Tag Archives: Detroit Historical Museum

DETROIT: Out On The Town

10 Mar

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Membership has it’s privileges….for years we have belonged to the Detroit Historical Society,  it’s enabled us to enjoy historical museums, sites and events locally and throughout the Midwest for free. Tonight we’re checking out the opening of the new exhibit “Out on the Town Drinking and Dining in Detroit Since 1920” at the Detroit Historical Museum; the entire museum, music, food and of course, drinks, are included. Non-members need only to fork over $25 for the same treatment, well worth the price of admission… Being a member also gives us access to special exhibits, programs and discounts on Behind The Scenes Tours and Historic Houses of Worship Tours. I love historical museums, they tell the story of a place; who first settled there, how they lived, how it evolved, how it became the city it is today. Both of us are fond of this building, there’s something endearing about a historical museum housed in an older building, this one was built specifically for the museum in 1951. 

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The temperature is frigid, we score the last space in the parking lot on Kirby, it’s a short walk to the door. Inside, the building has taken on a party atmosphere, greeters direct us to the coat check, food and drinks, music plays faintly in the distance. We begin on the first floor, America’s Motor City, exhibits here tell how Detroit built cars and how cars built Detroit. Folks have already filled their plates with delicious food prepared by Holiday Catering, they sit on benches in front of the “body drop” eating and watching, others carefully balance their food and drink as they wander through. We take our place in the food line, grab brown paper cartons, forks and napkins, I scoop out servings of tasty grilled vegetables with roasted garlic aioli, a fabulous pasta salad, Caesar salad with chicken and quinoa salad laced with plump dried cherries. The next table over offers wine, beer and ice-cold bottles of water. A large jar of Dutch girl donuts rests on the dessert table, the catering staff is just starting to prepare ice cream floats; a scoop of vanilla floating in your choice of Vernor’s, Faygo Root Beer, Orange or Red Pop, now that’s how we do it in Detroit!

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Passing the gorgeous mahogany Meijer clock, we make our way to the second floor; Out On The Town is in the Booth-Wilkinson Gallery. At the top of the stairs we hear the murmur of the crowd, a band plays in one of the galleries, the rooms are crowded, people stand in front of displays pointing, nodding and smiling. A collection of menu covers hang on the wall at the gallery entrance, some names are familiar, The Mauna Loa, Topinka’s, Dakota Inn, London Chop House. Others I have never heard of; Sapphire Room, Club Three 666, Mayfair, Blue Bird Inn, Tropics. The names create a sense of what Detroit was like back then; elegant, vibrant. Each section of the gallery highlights a different time period, from the Speakeasies of the Prohibition era, working men’s watering holes to the Jazz Clubs, Night Clubs and businessmen’s lunch spots. Vignettes are positioned behind glass, mannequins wear the fashions of the day, memorabilia such as menus, glasses, matchbooks and photos give a true sense of the time and place. Starting in the early days  a re-creation of the Woodbridge Tavern features a bar tender wearing a straw hat and apron, a butcher block table and seltzer bottles. The Flame Show Bar opened in 1949 and was hugely popular. Located on the corner of John R and Canfield some of the biggest entertainers of the day performed here; Billy Holiday, Ray Charles, T-Bone Walker, Louis Jordan, Della Reese, Etta James, BB King, Bo Diddly and Sam Cooke, amazing! We proceed through time and venues, jukeboxes and cigarette vending machines appear. Artifacts from nightclubs such as the Roostertail, Elmwood Club and 20 Grand Club are on display; did you know Detroit even had its own Playboy Club? A reproduction of London Chop House includes an old booth, signs and a couple of Hy Vogel’s infamous caricatures.

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Cliff Bells has set up a table off to the side, a bartender is mixing up craft cocktails, with a Manhattan in hand we hit the table of snacks Better Made has set up; pretzels, single serving bags of chips and shoestring potato chips all taste so good. Another table has an assortment of Greek finger foods; mini spinach pies, hummus, pita and salad, it looks to good to pass up. It is getting more crowded so we head down to the Streets of Old Detroit, this is probably the most popular permanent exhibit in the museum. We stroll past shop windows with bicycles and musical instruments, a showcase is filled with souvenir dishes and old Detroit postcards. A stop in the drugstore is a must, my favorite item is the antique Vernor’s dispenser. Old-fashioned street lamps light the narrow roads made of rock or logs, we pass the blacksmith, Fyfe Boots, Sanders, a barbershop and Dime store.

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We decide to take one more walk through before calling it a night. On the first floor a DJ is spinning records, modern versions of old songs, pretty cool. A large group of 20-somethings dressed to the nines arrives, all making their way to the main attraction of the evening. Back upstairs we take one last look around, we are reading about Kovac’s, Abicks, Cadieux Cafe and Anchor Bar when the Coney Islands show up. Large silver chafing dishes filled with hot dogs, buns and chili are set down on tables, chopped onions and mustard are readily available; within minutes everyone is indulging in one of Detroit’s most popular foods. What a way to end the night!

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DETROIT: Historical Museum

3 Jan

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 Kris and I recently got our first look at the newly updated Detroit Historical Museum; we were happy to see old favorites like the Streets of Old Detroit spiffed up along with brand new exhibits such as the Kid Rock Music Lab. The city of Detroit has an amazing history, the museum showcases significant periods throughout more than 300 years, there’s a lot of them! Exhibits are spread out over several floors, we began at the top and worked our way down.

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A large area is currently dedicated to rail transportation in Detroit; did you know that at the turn of the 20th century Detroit had the largest regional mass transportation network in the US? Curators did a great job taking us back in time to the days when trains and trolley’s ruled the streets. Photos of old city train stations, rescued architectural pieces, signs, tickets and tokens are all on display. Vintage seats are arranged as they would be on a train, antique lanterns and crossing signs remind us of the old days. The Arsenal Of Democracy exhibit is fascinating; a glimpse into the staggering contribution Detroit manufacturing made to the war effort. Another interesting fact: Detroit produced 30% of the war materials generated in the US before the end of the war in 1945. At that time Detroit was re-invented as a military industrial center with over 700,000 people working in the factories.

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The Motor City area has been refreshed; the Body Drop is working once again, yay. Here you will find all sorts of memorabilia related to the auto industry; signs and brochures, design renderings, promo cars, even a speaker from an old drive-in; car culture sort of stuff, very cool. There’s a neat history of Woodward Ave; street signs, photos, even a parking meter. We headed down the stairs to our old favorite: The Streets of Old Detroit. If you grew up in metro Detroit, chances are you came here on a field trip in elementary school. I am happy to say not much has changed and it is looking better than ever; I love the addition of the Sanders Confectionery. Meander over streets made of brick, logs and rocks; wander in and out of 19th century businesses like the barber shop, bicycle store and of course, the corner drug store, complete with a soda fountain and Vernors. Down the hall the Glancy Trains are still running; a gift from Alfred R Glancy Jr of Grosse Pointe, these trains have been mesmerizing adults and children alike for decades. Trains glide over tracks laid out on multiple levels, tiny buildings make up towns along the route as cable cars ride along overhead. There’s a tiny amusement park and a hot air balloon; a camera mounted on the front of a train projects the passenger view onto a screen.

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The Kid Rock Music Lab highlights musical artists ranging from Bob Seger and Iggy Pop to Aretha Franklin and the White Stripes. Interactive displays make this a popular exhibit. The Allesee Gallery of Culture is an awesome new addition; photos of downtown skyscrapers cover the walls making you feel as if you are standing in the heart of the city. Large glass enclosures divide Detroit into several time periods; newspaper articles, clothing and household items define the era; iconic items such as seats from old Tiger Stadium, a drinking fountain from Hudson’s and the like bring smiles to the faces of locals. The renovations are well done and make the museum equally appealing to those familiar with Detroit and those who are not. Click HERE for museum slideshow.

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A new restaurant has opened on the corner of Woodward and Putnam in the Maccabees building, so we wanted to give it a try. The building itself is incredible! Completed in January of 1927 and designed by, who else? Albert Kahn. The exterior of the building is limestone, the entrance is a 3-story recessed barrel vault arch surrounded by fantastic carvings. The main lobby is exquisite; the barrel ceiling is a mass of gold mosaic tiles forming intense patterns. One section creates a scene complete with palm trees ripe with coconuts and deer drinking from a stream. There is a grand chandelier and then a series of smaller ones that hang from chains lining the hall, it is absolutely stunning! Walls and floors are marble each with its own distinct pattern, every surface is decorative. The hallway leading to Putnam has a wood beam ceiling covered in colorful stencil designs, don’t miss it. Elevators are shiny brass as are the door frames. The central section of the building is topped by a broadcast tower, prior to 1959 it was home to WXYZ; both the Lone Ranger and Green Hornet radio programs originated here, in the 1950’s Soupy Sales did his show from the lower level studio. WDET used the space from 1959 to 2001, Wayne State University currently owns the building. When Kris had finished taking photos we entered the restaurant section from the Woodward door.

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Maccabees at Midtown has only been open since the end of December, situated across the street from the DIA, the Detroit Public Library and steps away from the campus of Wayne State, the location is ideal. The space is gorgeous, immediately the chandeliers grab your attention. Reproductions of the originals they were made right here in Michigan. Great care was taken in transforming the space into a restaurant; the ceiling is burgundy, coffered panels are painted gold, maintaining the Romanesque style of the building. The owner greeted us at the door as we took our seats at a table near the window; we had a wonderful view of Woodward and the cultural district. The menu serves up an interesting variety of items such as potato pancake sandwiches, which of course we had to try. Ours was filled with tender roast beef, sautéed onions and a chipotle mayo, very tasty. We added the spinach salad, tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette and chunks of warm goat cheese fried in a crispy coating it was quite good. Their liquor license is on the way so stop in for a meal or cocktails and be sure to have a look around.

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Detroit now has it’s very own tea house in the Sugar Hill Arts District. Located on the lower level of the Garfield Building, Socra Tea serves up 50 varieties of organic teas and fresh baked goods. You can drink your tea in-house or get it to go; all loose teas are also available for purchase by the ounce. If you like tea plan on spending some time here; owner Meg was happy to open up canister after canister and let us smell the blends (much more fun for me than him). Kris and I each ordered a tea and accompanied it with a shortbread cookie. Adjacent to the tea room is a pottery studio, pieces are on display and for sale along with photography and other art work.