Tag Archives: Graffiti in 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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