Tag Archives: DIA

DETROIT: Staycation…

7 Jan

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There’s not a better night’s sleep to be found than a night in the Raymond C Smith Carriage house at the Inn on Ferry Street. Upon waking we dress and walk the short distance to the main house of the Inn, the John Scott House; this is where guests check in and where breakfast and refreshments are served. The house itself is an orange brick Queen Ann with a wide front porch, built in 1886-87, original owner John Scott was a well-known architect. Scott’s firm, John Scott & Co. took in a young Albert Kahn (apparently he was everywhere!) as an apprentice, but let him go because he didn’t think Kahn had a future in the business–oops! The home, 84 E Ferry, resides on land that was originally part of the Ferry Seed Company, the property was later developed into an upper class neighborhood. Today the Inn consists of four restored Victorian homes and two carriage houses, close to museums, the DMC and Wayne State University.

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We enter the house through the back door, the aroma of fresh brewed coffee permeates the air, guests conversation creates a low hum. The breakfast area is lovely; walls are olive green, a fireplace of rectangular glazed tiles graces the back wall, ceiling and walls are accented with beautiful wood. We choose a table near a large window, morning light streams in. We hang our jackets on the chair backs, grab plates and fill them with items like scrambled eggs, waffles, fresh fruit, muffins and yogurt; there is also an assortment of coffee, tea and juices. As we eat, the Inns shuttle driver arrives, he is driving a group of guests downtown; the shuttle is free and will drop you off and pick you up within a 5-mile radius. When we have finished our breakfast I sip my coffee slowly as we decide how we will spend the rest of our day.

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The luggage is loaded and we have checked out. We walk to the end of the block, at the corner of Woodward and Kirby we step inside the Park Shelton. Built in 1926 as a residential hotel called The Wardell, it was named for Fred Wardell, founder of the Eureka Co. Interestingly enough, Kris’s mom and dad spent their honeymoon here back in the 1940’s, even more notable, Diego Rivera lived here while working on his mural at the DIA. The hotel was later bought by Sheraton and in the 1950’s renamed The Park Shelton Hotel; accommodations were luxurious, celebrities such as Bob Hope, George Burns, Gracie Allen and Raymond Burr were guests. In the 1970’s it became apartments, in 2004 the building was redeveloped into 227 luxury condos with retail and restaurants on the ground floor. The lobby has maintained its elegance with indoor fountains, rectangular columns capped in gold leaf, ornate plaster ceilings, dark marble accents and a gorgeous antique clock that hangs near the reception desk.

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Down the hall we wander into the Peacock Room, this is one of those pretty stores; gorgeous architecture and decor, clever displays, attractive merchandise for women featuring great hats, handbags, jewelry, clothing…… Everything a girl needs and then some! A few feet down, we duck into Goods LLC, mainly selling customized and Detroit-centric t-shirts, the shop also sells items from local artisans. Exiting through the Woodward door we proceed to Emerald, the newest of the shops in the Park Shelton, mainly a men’s store they have a wonderful selection of hats, gloves, scarves, ties, cuff links and shaving goods. The space is attractive, the chandelier came from an old theater downriver, it’s super cool, someone told me display cabinets came from the old downtown Hudsons. They have a nice selection of gift items and books too.

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After all that shopping we find ourselves hungry, lucky for us Good Girls Go To Paris Crepes is only a few steps away. Bright red walls are covered with French movie posters, the chalkboard menus of sweet and savory crepes have grown through the years. I order at the counter as Kris finds us a table, it seems this place is always busy. Owner Torya is behind the counter making crepes today, she makes it look so easy the way she spreads the batter, adds the filling and neatly folds each one. The Seine arrives first, a simple crepe with butter and sugar, to me there’s nothing better. The Dana is filled with chicken, Brie, sun-dried tomatoes, basil and herbs, it is delicious. We drop into 14 East next, serving gourmet coffee, tea and pastries it’s also a bit of an art gallery; furniture and decor are reminiscent of  Mid Century design. We order at the counter, cold brew coffee for Kris and a pour over for myself. 

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We are less than a block from the DIA, we decide to stop in and have a look. It’s Sunday, the museum is active with tours, drop-in workshops, drawing in the galleries and the Sunday Music Bar in Kresge Court. We observe visitors of all ages at easels creating pencil drawings with the assistance of artists. The Contemporary Art gallery  is one of our favorites, spanning the mid 20th century to present day, we find great American art from abstract painting to Pop Art. After a leisurely stroll through the building it is time to call it a day. It has been a fantastic weekend get-away, and we never had to leave our home town! 

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DETROIT: Midtown Chill….

8 Dec

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Have you ever noticed how something as simple as a cup of coffee or a glass of wine tastes so much better when you are in beautiful surroundings? And there’s nothing like a cozy public space to make you feel part of the local community. The new Living Room at the DIA accomplishes both of these things and more. As long-time members of the DIA we often find ourselves popping into the museum to check out a current exhibit or visit a favorite gallery. As a member or resident of Wayne, Oakland or Macomb county, admission is free, so you no longer need to set a whole day aside to explore the entire museum, you can drop in for an hour or an afternoon. The recent renovation of Kresge Court into Detroit’s grandest living room is just one more reason to visit this extraordinary building. Did you know the first Van Gogh painting to enter a US museum was Self Portrait (1887) right here at the DIA? 

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Today the sole purpose of our coming here is to have a coffee while sitting on a comfy leather sofa and do a little people watching. The space is wonderful! Originally an outdoor courtyard, the room is surrounded by elegant dark brick walls with inlaid carved stone designs, topiaries, greenery and wrought iron pergola put me in the mind of an English garden. Seating groups are spaced throughout the room, the furniture a mix of traditional and modern; power outlets are readily available. Tall wood library tables are installed with iPads, area rugs add warmth and complete the look. Here you can curl up with a good book while snacking on a cheese or chacuterie plate, meet friends for a beer or glass of wine, page through one of many art books available for your viewing pleasure while sipping a piping hot cup of Starbucks coffee. On Friday nights Tapas are served. If you’re looking for somewhere new to meet friends, do some work or just relax, this is the spot! 

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Our next destination is just a little way down Woodward, from now until December 28th the Detroit Artists Market (DAM) is hosting Art For The Holidays! 125 area artists have put their best creations on display for you to purchase as gifts for friends and family this holiday season. The gallery is festive, decked out in holiday lights strung from the ceiling, snacks and beverages are complimentary today. The elongated space is crowded with shoppers this afternoon. Unique items are arranged on pedestals, tables and shelves; glass pieces seem to glow under the halogen lights. The variety of the pieces is refreshing; clever items like original stuffed animal characters make me smile. There’s a colorful array of fiber articles, scarves and purses for every style, jewelry is plentiful. Photos, books and cards along with glass, ceramics, cool paintings and metal work make it easy to shop for even the most difficult to buy for. The gallery has terrific objects all year around, but I have to admit, this is my favorite time to visit.

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The N’namdi Center for Contemporary Art is tucked away on E Forest in the Sugar Hill Arts District, we love this building. The fascade is limestone with gorgeous detail surrounding huge windows. The gallery showcases national and emerging local artists with a series of curated and juried exhibitions. The building also houses a performance art theater. The front room has raspberry colored walls, today it is set up like a living room; furniture is made of clocks, dozens of watch faces, lots of shells and beads, I wouldn’t dare sit on it! The main gallery is my favorite area; the ceiling is exposed beams, it looks like knotty pine, the wooden floor is silent as we walk. The current exhibit features large black-framed photographs, I feel as though I am looking directly into the subjects eyes. At the back of the space we enter a small enclosed gallery with nautical blue walls, brightly colored paintings line all four walls. We stop in often as there is always something new to see.

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We are off to try the latest restaurant to open in Midtown, La Feria, on Cass Ave. Serving hot (calientes) and cold (frias) tapas, the owners have brought a little bit of Spain to Detroit. Open from 11 to 3, and then again from 5 to 11, we settled on a late lunch to hopefully avoid a long wait. There are two empty tables, we help ourselves to the high-top in the front window, the late afternoon sun warms our backs as we glance at the menu. The place is lively, tables are filled with jovial customers passing dishes and catching up with one another. The ceiling is a deep blue, a red soffit adds a splash of color above the bar, a small chalkboard calls out today’s specials. Everything on the menu sounds delicious, our waitress is super friendly and helpful in our decision making. We start with a glass of house made red Sangria, be sure to have one yourself……First to arrive is the ensalada mixta: tender greens, cucumber, red onion, hard boiled eggs and Spanish olives, sprinkled with coarse salt. The tortilla Espanola is next, two triangular slices of cold Spanish omlette with fried potatoes and carmelized onion topped with roasted red pepper strips, mmmmmm, really good! The Sabor de Espana is a charcuterie board with exceptionally good meats, cheeses and charred bread, we had the small one and it was just right for the two of us. The food is outstanding, we look forward to eating our way through the entire menu!

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 After all the savory food, we are in a mood for something sweet, a new gelato shop called Melt opened just down the street and is creating quite a buzz in the neighborhood. Walking the short distance I take notice of the foot traffic on the block; folks are out walking their dogs, a bag of puppy chow slung over their shoulder, undoubtedly purchased from Cass Corridog. Young couples push baby carriages, college students bear the weight of heavy backpacks after a study session. Inside, the air is scented with the aroma of coffee and sugar, walls contrast in deep red and bright white, the counter is lined with cookies and treats. The gelato case is near the back, stainless steel compartments are piled high with multi-colored flavors; grapefruit sorbetto, roasted pistachio, autumn spice, and, our choice, bourbon caramel gingersnap–it tastes even better than it sounds! Our plastic cup is piled high with the creamy substance, we sit at a table overlooking the sidewalk, for a second I forget where I am. For as long as I can remember this is the Detroit I have been dreaming of; cute little shops, great restaurants, a neighborhood ice cream shop, pedestrians crowding the streets. I have to admit there were days I had my doubts, but I never lost my faith.

DETROIT: Cultural Center Tour

28 Sep

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Now and again we like to be ‘tourists’ in our own city; these days tours of Detroit can be taken daily, choices vary from walking and bicycle to segways and buses, today our feet will take us through Detroit’s Cultural Center. We begin our tour at the McKenzie House, a lovely 1895 Queen Ann style residence that is now Preservation Detroit’s (f.k.a. Preservation Wayne) headquarters. As Detroit’s largest and oldest historic preservation organization, members have worked tirelessly since 1975 to preserve, promote and protect the city’s rich architectural heritage. Over the years we have trekked through the streets of the city, gone inside private homes and seen amazing buildings on tours led by this all volunteer organization. We meet inside the house, a large group has gathered for this Saturday morning tour, we pay our $10 and head out the door, gathering on the Cass Ave sidewalk.

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As we make our way over to Woodward, our guide Kathleen, shares interesting stories and histories of buildings we pass, her assistant Susan adds to the conversation. On Woodward we see large historic homes, reminding us that this once was a residential neighborhood, many are currently owned by Wayne State University and used for storage and administrative purposes. We pause in front of the Maccabees Building, built in 1927 for the fraternal organization Knights of the Maccabees, the elaborately carved limestone facade is incredible. The main entryway deserves a few moments of our time, we stop and study  intricate patterns and series of solemn knights that surround  the elongated arch, I see columns and faces, two knights stand atop the door frame, above them a fanciful clock is anchored to the building.

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Just down the street we enter the Detroit Public Library Main Branch, designed by Cass Gilbert in the Italian Renaissance style, it was built in 1921 of Vermont marble and serpentine Italian marble trim. If you have never been inside the library, you need to see it. To the right is the Children’s library, I love the fireplace. Mary Chase Perry Stratton created the tiles, large ones represent fairy tales, others shimmer in her signature luster glaze. We ascend a staircase, an ornate coffered ceiling comes into view. At the top of the stairs a barrel-vaulted ceiling is illuminated by lantern style lights hanging from a single chain. Adam Strom Hall is spectacular, a mural is painted in three sections, a man fills the center space, he holds the past in one hand and the present in the other, Kathleen has much to tell us in this room. We exit the building through the back, this is the 1963 addition to the building, do not miss the magnificent mosiac fascade.  

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The Detroit Historical Museum is our next stop, out front is Legends Plaza, a collection of hand prints set in concrete of men and women who have called Detroit home. As I listen I walk around placing my hands inside the hand prints of Al Kaline, Elmore Leonard, Lily Tomlin, Gordie Howe and Alice Cooper. Further up Woodward the George L Beecher House is being refurbished, this 3-story yellow brick and limestone home was designed by HJ Maxwell Grylls and built in 1894, one of the most outstanding features is the original Tiffany stained glass window on the east Ferry side of the home. Across the street stands the  Hecker-Smiley mansion, you have probably seen this castle-like structure as you have driven down Woodward. The once private home is marvelous, designed by Louis Kamper it is 20,988 sq ft of French Renaissance Chateauesque design, Kris and I have previously been inside, the interior is spectacular. Around the corner on Ferry Street is the former home of Charles Lang Freer, he was a Detroit industrialist with a passion for collecting art, at one time he purchased Whistler’s Peacock Room and had it installed in his home; it is now housed at The Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.  Across the street a series of four restored Victorian homes and two carriage houses make up the Inn on Ferry, a lovely alternative to staying in a hotel when visiting the city. The East Ferry Avenue Historic District was originally part of the Ferry Seed Company, the neighborhood was developed in the late 1800’s into an upper-class neighborhood. The street is gorgeous, great architecture, mature trees and today, a flawless blue sky. 

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The College for Creative Studies Ford Campus is located on Kirby, buildings represent many different time periods and architectural styles, large sculptures dot the campus. Further down Kirby we arrive at the Scarab Club, the brown brick building is rich in details, home to artists studios and galleries it’s a fascinating place. We round the corner at the DIA and walk up Farnsworth, The Rackham Education Memorial Building rests here, built in 1941 for the Engineering Society of Detroit it is made of Georgia marble, black granite and features cast bronze windows. The building houses a 1000 seat auditorium on the main level and a ballroom on the lower level, darn, we can’t go in! Our attention is diverted by the sound of music and stomping feet, as we near the front of the DIA we find an outdoor stage playing host to Flamenco dancers and a guitarist, passersby marvel at the sight, some take a seat and stay awhile. Our tour group moves to the front of the Detroit Institute of Arts, a wedding party poses for photos on the front stairs, you couldn’t ask for a more perfect day, the bridal party is quite elegant, the building entrance providing the backdrop. Rodin’s Thinker looks as if he has a lot on his mind today, bankruptcy can do that to a guy. Our tour ends here. Preservation Detroit’s tour season continues through the month of October, guides are friendly, knowledgeable and passionate about Detroit. If you’d like to get a closer look at many of the places we visited today, come downtown on December 7th for Detroit’s 41st Annual Noel Night; music, art, historic buildings, authentic Christmas spirit–don’t miss it!

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My stomach rumbles as a reminder that it is lunchtime, we are heading over to the Jefferson House inside the Pontchartrain Hotel. Named after the legendary ‘Pontch’ hotel that once stood on the corner of Woodward and Cadillac Square, this hotel opened in 1965. Recently re-opened as a Crown Plaza, we are anxious to have a look. The front wall of the Jefferson House restaurant is all windows, sunlight seeps in, our table overlooks Jefferson and the reconstruction of Cobo Arena turned ballroom and convention space. The room is done up in cream and taupe with rich wood accents, the ceiling is decorated in a metallic finish and lit from the edges,adjacent to the space is the Urban Cellars Bar.  Our server is cheerful and informative, if you were visiting from out-of-town she could make great suggestions of things to see and do while in the city–a great asset to the hotel. The menu is creative, a nice variety of ingredients, we quickly decide and place our order. First to arrive is the salad; tender spinach leaves are tossed in house made dressing along with goat cheese, bacon, julienne apples and poached pears. The presentation is gorgeous, piled attractively on a rectangular plate that reminds me of slate. The veggie sandwich is a spinach wrap stuffed with sautéed vegetables then grilled, the flavors are melded together perfectly. Both items were delicious and reasonably priced, portion sizes are good too. When we are finished we walk through the lobby area; very attractive in white, long fringe type curtains divide the spaces, a cool circular inset in the ceiling has an iridescent finish, very modern, striking. The hotel is already sold out for the Auto Show in January!

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Detroit Film Theatre

16 May


There is something very appealing to me to sit and watch a good movie on a rainy afternoon, on a recent Sunday we headed over to the Detroit Film Theatre to do just that. The 1,200 seat auditorium was built as part of the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1927, a collaborated effort of Paul Philippe Crete and C Howard Crane, the theater is gorgeous! For the last 30 years the theater has been host to acclaimed documentaries  subtitled foreign language films, restored classics, independent and silent films and director’s retrospectives. Today we are traveling to France, the year is 1971, the film, Max et les Ferrailleurs, parlez-vous francais?

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We find a parking space near the John R entrance, we purchase tickets in the outer lobby, the floor and walls are marble, the ceiling highlighted by a series of simple gold lines. The inner lobby is more decorative; the ceiling is embellished in gold, silver and copper, wonderfully ornate wrought iron floor lamps emit a soft light, the drinking fountain is a work of art itself. We follow the terazzo floor to a wonderful curving staircase leading to the mezzanine level; the back of each step beautifully decorated with lustrous Pewabic Tiles. At the top is the Crystal Gallery, originally a reception space, now a cafe, the room is breathtaking! The vaulted ceiling is two stories high, a row of stunning chandeliers dangle from above, floor to ceiling crystal reflecting walls cap off both sides. The windows are mammoth in size, allowing natural light to stream in, the oval space above them finely detailed. The cafe is a the perfect place to have a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, or a light snack before or after a film.

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Decorated in deep blue, gold and silver, the auditorium itself is lavish, opulent, magnificent. On each side of the stage mock box seat areas are capped with splendid gold grates, a single face rests at the peak. A ring of gold rectangular grates depict cherubs delighting in a bounty of fruits and vegetables surround the theatre. The ceiling and walls had to be designed around the Cassavant Feres classical pipe organ, fine details saturate the auditorium; a spectacular curved molding that joins wall and ceiling, Art Deco style grills along the back wall, C Howard Crane’s influence is obvious. The lights dim, we take our seats, the movie begins. It takes just a few minutes to acclimate myself to read the subtitles and watch the film simultaneously. Billed as a crime drama the story takes us through the planning of a bank heist, a detective seeking revenge and the complicated life of a beautiful woman in love with two men. C’est la vie!

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When the movie ends it is time for dinner, we are grabbing a bite to eat at Honest ? Johns over on Selden. A local favorite for many years the menu offers something for every taste; chicken and waffles, burgers and fries, salads, sandwiches and even vegetarian selections. We choose a booth by a window and pour over the menu, we place our order with the very friendly waitress and wait for our food to arrive. Restaurant patrons range from suburban couples and bar stool regulars to college students and hipsters, everybody feels at home here. We hear the clanking of balls from a game of pool taking place on the other side of the divider, neon signs sport phrases like “Sobriety Sucks” and “Men Lie”. Our food arrives and it looks delicious, the hardest part is waiting for Kris to take the pictures before we can dig in. The spinach salad is great; tender baby spinach, crisp turkey bacon, sweet vidalia onions and grape tomatoes served with a curry mustard dressing. The spinach artichoke melt tasted even better than it looked; soft grilled pita bread filled with spinach, artichoke, provolone and parmesan cheese, served with a side of chipotle-basil mayo, I’d come back for this sandwich anytime. 

DETROIT: Art X Encore

21 Apr

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As Art X Detroit continues its stronghold on the Sugar Hill Arts District we carefully scan the schedule of performances. We coordinate our times and venues and head out for another evening of music and art. We begin with a visit to the Music Box at the Max M Fisher Music Center, Xiao Dong Wei is performing in the 450 seat recital hall. This is our first time in the Music Box, in honor of Xiao lovely orange lanterns hang above the stage, we ascend the stairs about halfway up to find open seats. Born in China and studying the Erhu (2-stringed Chinese violin) since age 5, Xiao is a versatile musician. She plays several instruments in a variety of genres including, traditional Chinese folk tunes, Jazz, Classical and American Bluegrass. She now lives in Detroit and is a 2012 recipient of a Kresge Artist Fellowship. Before long the music begins, Xiao, dressed in an exquisite coral colored qi pao, is accompanied by Yuki Mack, a Japanese born Steinway Roster piano virtuoso, who also just so happens to be an old high school classmate of mine. The melody is distinctly Asian, I have never seen an Erhu being played in person, it is fascinating to watch. Basically a stick with a box on the end and a couple of strings, how can it create such beautiful music? We stay for the first four pieces, at times she was joined by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Chamber Ensemble, other pieces were done as duets. For us it is an incredible opportunity to experience enchanting music in a fresh environment.

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Next on the schedule, Terry Peake introduces his new band Fireloom at the DIA. We are anxious to check out the performance; the band is termed an instrumental, progressive rock band, they will play in front of a screen where a 1960’s era oil light show will be projected by Jon Hudson, sounds cool!  There’s something special about going to the DIA at night, we climb the front steps, give The Thinker a wave and enter through the stunning glass and wrought iron doors; the lighting inside low and mysterious. It’s difficult not to proceed to the Grand Hall and have a look around, but we have a show to catch…..We arrive at the lecture hall to find every seat taken, there is barely enough room for us to stand at the back of the room, it is very warm, we can only glimpse the screen, after a few songs we decide to move on.

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We continue on foot to the Charles H Wright Museum of African American History ; Ara Topouzian is performing in the General Motors Theater. Born in Detroit, the Armenian-American is a widely recognized kanunist,  someone who plays the Kanun, a 76-stringed lap-top harp. We enter the theater and are relieved to find open seating. Seats surround the stage in a semi-circle, the angle is steep, allowing even the shortest visitor a perfect view of the performers. The music has already begun, we quietly sit down. Four musicians dressed in black are onstage, they play traditional Armenian instruments. The song comes to an end and Ara introduces the next piece; a large screen acts as a backdrop, vintage photos of people and events appear, I am guessing the faces are of family and friends. The music is delightful, it feels happy, celebratory, audience members clap and sway along. When the last note is played we make our exit, a table selling CD’s is set up in the hall, it is Ara’s own label American Recording Productions, we pick one out, anxious to give it a listen later.

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We are back outside walking toward MOCAD, in the distance we see Maccabees at Midtown and decide to stop in for a drink. Inside we take a seat at the bar, the atmosphere is lively, it is Friday night after all. The bar top is a gorgeous white marble, lit from underneath it seems to glow, the hanging light fixtures too are attention-getting. We sip our drinks overlooking Woodward Ave, foot traffic is heavier due to Art X. We don’t sit for long as we have one more show to catch. 

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Over at MOCAD Chris Pottinger will perform Congealed: A Festival of Solo Experimental Sound & Art; this will definitely be the most unusual performance of the evening. Once again the room is packed with people, the lights are low, permitting the original artwork being shown on the screen to stand out. Pottinger is both musician and visual artist, he explores the connection between sight and sound. We watch him, guitar laying flat across his lap, amplifier cranked up, as he strikes the strings with his hands, the sound resonates throughout the building. A smattering of foot pedals are scattered about on the floor, the tone and sound change when a bow passes over the strings. This continues as the scenes behind the artist change, the artwork the inspiration for the sound. I look around, fascination plays upon the faces in the audience, a constant stream of people pass the stage pausing to take a photo. I glance over at Kris and notice we share the same perplexed look, clearly we’re not this musically advanced….but the audience sure enjoyed it! The show wraps up at about 11pm. It has been a full evening; we feel as if we have visited China, Africa and on to Armenia, we have gone from traditional to experimental and we never had to leave Detroit.

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DETROIT: DIA, Friday Night Live !

11 Nov

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It’s no secret that Detroit has one of the finest art museums in the country, but did you know the DIA is open every Friday until 10 pm? They call it Friday Night Live; a combination of art, music, guided tours, drawing and craft classes, the vibe is casual and fun. There’s something different happening each week. All activities are included in the price of admission, if you live in Wayne, Oakland or Macomb counties, it’s FREE! So what are you waiting for……….

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It is the Friday before Halloween, the front of the Beaux-arts building is specially lit in colored lights. Inside it is darker than usual, we pass a family dressed in Halloween costumes, we check in at the members desk and get the low-down on the evenings activities. We proceed up the stairs to the Great Hall, the giant circular chandeliers glow dimly, a laser light show is being projected on the right-hand wall. The wall to the left is lined with glass cases filled with William Randolph Hearst’s Armor collection, tonight they look spooky. There are special tours going on, sort of a scavenger hunt, people hold lists and point. The grand space has a completely different look and feeling; we notice fine details in the architecture and decor we have previously overlooked. We proceed to other galleries, we notice two young girls who appear to be sleep-walking, suddenly they drop to the floor and sleep.  I seem to be more fascinated by the building than the art tonight, faces carved in stone that once seemed harmless now look menacing, I notice beautiful sconces lit by a cluster of globe shaped bulbs, the luster of pewabic tile glazes come to life. Further on we encounter more sleep walkers, these carry pillows and blankets, soon they lie down on the floor, they look quite comfortable. Easels are set up randomly to encourage visitors to try out their drawing skills, young and old give it a whirl. I check the time, we have to get moving, the performance is about to start.

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The show is taking place in the auditorium of theDetroit Film Theatre, the stunning 1,150 seat theater was designed by C. Howard Crane ( also designed Fox Theatre, Orchestra Hall, Opera House and State Theatre, to name a few) the Aerial Angels are getting ready to perform. Streams of people are filing in, we find good seats, before long the lights dim. The stage is oddly lit, the music a bit peculiar, the atmosphere is a bit creepy, after all it is the season for the strange and unusual. The only male in the cast takes center stage and begins to juggle, he’s good; the number of items increases, so does the difficulty, it’s fascinating to watch. Other cast members appear on stage, a woman mesmerizes us with her hula-hoop skills, how do they do that? The music changes with each new act, it is a continuous stream of captivating tricks and acrobatics. Three women begin to climb the aerial silks that hang from the ceiling, they maneuver up and down the long flowing silk, they move gracefully to the music. When they finish the mood becomes serious, a female dressed in heels and a long coat appears, and she’s carrying a whip! Her heels click as she moves across the floor cracking her whip, the sole man reappears wearing shorts and holding a newspaper, hhhmmm…….Hesitantly the guy extends his arms holding the paper out in front, Crack! The paper is now cut in two; the procedure continues until the paper is a smidgen of what it once was, no blood was shed. The show is like a dark, edgy version of a Cirque troupe, the finale consists of juggling many large, sharp knives. We are enthralled, enchanted, bewitched. 

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We decided to end our evening with a nightcap at the Motor Bar inside the Book-Cadillac Hotel on Washington Blvd. The building is incredible; designed by (you think I’m going to say Albert Kahn, but I am not!) Louis Kamper in the Italian Renaissance style, it opened in 1924 as the tallest hotel in the world at 33 floors. The hotel has a rich history, including guests such as Presidents Hoover, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Reagan, Frank Sinatra stayed here too. The hotel closed in 1984 and was sold off in 1986. After a $200 million restoration the building was brought back to life as the Westin Book-Cadillac, a truly amazing feat! We head up the stairs to Motor Bar, the rectangular space is just lovely; modern chandeliers hang from plaster ceiling medallions, a series of huge windows line one wall, columns with richly ornate capitals separate the windows. Cozy seating areas line the perimeter of the room while larger tables are placed in the middle. We order drinks at the bar, a Cabernet Sauvignon for myself and a Whiskey and Coke for Kris. The room is warm and inviting, we take our drinks to a seating area by a window, they have a good crowd tonight. There’s a character to an old building you just don’t get in new construction, it’s like the walls themselves have absorbed the past. The drinks were wonderful, as was the atmosphere.

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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!