515 Broadway is also a small (seats 115) blackbox theater. They usually bring in shows with small touring groups that are locally written, we saw a show there years ago and it was fun. The interior is quaint, you can sit in the front window on stools overlooking Broadway and out at the Detroit Opera House, or they also have a small seating area adjacent to the counter.  With our iced coffees and Bumpy Cake in hand we chose to sit in the great outdoors, the owner returned to the intense game of chess he was playing out there at the time. People who live in the neighborhood were out for a stroll enjoying the day, everyone seems to know each other around here and we are always greeted with a smile.

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