Tag Archives: Elwood Bar & Grill

DETROIT: The Colony Club

7 Apr

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They say, “you can’t judge a book by its cover”, they’re right! There are so many beautiful building interiors in Detroit hiding behind ordinary facades. Today we are visiting The Colony Club on Park Avenue. Let me set the stage. It was the Roaring 20’s, the United States was experiencing economic prosperity never seen before; electricity, automobiles, radios and telephones were attainable by the average working man. Charles Lindbergh made his first solo, non-stop, Trans-Atlantic flight from NY to Paris, Duesenberg’s Model J was unveiled, Jazz music blossomed, movie stars and sports heroes graced magazine covers. Women joined the work force and were given the right to vote. Here in Detroit, women were keeping pace with the changing times; four women’s clubs opened within four blocks of each other providing a place for women’s functions, recreation and socializing. The Colony Club opened in 1928.

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Kris and I haven’t been in this building for almost two decades, we have arranged a special tour with Director of Sales and Marketing, Nicole. The red brick, Georgian-style building was designed by the Smith, Hinchman and Grylls architectural firm (think Buhl, Penobscot & Guardian Buildings). At seven stories tall the exterior is simple, limestone and iron grill-work add a touch of elegance. The lobby is stunning! An artist by the name of Victor is responsible for the gorgeous restoration paint work. The lovely peacock pattern is not original but fits the time period perfectly; gold and silver dance off delicate lacy designs. The black and white marble floor gleams, years of being covered with carpet protected the finish.When the building opened in the 20’s, three small shops were located on the ground floor, today, these are used as reception areas. We ascend marble stairs to the third floor, the ballroom.

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Done up in Louis XVI style, lavish, opulent, resplendent and grand are just a few of the words I would use to describe this space. Decorated in Versailles cream and gold gilt with a splash of bronze, Victor has done his magic once again! Original crystal chandeliers sparkle in the sunlight, plaster details are impressive, huge arch-shaped mirrors make the room feel so open and airy. Delicate wall sconces are also original, pale blue inserts appear to be Wedgwood, iron grill-work creates faux balconies. It’s easy to imagine Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly gliding across the dance floor. Speaking of the floor, it’s unique in the sense that it’s wood and not carpet, re-laid about a month ago, it too is splendid. Twin stairways lead to the next level, I’d guess many a bride has stood on these steps for photos. From here we have a panoramic view of the breath-taking ballroom. The 4th floor was the original dining room, a commercial kitchen resides in the same place as the first kitchen. The dining room itself has been transformed into another rental space for smaller gatherings; today it is set up for a wedding ceremony. Soft yellow, peach and more dazzling gold cover the walls and plaster details, quite stunning. Chandeliers and sconces are brand new, made special for the space. 

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Back in the day men were not allowed above the ballroom level, it was a women’s club after all. There were 16 sleeping rooms on the 6th floor, card rooms, salons, squash and badminton courts on the 5th, even a solarium on the roof (currently being restored). The Depression brought economic hardship, the building fell into foreclosure and the women of the club disbanded. Occupied by several businesses, the UAW purchased the building for its Detroit headquarters in the 60’s, after that, Wayne County Community College had it for a while. Preservationist Charles Forbes bought the building in 1984, thank goodness! It was leased to the Detroit Police Department to be used as its Police Academy (this is the time period we were here). With Superbowl XL on the horizon, Forbes management began an extensive restoration of the club, ESPN used the building for Superbowl functions. Today Colony Club has become a popular venue for weddings, dinners and special events.

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Moving forward in time to 1936, we are having lunch at Elwood Bar & Grill, another of Chuck Forbes buildings, it seems a natural choice. If you’ve lived in the metro Detroit area for a while, you may recall in 1997 the Elwood was relocated, as was the Gem/Century Theatre which moved 1,850 feet to make room for Comerica Park and holds the Guinness World Record as the heaviest building (2,700 tons) ever moved on wheels. Today the cream and blue enameled steel Art Deco diner resides on Adams Ave behind the Detroit Tiger’s left field. The swanky interior has been completely restored. Today the whole area is bustling with activity in preparation for opening day.

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Sitting in a booth window-side we take in the details of the diner, walls are painted green in a textured technique, narrow chrome strips orbit white globe lights , two-toned wood  makes up the bar. The most unique feature is the mural street map of Detroit that fills the circular recess in the ceiling, it details the path of movement the Gem and Elwood took to their new permanent locations. A large plate of food is set on the table, we are sharing the Blackened Chicken Melt: Cajun-spiced chicken breast grilled and topped with pepper jack cheese, tomato, Dijon and mayo served on egg-dipped grilled sourdough bread–delicious! Alongside the sandwich is a side of tasty cole slaw and a pile of fresh hand-cut fries, yum! Detroit is filled with treasures such as these. These days it seems more and more buildings are being restored and re-purposed,  that’s good news for all of us!

Christmas At Historic Trinity, Elwood Bar & Grill

3 Jan

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Located on Gratiot near Eastern Market is Historic Trinity Lutheran Church. Each December on the Saturday before Christmas they hold a Christmas Open House and German  Market; we have gone a few times now, and I look forward to it every year. The architectural style of the church is 16th Century Pier-and Clerestory Gothic, it is opulent, magnificent and impressive. Erected in 1931, it has been the cathedral church for Detroit Lutheranism since its inception. The building is constructed of granite and Indiana limestone, the tower itself is a copy of the tower of the Monastery of Erfurt Germany, and soars 104 feet into the sky.

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Once inside you will find the beauty of the church awe-inspiring. The alter rises 24 feet high and is the focal point; oak is intricately carved depicting bible figures and stories, the alter stone and baptismal font made of Botticino Marble from Italy are elegant. The light fixtures are amazing, large in stature and majestic looking they came from the Martin-Gibson Company of Detroit. The stained glass windows are incredible; designed and made by Henry Lee Willet of the Willet Glass Company of Philadelphia, the colors are vibrant jewel-tones that vary in intensity with the exterior light, the contrast between the stone walls and multi-colored windows is striking. The “Ruth” window is the only one of the twelve windows that bears Henry Willet’s signature. The Nave seats 300, if you have a seat in one of the pews you will notice all figures and decoration are scaled above eye-level, it was planned this way as to not distract from the ceremony of mass, I have to admit, I would still find myself looking up and about at the splendor of my surroundings. The original organ, a Skinner from Boston sits above in a loft, the organ pipes are are mounted on the wall to the left. To our delight the organist played Christmas melodies, treating us to the sounds only a pipe organ can make. The ceiling is a masterpiece of wood beams hand painted in traditional German patterns, get a good look at them from the second level.

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Being the Christmas season, the church decorations are glorious! Holiday banners jut out from the side walls of the nave, a towering Christmas tree sits near the alter decked out in multi-color L E D lights, it is quite a sight. The decorations continue throughout the church; all together there are over 50 decorated Christmas Trees, 650 Angels, 250 Creches, and a variety of other decorations and doll houses.  This is all spread out over several levels, be sure and go up to the organ loft, the overview of the church is stunning. The Christmas German Market is located on the second level, and worth every stair you climb. Large round tables are set up giving you a chance to sit and indulge in the free cookies, coffee and punch provided. A table selling traditional Christmas goodies such as Stollen and Strudel is always surrounded by eager customers waiting in line to buy some to take home to family and friends. Other tables sell specialty foods and imported items, you can even sit down and learn to make German paper crafts. Music was being played by the Motor City Sax Quartet and gave the room a festive feel.

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There are many hallways and rooms to wander through, we like to take our time so we don’t miss anything. Tiny details are everywhere; a pretty light fixture at the end of a hall, Pewabic Pottery tiles scattered about in the floor, the stone pulpit and brass collection plates. The acoustics of the church are wonderful, I can only imagine how terrific a choir would sound. If you ever have the chance to visit, don’t pass it up.

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The Elwood Bar and Grill is a 1936 Art Deco diner that sits on the corner of Adams and Brush behind the Comerica Park scoreboard. Originally located at the corner of Elizabeth and Woodward, which is how it got its name: El(izabeth)Wood(ward), owner Chuck Forbes had it moved in 1997 to it’s present location to make room for Comerica Park. This place is great! From the exterior of cream and blue enameled steel to the interior of light wood, terazzo entry way and globe shaped light fixtures, this place screams Art Deco. We parked for free at the adjacent parking structure and went inside for some lunch. After we arrived it started to get busy, as their was a matinee at the Gem/Century theatre. We sat at a high-top table near the window and looked over the menu, we decided on the Sunrise Salad: baby spinach and spring mix, topped with cashews, almonds, mandarin oranges, blood oranges and poppy seed dressing; the portion was large and it was very tasty. We also had the Club sandwich served on  herb foccacia: along with the usual “club” fillings they put a wasabi aoli on it for a nice kick. The sandwich was large, enough to split, along with a generous portion of fresh hand-cut fries, soooo goood! The place underwent a complete restoration after it was moved; from the unique enameled steel fascade to the interior, Chuck Forbes always does things right. When you enter Elwood there is a cool terazzo floor with the year 1936 inlaid, if you look up there is a recessed map showing the streets of downtown where Forbes owns properties in the city; The Gem and Century, The Palms/State/Fillmore, The Colony Club and of course The Elwood. On a nice day you can sit outdoors, even better when the Tigers are in town, you can hear the game from the patio. Be sure and check the website for hours as they change from season to season. Next time you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind place for a meal, a snack, or a drink, check out the Elwood Bar and Grill.