Tag Archives: Midtown Detroit

DETROIT: Dlectricity Redux

1 Oct

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Tonight Midtown Detroit is putting on a free, amazing, festival of light, sound and art; everybody is invited! Dlectricity (inspiration for the name comes from Detroit’s own, long gone, Electric Park) features more than 35 world-renowned and emerging artists whose work will illuminate historic architecture and public spaces along the Woodward corridor from the Detroit Historical Museum all the way to Orchestra Hall, for two consecutive nights.  It is a balmy September evening in the city, we arrive early enough to secure a parking space within decent walking distance of the activities, as we near Woodward we begin to see flashes of light and color, foot traffic is picking up, let’s check it out.

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Folks are gathered around the plaza of the historical museum, the film, The Legendary Leland Club, is being shown on the side of the building, we watch a few minutes then begin the trek down Kirby to see what else is going on. This side of the DIA a piece called Sash is being projected onto the building, the horizontal design cycles through all the colors of the spectrum. Making a right on John R the sidewalks are crowded with people, fluorescent glass tubes are formed in the shape of a house on the CCS campus, across the street the DIA loggia is aglow in blue LED lights, designs of different color and shape dance on the walls. A crowd has gathered in front of the Michigan Science Center to see Kelly Richardson’s submission, The Erudition; it’s quite an attention-getter. The scene is eerie, otherworldly and tranquil at the same time; a lunar-like landscape is the backdrop for towering holographic trees that blow in a fictional wind, stars twinkle in the night sky, parts of it seem so real, I just want to stand there and keep looking at it. On the Farnsworth side of the DIA, kids are playing a Detroit version of the game Minecraft; by choosing virtual textured cubes of wood, iron, diamond and lava, players construct and deconstruct the city into an array of make-believe structures.

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I would say the main attraction of the festival takes place on the Woodward side of both the DIA and the Detroit Public Library. The front surface of the opposing buildings act as a screen, Mindfield tells a story from the viewpoint of both a man and a woman, simultaneously, one on each building; it is visually stunning. Colors, shapes, scenes, faces,  flash in front of us, we watch one side, then the other, the story is played in a continuous loop, bystanders are enveloped in music and light. Walking toward downtown, we pass a robotic sort of installation called Mechano Shards, as the name suggests 20′ tall shimmering crystal-like shards, made from clear plastic and filled with air move in synchronized patterns, it’s interesting to watch the human interaction; children seem fascinated, some stand in the middle as shards close in around them, they laugh and think it’s cool. We continue our direction, passing the WSU Welcome Center, people peer in windows at the display, we see bicycles wrapped in colored lights cruising down the street. The large green space at Woodward and Warren is host to a bevy of things; a video plays on a big free-standing screen, a large-scale projection covers a building, Design Village features the work of independent Detroit designers, in the distance a white glow attracts visitors to what appears to be a giant television; here anyone can play the part of Mike Teavee from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. 

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Everywhere you look buildings are awash in light and color, sound and motion, sidewalks are thick with people, across the street, the bell tower of the First Congregational church is lit. The JVS Building is covered in ever-changing images of colorful, cell-like clusters, putting me in the mind of science and biology. Kris takes photo after photo, not an easy task in a crowd, we continually point things out to one another. When we reach Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company we stop in for a drink. In addition to serving freshly roasted, single origin, organic coffee they offer a nice selection of artisanal beer, craft cocktails and natural wines. The place is packed, the line at the register long, Kris notices two empty seats at the bar and leads me there. Scanning the drink menus, we quickly make a decision and place our order, it feels good to be sitting. The front of the building is all windows, giving one a great view of the hustle and bustle outside, Edison-style lights give the room a warm glow, exposed brick and wood plank ceiling make it cozy. Kris sips an Old Fashioned, I am enjoying a great Spanish red wine, a steady stream of customers come and go. 

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Illuminated sculptures titled Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, are grouped in front of the Max M Fisher Music Center, an up close look reveals they are made from plastic shopping bags, when we reach Parsons St, the “MaxCast” of Let’s Dance has just ended, guess we didn’t time that well! A giant waterfall cascades the length of the Bicentennial Towers, nearby, the Majestic Theater is aglow with laser, spiro-graph-like patterns in red, green, blue and yellow. The street in front is blocked off, lasers occupy lanes, as we stand there on the avenue I turn away from the show and take in the liveliness, movement and life that is becoming a regular occurrence in Detroit. The people who are here tonight reign from all over the metro, state and US, the city is becoming a destination, a place that draws individuals in with these type of events, shattering the one-sided, negative image so commonly associated with Detroit. There is an overwhelming sense of community out here tonight, and for that I am glad.

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 Making a right on Garfield we pop in and out of MOCAD and N’ Namdi, one of the coolest installations we see is on the back of the Garfield Building, Sound Spheres. Supernatural 3D images and shapes continually evolve and blossom from one form to another, wouldn’t it be spectacular these projections were permanent? Inside the Catherdral Church of St Paul acoustic simulations are projected onto the surface of the chancel, simultaneous to the visual segment, a precision-timed audio piece composed to excite the natural acoustics of the space is pumped into the room; it’s pretty awesome sitting in the 1907 structure watching sound take form. In the courtyard outside, plastic storage containers are stacked one on top of another, lit from within they take on a mysterious glow. Retracing our steps, we make our way back to the Jeep, we pass multi-generational families, hipsters, students, 30-somethings, all gathered here to enjoy what the best of what the city offers; fun, art, new experiences, great food, excellent drink and a night on the town!

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7 Apr


The list of things to see, places to eat and activities to do continues to grow in Detroit. Tonight we are dining at the recently opened Grille Midtown on Woodward in Midtown. With a little bit of luck we score a parking space in front of the restaurant, Friday evening diners are beginning to filter in. The interior is quite attractive; brick walls are painted in a silvery grey, artist renderings of vintage GM concept cars are framed and hang on the walls. We follow the hostess to our seats passing vintage automotive grills mounted to the wall; nearest our table one from a Ford Econoline and another from a Lincoln Continental, both circa 1960’s. Cool car stuff is found throughout the space.

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We start with a Caprese Salad; tomatoes, prosciutto, basil and mozzarella drizzled with olive oil and a balsamic reduction, very tasty. The Smokehouse burger is a thick prime ground beef patty served on a housemade brioche bun, topped with crispy applewood smoked bacon, house bbq sauce, melted cheddar and onion strings, yum! The burger comes with gourmet fries and a McClure’s pickle. Adjacent to the Grille is the Garden Theater, designed as a movie house by C Howard Crane, it opened in 1912 and showed films until 1949. Having sat empty and unused for the last 20 years the theater has been brought back to life. We poked our heads in to have a look…….we have got to see a show here.

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Tonight Cinema Detroit is showing The Grand Budapest Hotel. Starting out as the Burton International High School, the building is nearly 100 years old, the original auditorium had all of the seats and a projection booth (built in 1924) when the Burton Theatre took over the building. Previously known as Cass City Cinema, Paula and Tim Guthat now operate Cinema Detroit at The Burton. Movie enthusiasts themselves, both Paula and Tom blog about movies. Showing contemporary, indie, cult and classic movies, the screen in theater 1 is equipped with a cinema server and NEC digital camera DCI compliant projector to enable the showing of the latest movies from Hollywood and independent producers. Tonight there is an added attraction, Angela Foster, local pastry chef and proprietor of Coffee and (_____) is preparing Courtesans au chocolat just like the ones in the movie. 

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We arrive about a half hour before the movie is scheduled to begin, parking is easy because they have their own (monitored) lot. Everything about this place is unique, we walk toward the building, a small flashing LED sign reads ‘theater’, we follow a walkway on the side of the building, then follow the next flashing sign to the entry door. Inside a pair of lines have formed, one to purchase tickets and snacks, the other to purchase the courtesans au chocolat. I take my place in line to purchase tickets, it looks like the show may be sold out, I want to make sure we get our seats. Once our coats have been placed to secure our seats we join the pastry line. Silver trays of courtesans sit atop a small table, the pastries are beautiful; made from profiterole batter they are filled with chocolate custard, held together with colorful glazes and topped with a chocolate covered coffee bean, they’re as delicious as they look! Before the movie begins Angela has sold out. If you’d like to try some of her wonderful baked goods contact her by email; watch for the re-opening of her shop on Jefferson and Chalmers June 1st.

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With a little time left before we need to take our seats, we check out some of the building, antique projectors and film equipment are cool to look at. A second theater is located on the lower level, patrons have begun to arrive for the show. Back up the stairs we settle in to watch the movie, the auditorium is quaint and comfortable, there isn’t a single open seat. The film is visually stunning, the story charming, funny, sweet.  The Grand Budapest Hotel runs through Thursday April 10th, click on the link above for details.

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We end our evening with a stop at 3rd Street Bar for a nightcap. Not too noisy or too crowded we take a table near the bar, Kris orders a Canadian Club and Diet Coke, it’s a Founders Porter for me. This place always has a cozy feel, we sip on our drinks and talk about the evening, we have checked another new place off our list, there are still so many more to try……………

DETROIT: Let’s Go Shopping!

18 Aug

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With all of the media attention focused on the negative, the ugly and the bankruptcy, you may not be aware of the positive, the pretty and the growth going on these days in Detroit. Today we are going to give you a new perspective, just a little slice of the positive things happening in Detroit; we are headed to Midtown for some boutique shopping, Thai food, lovely streetscapes and an “American company dedicated to making things again in America”. Let’s get started! The Auburn Building is located on Cass Ave at the corner of Canfield, the structure features two stories of residential apartments above a ground floor that is home to design-focused shops and take-out, with plenty of metered parking right out front. We begin our shopping trip at Cass Corridog, owner Michelle has operated for the last two years as Woofbridge Feed and Supply out of Canine to Five, when the opportunity arose to move into her own space, she grabbed it. We are here on the shop’s opening day, large bags of dog food are standing at the back of the room, to the left a selection of toys and leashes hang on the wall. Gold toned walls and light wood make the 800 sq ft space feel warm and cozy. The shop sells a full line of pet care and nutrition products for dogs, cats, and even some fish supplies; the new larger space has also allowed for the addition of a pet bakery……lucky dogs!

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Next we wander into Nora, here you will find a pleasant assortment of items for the home, this is the kind of shop I love to browse. The room is bright and airy, walls and ceiling are pure white in contrast to the dark concrete floor. Large tables display colorful items such as serving dishes, pottery and glassware. Cubbies hold dishtowels, aprons and reusable shopping bags, funky clocks are perched on shelves, display cases feature unique Detroit jewelry. I walk around slowly, looking at everything, trying not to touch, pieces are both useful and attractive, much of it has a Scandinavian feel; the selection always changing. Selling top brands and good quality items, this store would be right at home in Somerset Mall or Birmingham.  It’s a great place to pick up a gift, Nora has cards too, they’ll even wrap the gift for you! Right next door is Hugh, if you are into “bachelor pad” style, fond of the 60’s or just like really cool stuff, you need to stop in. Hugh was actually the very first winner of the Hatch Detroit competition in 2011. The place is very swanky, in that Dean Martin/Frank Sinatra sort of way. Walls are richly colored in emerald-green and charcoal grey, floating shelves and cabinets are stained dark, the furniture has clean lines and feels somewhat masculine. Glass pieces are a mix of vintage and brand new; cocktail shakers, ice buckets, martini and wine glasses come in a variety of attractive shapes and sizes. Today a wooden cabinet is off to the side, when a fellow shopper inquires about it, Joe is on his feet, he begins to open doors and unfold shelves, in a few short minutes it has become a desk–gotta love that old-fashioned ingenuity. On the other side a collection of personal accessories such as shaving kits and flasks can be found. The only thing missing is a big old 1967  Imperial parked out front…… We stop in often as there is always something new to see.

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Time for a lunch break; we walk to the corner of the building and step inside Go! Sy Thai, the family owned restaurant has been operating in Birmingham since 1993, recently they opened a few new locations, we are going to give it a try. Standing at the counter we read the menu above, since both of us love Thai food, it is easy to choose. After our order is placed we take our cups to the pop machine, grab some silverware and napkins and wait for my name to be called. In no time our fresh roll and tofu tod are ready, each comes with its own dipping sauce, both are delicious. My name is called a second time, the drunken noodles wait for me at the counter. Sitting at the window overlooking Cass Ave, we watch as cars and pedestrians make their way about town, the drunken noodles are excellent, the texture perfect and just the right amount of heat, the portion is large, perfect for sharing. This is a great place to stop in for a quick meal or carry out.

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Previously located on the corner of Cass and Willis, Source Booksellers has made the move to the Auburn Building. An independent, non-fiction bookstore Source features books on History, Culture, Health and Well Being. The selection is hand-picked, you can find books by and about women, the spiritual and metaphysical. The space is inviting, the terra-cotta colored floor gleams, walls are painted black, wooden shelves hold a multitude of volumes. Source offers free community activities such as Tai Chi and book talks, they also offer a small selection of world music and greeting cards. I can’t resist a good bookstore, this one has much to offer.

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Global Detroit Human is the next store on the block, owner Jill Drnek has brought together the Detroit designer community in a single storefront. The interior space has a great vibe, a mural takes up the left wall, free-standing clothing racks hold a variety of styles and sizes. Corrosive Clothing is well represented, selling a variety of men’s t-shirts, Six Luxe offers resort wear, Curves specializes in sizes 12-22, pieces from Homeslice Clothing and Lavinia are also available; I can’t resist checking out the purses and accessories. The pieces on the racks run from casual to evening, there is something for everyone.

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Last, but certainly not least is Shinola, located on Canfield near Traffic Jam. My how things change; the streetscape in that area has gone from non-existent to wow in a very short time. Shinola has been in the news a lot lately, and for good reason; their tag line is, Where American Is Made. Yes indeed, this is the first company in 40 years to build watches at scale in America, where in America? Why,  Detroit, of course. Pardon me while I gush, but I find it refreshing, exciting and high time somebody recognizes all that Detroit has to offer. Highly skilled workers are employed by the company to build fine watches right here in the historic (1928 Albert Kahn designed) Argonaut building within CCS. The retail shop is gorgeous! Beautiful, well made items include their signature watches, leather goods, clothing, journals and bicycles. Helpful sales clerks roam the floor, they are friendly and eager to answer questions. Items are displayed in an eye-pleasing way, small glass cases group things by color. The bicycles are assembled right here, you can even watch the process,  built one at a time, by hand,the finished product complete with leather seat and hand grips, even a bell if you’d like. Off to the side is a small juice bar offering organic cold-pressed juice for sale in glass bottles. Drought is a Plymouth based juice company owned and operated by the James sisters. Today they are doing a brisk business, some customers have a seat outdoors at the large community table, the juice is taken as a meal. The store itself is busy, lots of folks trying on watches, each says “Shinola Detroit” on the back.  I am surprised at the variety and the ability, no, the desire, to make it all in America. I love this quote from their website: “we know there’s not just history in Detroit, there is a future.” I can’t argue with that.

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15 Apr

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Detroit has always had a deep connection to the arts; much attention has been paid to the city in recent years from both artists and art lovers alike. On any given weekend Detroit is buzzing with opening exhibits, music performances and panel discussions. This week the Kresge Foundation hosted Art X Detroit; a free 5-day, 60 event happening taking place at twelve venues celebrating art and culture in Detroit.

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It is Wednesday, opening night  of Art X, as we near Midtown Woodward comes alive with hot pink X’s, pedestrians, art installations and cars making a second and third trip around the block looking for a parking space. We stop to view the new mural on the side of the WSU Press Building: The People’s Vision by Hubert Massey. We park a few blocks away; though it is cold and raining we don’t mind the walk, the city feels vibrant, alive! We arrive at the Historic First Congregational Church, the building is stunning; terracotta colored stone, beautiful archways and colorful detail. Only a few other people are inside, Kris gets busy taking photos, I walk around the perimeter of the sanctuary, eyes glued first to the spectacular domed ceiling; divided into four sections each features a medallion with a different scene, a pair of angels flank each side. Arches are found throughout the space, the largest, the entrance to the altar area. The half-domed space is a wonder of gold-painted design, tonight it takes on an entirely different mood with its concert-style lighting and instruments in waiting. I take a seat in one of the beautiful wooden pews, the top and sides handsomely carved, each time I come here I notice something I hadn’t before. Brass wall sconces jut out from painted arched sections of the wall like spiny arms holding up the light, large rosette windows let light in from each side, a series of pipes border the organ loft at the back of the church. My attention is diverted by the sound of percussion instruments in the distance, Kris hears it too and takes his seat next to me.

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The sound grows louder, the doors of the church open, the Detroit Party Marching Band begins to file into the sanctuary. Pedestrians filter into the church and fill the pews as the band takes up residence at the back of the room. A woman enters wearing black and glittering gold, her hat is majorette-style with a large black plume shooting up from front and center, this is Shara Worden, lead singer and songwriter for My Brightest Diamond. The marching band continues to play a piece written especially for this occasion, it is rhythmic, contagious. Shara and her band members take the stage, the music stops, the marching band recedes from the church. The singer is greeted with loud applause, a Detroit resident we welcome her home. The music begins…….Shara has done it all; traveled the world, studied multiple instruments, voice, opera and composition, she takes all of her experiences and rolls it into an amazing performance. Her voice is clear and beautiful, makes me think Annie Lennox, she becomes characters telling a story, singing a lullaby. At times the music is Folk with a trombone part thrown in. The ensemble is an interesting combination of trumpet, flute, guitar, trombone, 2 saxophones, drums and keyboard played by the lady herself. It is eclectic, experimental and at times rocks! 

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Next we venture over to MOCAD, this is the hub for the event, there is constant activity in the building. The current exhibition is made up of works by 2011-2012 Kresge Fellows. We come through the door, the place is packed, the sweet sound of Jazz hangs in the air; Kris Johnson & Friends are performing. We drift into the crowd and make our way to the music, we recognize the melodies, standards that have been around for generations. The trumpet player is magnificent, the band, spectacular, we see them often at Northern Lights Lounge. We snatch cupcakes from a tray then wander through the galleries, the art is amazing.

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 Art X features Kresge’s Eminent Artists and Artist Fellows working in the visual, performing and literary arts. A tidbit about the Kresge Foundation:  In 1912 Sebastian Spering (SS) Kresge opened the first 5 &10 cent store in Detroit, he went on to build a chain of stores, S S Kresge, which in turn became K Mart, the guy was loaded! In 1924 he established the Kresge Foundation in Detroit, his goal was to create opportunity for low-income people and to promote the integration of arts and culture in community revitalization. Since that time the foundation has provided continuous philanthropic support to the area’s non-profit organizations and community initiatives, in 2012 it paid out $150.3 million dollars to 410 grants. Today it is a $3.1 billion dollar private national foundation; quite impressive! Good things happen when you buy local!

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We decide to end the evening with a nightcap, everything in the Sugar Hill Arts District is crowded, we walk back to the car and drive over to Traffic Jam and Snug on Canfield and Second. We pull up a couple of chairs to the bar, it’s a weeknight, so it’s quiet. Kris orders his ‘usual’ while I read the menu of hot drinks, the cold and wet have gotten to me. On the bartender’s advice I choose the Nutty Irishman, good decision! We sit back and enjoy our drinks, the vibe is laid back, we make some new friends. Travis put it best, to those that know Detroit the problem isn’t finding something to do, it’s wondering what  you’re missing out on….yep. I flip through the Art X program and realize there is still much to see, we’ll be back.

DETROIT: Firing up the Christmas Spirit

22 Dec

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It was the first weekend in December, the grass was still green and the temperatures mild, how is one to get into the holiday spirit? How about the 40th annual Noel Night in downtown Detroit? Yep, that’ll do it! We began our quest with a trip to the Masonic Temple, Handmade Detroit was hosting their seventh annual Detroit Urban Craft Fair. We secured a parking spot on Temple and quickly noticed numerous shoppers both coming and going from the entrance. Inside we boarded the elevator and pressed the button for 3M, we stepped off the elevator and walked over to the drill hall; we’re not used to being in this space without seeing the Detroit Derby Girls whipping around and flying through the air, but this edgy holiday craft show fit the space well.

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The room seemed so much larger; gone were the spectator chairs and tape lines marking off the track, the hardwood floor was now covered with row after row of tables, the lights were softer and the aisles were crowded with folks  hunting for holiday gifts. We walked to the far end and began to wander;  jewelry was prevalent, made from birch bark, glass, wrought iron nails and other interesting materials. Christmas trees decorated with hand crafted ornaments could be found on tables along with other home decor pieces, the mood was light and festive. Why is it when I’m shopping for other people I always find things for myself? There were unique objects like skate boards decked out in racing stripes and custom paint, original stuffed animal characters, and funky posters; no shortage of clever tongue in cheek items here…  T-shirts with original phrases and artwork were fun to look at, we saw beautiful hand dyed scarves, homemade jams, chocolates and greeting cards. Up and down the corridors we went, derby championship banners hanging from the ceiling, shoppers arms heavy with packages, so much more fun than shopping at a mall! The Masonic truly is one of the coolest venues in the city.

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The only hope for getting an easy parking spot on Noel Night is to get there early, so we did. With an upfront space outside Cass Cafe we stepped in for our traditional cocktail to kick off Noel Night. With two open seats at the bar we quickly procured them, ordered our drinks and checked over the evenings schedule. The event seems to grow each year, this year boasting over 200 performances in the Midtown district; all of it taking place in only 4 1/2 hours…impossible to do it all! By the time we had finished our drinks the line to get in had extended out the door; word was out, Noel Night is a blast.

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We began at the DIA, both of us being music lovers we decided to concentrate on the musical performances of the evening. Paul King and the Rhythm Society Orchestra were playing in Rivera Court and this year we got a seat! The atmosphere is magical, the music a delightful selection of old standards and Christmas tunes. I think I counted 15 musicians; they played beautifully as Paul King sang the lyrics, a couple of swing dancers entertained the audience from the side. When the set was finished we headed downstairs to the ever charming Kresge Court to hear a violin ensemble. A group of students dressed in black stood upon a stage playing their violins, the room was dimly lit, miniature white lights decorated the room, spectators watched and listened as the skillful musicians filled the air with holiday songs. 

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We proceeded outside and over to the International Institute on Kirby, they were featuring Holidays Around The World with international dance and song. As we arrived a group of elementary school aged girls took the stage; dressed in elegant white dresses they began to dance to traditional holiday music from Mexico. They danced carefree, a joyful smile upon their faces, parents and relatives gleamed in the audience. When they were finished the audience showed their appreciation with loud applause. Time was ticking and there was still so much to see.

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 Outside people were boarding horse-drawn carriages to take a ride through the city. Further up, the Park Shelton stands gracefully on the corner of Kirby and Woodward; the ground floor is now bursting with new businesses and all were open. We passed through Rodin, a new French inspired restaurant and wine bar recently opened by the same woman who owns Good Girls Go To Paris, loved the Eiffel tower in the entry way,I can’t wait to give it a try. A few doors down is Emerald, the place was packed! The furnishings came from the old Hudson’s and Crowley’s department stores from back in the 20’s and 30’s, the chandelier is from an old movie theatre in Wayne, gorgeous. They have a bit of everything from home goods and personal accessories to candy and paper products. You’re going to have to keep up with me now…..

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Across Woodward the St Paul Lutheran Church Bell Choir was playing on the Detroit Historical Museum‘s newly renovated plaza, inside the museum we listened to a few songs by the Deep River Choir; by now we were fully immersed in the spirit of the holiday. Every way we turned there were people out having a good time; some wore Santa hats, one woman was dressed from head to toe as a Christmas tree, she even had working lights. Walking south on Woodward we could hear laughing coming from the patio of The Whitney, so we went to see what it was about. We found an outdoor fire and folks sitting around it roasting marshmallows that would become the filling for smores, these Noel Night people think of everything.

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And so it went, everywhere we turned there was something to see, hear or do; we were in and out of churches, galleries and cultural institutions, and then, we were tired, and hungry. We made our way back to Cass, but instead of getting in the Jeep, we walked further, all the way to the Auburn Building. The Auburn is a brand new apartment building with retail space on the ground floor. New shops Hugh and Nora were a big hit with the crowd. Upstairs apartments were open to tour as was the large open terrace. With the great location and excellent view it’s easy to see why the units are renting out so quickly.

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With tens of thousands of pedestrians on the midtown city streets we thought it best to eat outside the activity zone. We can always count on Sala Thai in the Eastern Market district for a delicious meal. Fortunately there was an open booth when we arrived; we ordered the N-4 with tofu and sushi, it was on the table before we knew it. It felt good to sit down, relax and enjoy our meal. Detroit is on the move, it’s wonderful to watch the transformation back into a vibrant city; it’s even better to watch people discover it themselves.

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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Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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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!

Dally In The Alley, Vicente’s Cuban Cuisine

21 Sep

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The Dally In The Alley street fair is a celebration of life in the Cass Corridor. It takes place annually the Saturday following Labor Day and is the longest running neighborhood festival in Detroit, once you attend you will see why!  The Dally is a bit quirky and eclectic, it has an energy all its own as it spreads out through the streets and alleys sandwiched between Second and Third and Forest and Hancock. There’s a little bit of everything; Politics and religion, artists and makers of handcrafted items, food from local restaurants, beer, vintage goods, and merchandise from local vendors. If you are in the market for a Detroit t-shirt, look no further, there are dozens of different styles.You can talk to a Master Gardener, or take your children to the kids space in a grassy backyard where they can create their own works of art. The environment itself is cool and unusual; I find the alleyways just as interesting as the street side of the neighborhood, an old brick garage rests behind the homes looking much like it did in the late 1800’s.

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The main focus is music; with 183 submissions this year and only 43 slots to fill the bands were amazing! Four stages featuring local musicians play everything from Electronic to Folk with the emphasis on Rock, music runs  from noon until 11pm. Balconies of surrounding historic buildings are packed with people hanging out listening to the music, groups of friends catch up with each other standing in an alley way drinking ice-cold beer out of clear plastic cups,tiny dogs poke their heads out of shoulder bags looking to see what all the excitement is about, I just love this festival. Organized by North Cass Community Union, a non-profit group working to prevent urban removal of gracious historic buildings;there are no corporate sponsors, the cultural diversity is dynamic, the mix of attendees wide ranging.The later you arrive the more crowded it becomes, we try to get their when it opens and by the time we leave it’s packed. Dally does a great job showcasing what makes Detroit unique, one of my favorite t-shirts there said: “Detroit is the next Detroit”

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The city was alive; Dally in the Alley draws a good crowd and the Detroit Tigers were playing at home, we needed to eat somewhere that parking wouldn’t be too difficult. Vicente’s  over on Library was our best bet, we hadn’t been in a while so it was a good choice all around. The interior has a great Havana feeling to it; light-colored walls with large paintings, wood plank flooring, and a dance floor in the middle. Every Friday and Saturday night they offer Salsa lessons, afterward you can practice your new moves right there on the dance floor. This family owned restaurant opened in 2005 and was one of the first places in the metro area to offer authentic Cuban cuisine. The menu is extensive; Tapas, Entrees, Sandwiches, and a killer Sangria, it’s hard to decide. The Chilean chef does a wonderful job capturing the flavors of Cuba. We had the Cubano Grande Sandwich, so, good; pressed perfectly the meat was warm, the cheese gooey, the pickles crisp and all the flavors were melded together. The Cuban pepper salad was delicious, the vegetables were fresh with a nice crunch and it is topped with a tasty vinaigrette. The fried sweet plantains were some of the best we’ve had. 

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The warm temperatures beckoned us to take a jaunt around the neighborhood. Just a short distance away in what is referred to as Harmonie Park is a cozy little park that pays tribute to Detroit’s own Paradise Valley. Trees line the length of the park on both sides, a few stairs lead you down to the seating area where you can relax to the sound of a waterfall passing over a stone wall. Photos are inlaid on the concrete depicting the notable people and buildings that populated the area. We were sitting a relaxing when a traveling BBQ arrived! Yes, a man riding a full size black tricycle mounted a small drum-style bbq to the back of his bike, with a shelf for a cooler below. He was joined by a friend with a portable stereo mounted on his bicycle, and a few more friends came along to enjoy the food and music. It was really cool, a party-in-the-making on 3 wheels.

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We wandered a little further and stopped off at Spectacles, a funky little boutique on Grand River. Selling up-to-the-minute styles of T-shirts, hats, and accessories along with CD’s and books it’s a fun place to do a little shopping. Within walking distance you will find a few other shops and restaurants, along with the Harmonie Building. Built in 1895 the buff colored Harmonie Building is home to an art gallery on the first floor. Take a peek inside; the rich dark-colored wood and ornate plaster welcome you.The gallery rotates exhibits so there is always something new to see. Located about half-way between Greektown and the stadiums it’s a great area to explore.

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Preservation Wayne Midtown Tour, Detroit Brewery

2 Jun

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We began our Saturday with a Preservation Wayne Tour of Midtown. We met our group at Avalon Bakery on Willis and set out on foot to explore the area.  The guides are knowledgeable and friendly, and have lots of great information. I find that I notice so many more details of buildings when I am walking, for example I had never noticed the lion heads on the Stuber-Stone building before.  My favorite street in Midtown has to be West Canfield, construction began in the 1870’s  and was home to the wealthier residents such as doctors and attorneys. The homes are exquisite and well cared for, fine examples of Queen Ann, Second Empire, and Gothic Revival reside in this district.

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We traveled down Woodward, Canfield, Second, and Willis, admired places like The Whitney, the Garfield Building, and the Historic First Congregational Church. Lofts abound, rehabbing and reusing historic structures, bringing them back to life.  There are restaurants, bars, and small boutiques, this area is truly up and coming. Tours usually last around two hours, give or take, the cost is $10 per person. Preservation Wayne offers four different walking tours each Saturday from May through September, all beginning at 10 am. The highlight of their tour season is the Historic Theatres Tour which takes place this year on August 13, it is one of the best tours I have ever been on,  it fills up quickly so be sure to sign up early.  Click on their website for more details.

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All that walking made us hungry, being in Midtown we made the short drive over to Motor City Brewing Works for Pizza and Beer.  Walking in the door we were greeted by the smiling face of a friend who had also just arrived. The three of us headed up to the deck to enjoy both the sunshine and the food.  The more the merrier I always say, that way we can have  two kinds of pizza instead of just one! We always go for the salad of the day, this one was outstanding, a nice selection of baby lettuce, blue cheese crumbles, golden raisins, grape tomatoes, and the most awesome fruity vinaigrette, we’re guessing blueberry, it was so flavorful! For Pizza we went with the BBQ Chicken and the Maui, delicious as always. The crust is that great combination of crispy and chewy, cooked in a wood burning oven.  I usually have the Honey Porter, but they were out of it, so instead I had their seasonal Cider, which was quite nice and went perfectly with the meal and the weather.

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A large group of bicyclists started to arrive after completing the Motor City Bike and Brew Tour. Having finished lunch, we cleared out to give them room, and headed over to 1515 Broadway for dessert. Coincidentally, while sitting out front enjoying iced coffee, bumpy cake, and Techno from a nearby DEMF DJ, we were surprised to run into folks from Toronto and Grand Rapids embarking on yet another group tour of downtown.

Detroit, The Tourist Mecca………..