Tag Archives: Noel Night

Detroit: Alive & Noel…

13 Dec

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Tonight we’re just wandering around Detroit; we’ll dip our toe into Noel Night, visit the downtown Holiday Markets and finish up with dinner and drinks in Southwest. All of the featured places are new to Detroit’s growing list of places to eat, drink and shop. Let’s begin with Noel Night, being seasoned veterans of this event we tend to steer clear of  the crowds at larger venues such as the DIA, Library, Science Center and the like. Instead we head over to Third Street, the Detroit Design Center has a sculpture park next to the building, one-of-a-kind pieces decorate the open space, flood lights illuminate the art casting funky shadows on the wall. Tonight the building is open to the public, artists are busy putting on the finishing touches. Huge carbon steel sculptures reach toward the ceiling,  metal statement pieces are grounded to the floor, I’m crazy about the swing. Pieces are made of glass, metal and wood, you can purchase art for a wall, a tabletop or desk; the metal skyline organizer would look great on my counter.

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In 1949 the Willis Show Bar opened on the corner of Willis and Third Street, it was an entertainment hot spot featuring live Jazz. As the area declined so did the clientele; the building was closed down and padlocked in 1978. Today the building wears a fresh coat of paint, the Art Moderne exterior shines, a sign painted on the Willis side of the building announces the re-opening of this memorable venue. The Detroit Optimist Society and a group of L.A. investors plan a January 2018 re-opening, the 75-seat bar will serve 1960’s inspired cocktails and bar snacks, the stage will host live Jazz, Blues and Soul artists cabaret style. I can hardly wait!

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Does anybody remember the Hammer and Nail building on Woodward? This 12-story Mid-Century building was built in 1965, the hammer and nail was originally intended as a tribute to a local carpenter’s union. The building, now called The Plaza, recently underwent a complete restoration and is now home to 72 apartments. As part of the Noel Night festivities the building is open for tours, let’s take a look. A lovely Christmas tree adorns the lobby, through a glass doorway the neon hammer and nail have found a new resting spot on an interior wall, we are told this space will be a public bar in the future, it’s fun to see this landmark lit up again. A tour guide loads 5 of us into an elevator stopping on the 10th floor, we are seeing a 1-bedroom corner unit. From the dimly lit entrance we follow a short hall past the laundry room into the living space, one left turn and we’re looking out a wall of windows at the Detroit skyline. Everybody stops in their tracks, our host has not turned on any lights, giving us a clear look at the spectacular view, each of us gravitates toward the windows; Ford Field glows in Christmas colors to the left, Little Caesars Arena to the right, the Ambassador Bridge further in the distance–wow! We see pedestrians crowding the sidewalk on Woodward, the towers of the Renaissance Center are red, I can see Motor City Casino too. 

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Next we drive over to Capitol Park for the holiday markets; from now until January 7 a series of pop-up businesses will fill the park. At first I don’t even know where I am, I mean, I know the surrounding buildings, but the outdoor space has been completely transformed. Local shops fill terrarium-like little glass booths; you can purchase art, a toboggan, a wreath or even a fresh-cut Christmas tree. The air smells of evergreens and food, deck chairs surround a log table, people are making s’mores at the fire pit, visitors are packed into Eatori’s booth drinking cocktails by the Christmas tree. White lights are strung everywhere, zig-zagging above public spaces. We walk down State Street to Woodward and find trees tightly wrapped in miniature lights, fresh landscaping includes garlands and branches spray painted in red and white, it’s a winter wonderland.

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Campus Maritus is buzzing with activity, ice skaters fill the rink, the Christmas tree is the prettiest one yet, the line to rent skates is long, with hot chocolates in hand, nobody seems to mind. We cross over to Cadillac Square, picnic tables, deck chairs and fire pits fill the space between to long rows of glass booths. Food trucks, Detroit City Nut Company, fudge and popcorn are available to hungry spectators. The Cadillac Bier Garten is a good place to rest and take in the city, and have a beer of course. At the far end a large tent has been transformed into a Lodge; couches, comfy chairs, blankets and rugs welcome chilly pedestrians. Chandeliers are made of branches, strings of white lights make the tent festive. People are waiting in line to get in, we take a peek inside then continue walking. 

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The Woodward Esplande is gorgeous; the concrete pathway leads us though grapevine arches, surrounding landscape is lit with spotlights and miniature lights, people are taking advantage of the many photo ops along the way. The pathway opens up, here LED lights are strung above us, colors rotate from one shade to the next, it’s stunning, I feel like I’m in a Hallmark Christmas movie. The One Woodward building is decked out for the holidays; a tall, slender tree, elegant in white stands on one side of the lobby while a trio of gold and white ornaments anchors the other side. Standing at this level we overlook the Spirit of Detroit Plaza, clear igloos offer passersby food and drink, while large blocks make up an ice-cube maze; we need to get a closer look. This is amazing! In one igloo we find ping-pong and air hockey tables, another sells goodies from Good Cakes and Bakes, how about a cup of coffee from New Order? Unfortunately we’re here after most of the shops have closed for the evening. Families giggle as they make their way through the ice-cube maze, again everything lights up and changes colors, I swear the Spirit of Detroit is smiling…

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How does pizza sound? PizzaPlex opened a few short months ago on W Vernor in Southwest Detroit. It’s more than just another pizza joint, there’s a strong sense of community here from the employees to the events that take place in the adjoining space. The pizza oven came straight from Napoli, a pizza cooks in just 90 seconds, that’s good news for us, we’re starving. I order at the counter, #17, the Nikolette is a combo of fresh mozzarella, porcini mushrooms, roasted poblanos, parmigiano, basil and olive oil. I add a house salad and a pour-over coffee. In addition to tasty food, offerings also include coffee drinks and a limited selection bar. Sitting in a booth we are awash in blue LED light, basil grows on shelves mounted to the wall, a movie plays on the screen in the community room. Our food is brought to the table; the pizza is delicious, the crust the perfect amount of crisp and chewy, a nice balance of toppings, we eat the whole thing…

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Just down the street the Detroit Optimist Society has opened a Tiki-themed bar called Mutiny. Inside, the casual space has all the thing we’ve come to expect from a tiki bar; Hawiian-shirt wearing bar tenders, bamboo, the ceiling a mass of colored lights, netting, high-back wicker chairs, large paper umbrellas, thatch, framed vintage menus from high-profile bars back in the day, you get the picture. Tiki mugs and interesting serving glasses line the back bar, check out the photo of the waterfall. The tropical cocktail menu lists all your favorites, with a twist. We order drinks at the bar and watch as the bartender measures shots, shakes concoctions, pours them into specific mugs, he even sets some on fire. Kris’s drink comes in a stemmed coconut glass, mine in a fish mug advertising Plymouth Gin. The drinks are good, the atmosphere laid back; a nice ending to an incredible night.

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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.