Tag Archives: Northern Lights Lounge

DETROIT: Food n Funk…..

19 Nov

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Tonight Kris is taking me out, we’re making a night of it. Chef Andy Hollyday’s new place, Selden Standard, is now open, we’re going there for dinner. Turning onto Second Ave we see cars parked up and down the street, Kris drops me at the door and parks the Jeep. The once nondescript building sports an attractive facade, Edison lights within glow warmly through the windows. I am greeted at the hostess stand and taken to a table, looks like we made it before the dinner rush. The attractive interior of knotty wood planks, black walls and white glazed brick create a casual and welcoming atmosphere. Kris is seated and we are left to pour over the menu. Selections are served small plate style and are perfect for sharing, items run the gamut from veggies and oysters to quail and lamb. Our server helps us narrow down our choices, we place our order then dig in to the bread and butter.

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I have to admit I’m a fan of the old-fashioned bread basket or some incarnation there of; it always makes me feel a little more welcome, like the establishment is extra friendly. Menu items come from local farms and producers whenever possible, I like that too. First to arrive is the Fritto Misto, an assortment of fresh vegetables in a light tempura batter, a little bit of panko for crunch, served with a tasty herb aioli, really good. The Kale Caesar salad is next; just what you’d imagine with the addition of crispy chicken skin alongside the shaved Parmesan and croutons, quite nice. The Sweet Potato Ravioli with brown butter, sage and pecans is set down just as the Steak Frites arrives. The hangar steak is served medium rare, a scoop of shallot butter slowly dissolves in the meat, a handful of dressed bitter greens and a half-dozen fries complete the dish. This is our favorite way to eat, a bunch of different dishes, sharing everything. We enjoy it all, each item had a different taste; the combination of salty, crunchy, sweet and savory all add up to a satisfying meal. And now for the entertainment portion of the evening……

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A short drive away, performing on the stage of Northern Lights Lounge every Tuesday from 8 till 11:30 pm, is legendary guitarist Dennis Coffey. He had his first recording session at the tender age of 15, backing Vic Gallon in I’m Gone, after that he played with Del Shannon. He went on to become a session guitarist for various labels including Motown, see if you recognize any of these: Just My Imagination, Smiling Faces, Cloud Nine, War, Someday We’ll Be Together, Ball of Confusion, ah, now I’ve got your attention. In the late 60’s he was a member of the Funk Brothers Studio Band, it is said that Coffey introduced a hard rock sound to producer Norman Whitfields recordings, most notable the wah wah guitar sound heard in songs like the Temptations Psychedelic Shack and Ball of Confusion. Coffey is credited with discovering Sixto Rodriguez, he played lead guitar on Rodriguez’s first album Cold Fact. Coffey appears in the Oscar-winning film “Searching for Sugarman”, not only did he co-produce, co-arrange songs on the soundtrack, he played guitar and bass on some of them too.

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In the early 70’s Coffey struck out on his own as artist, film scorer and producer, in 1971 he recorded “Scorpio” a million-selling instrumental that reached #6 on the Billboard pop chart. The story of the Funk Brothers was told in the 2002 film Standing in the Shadows of Motown, in 2004 his memoir, Guitars, Bars and Motown Superstars was published, in 2011 his self titled album Dennis Coffey was released. He turned 74 just this month, and here he is tonight, on stage, joined by three other amazing musicians, about a mile away from where it all began.

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Inside Northern Lights we sit at our usual table, the band is getting ready to start, it’s busy for a Tuesday night. You can tell who’s here for the music alone, these folks grab the tables front and center, when Dennis Coffey plays, listening isn’t enough, you have to see him work that black Gibson. Our cocktails arrive simultaneously as the band starts, there he is, the star attraction in blue jeans, a black turtleneck and his signature black hat.  The song is a great funk-a-fide version of Summertime, combined with the great 60’s vibe of Northern Lights, it’s the next best thing to going back in time. We listen along, at times just stopping and staring as his hands slide up and down the guitar strings, so natural, effortless, it’s like watching someone breath. Audience members tap their toes to Knock Me Off My Feet, Signed Sealed Delivered, Scorpio, Coffey sings on Johnny B Goode; my absolute favorite is Just My Imagination, no vocals necessary, this version is extraordinary. It’s not uncommon for a number to last five minutes or more, every minute a delight of sight and sound. The man is an incredible musician, he has survived and thrived in the business for decades, and he’s right here every Tuesday, doing what he does best, entertaining a live audience, and it doesn’t cost a thing.

 

 

DETROIT: Wayne State Walkabout

6 Aug

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Kris and I consider the campus of Wayne State University to be one of Detroit’s hidden gems. You may have driven by Old Main on Cass Ave, remarked on the attractive building as you passed and not given it a second thought. Most do not realize that a walk through WSU’s campus is a study in Modern architecture. Present day WSU began its existence as a university in 1933 when a combination of Detroit colleges came together to form a single institution. The former Central High School building at Cass and Warren became what is now Old Main; other residential and commercial buildings in the surrounding neighborhood were re-purposed to fill the needs of the college. A master plan for the campus was created in 1942 by yet unknown architect Suren Pilafian; the GI Bill passed in 1944 and enrollment swelled; buildings had to be built. The end of the 1940’s were just the beginning of the Modern architectural style; the tone was set. 

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In 1948 State Hall, designed by Pilafian was the first building built specifically for the university, followed up by the Community Arts Complex and College of Engineering, all were designed in the Modern style. The names of other contributing architects is pretty much a who’s who list of Modern design; Alden B Dow, Harley, Ellington and Day, Glen Paulson, Albert Kahn, Giacomo Manzu and Minoru Yamasaki. It doesn’t matter if you recognize these names or not; what I want you to know, or, what I’d like you to appreciate, is what an important place Detroit has always been. This city was prominent, wealthy and proud; buildings were designed by the best in the business —– many lived here in metro Detroit. The money was here to attract the best of the best whether in business, music, art or design. Let’s go for a walk…………

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Our main agenda for the day is to spend some time at the McGregor Conference Center’s newly restored reflecting pool, designed by none other than Minoru Yamasaki. The building was the first of four that Yamasaki would design for WSU between 1957 and 1964, in my opinion it is one of his best. Finished in 1958, the pool had suffered much damage to its foundation through the years, it was drained in the late 90’s; repaired and restored, it received much attention when it was again filled with water in 2013. I knew it would be lovely, but I really wasn’t prepared for just how wonderful it is. It’s large L-shape design and shallow pool project peace and tranquility; large boulders are scattered about the onyx colored bottom, rectangular concrete islands are connected by dark planks. On one end a single figure on a pedestal gazes into the water thoughtfully; Giacomo Manzu’s The Nymph and The Faun bronze sculptures look perfectly at ease on one of the islands; the nymph reclines in the sunshine as she lifts her head to study the crouching faun; this piece was added in 1968. The water is perfectly still, the clouds and blue sky are mirrored on the surface. Large circular white planters add a pop of green to the black and white background. I love the floating staircase that leads from the McGregor to the center island. The College of Education, another Yamasaki building is seen in the distance.

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We continue our walk through the urban campus on sidewalks, under porticos and through grassy expanses intermixed with concrete plazas, sculptures and sitting areas. The Community Arts Center and Music Building has a very 50’s feel to it, The Shapero Hall of Pharmacy starts out small at ground level and gets bigger with each story; elongated windows look out over raised planters and lush lawn. Alumni House with its smoke colored glass becomes part of the surrounding landscape. Newer buildings have been integrated and seem to fall into place with original structures, it all works together. The Jacob House, built in 1915 in the Mediterranean style is now the residence of the President of WSU, the Chatsworth Tower apartment building is an elegant 9-story building built in 1929, not far from that is the new Mort Harris Recreation and Fitness Center. After the McGregor, the Helen L DeRoy Auditorium is my favorite building here, also a Yamasaki, it has such great lines; the ribs and eaves create an almost floral design; I hope one day the reflecting pool will be restored. Walking back toward Cass we cross the Meyer and Anna Prentis Building, designed by Yamasaki and built at the same time (1964) as the auditorium, it is distinctly Modern. We pass the former William C Rands residence, a huge stone house designed by George Mason, built in 1913, now used by the university, the Music Annex and finally our car……time for lunch.

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Northern Lights Lounge has a new patio; just a short ride from WSU, we are there in no time. It is mid-afternoon and we have the brick patio all to ourselves; newly planted trees take up residence along with pots of colorful annuals. Sandwiched between two buildings and closed off in back by a bright orange fence, the space feels secluded from the rush of the city. We are no strangers to the menu here, so ordering was quick and easy. We relax under the comfort of a large umbrella, sipping our drinks and watching pedestrians pass on Baltimore when our server arrives with lunch. The veggie nachos here are outstanding; white corn tortilla chips covered with two kinds of melted cheese, piled with black beans, tomato, onion, green pepper, black olives and pickled jalapeno, yum! The Julienne Salad is loaded with ham, turkey, swiss, american and a hard-boiled egg scattered over salad greens, we like the homemade ranch dressing. 

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Dessert is a great way to end such a nice afternoon, we head over to  Avalon Breads, they always have an excellent selection of sweet treats. We stare at cookies, brownies, sticky buns and scones, then we see the sign: Ice Cream Sandwiches! Choose either Sea Salt Chocolate Chip or Oatmeal Raisin cookies, a scoop of Ashby’s Vanilla in the middle and there you have it. Without hesitation we go with the chocolate chip; as the sandwich is being assembled I order an iced coffee and meet Kris back at a table. The cookie is soft and chewy, the vanilla ice cream a perfect complement to the salty and sweet flavor of the cookie….add iced coffee to the mix and you have perfection! 

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DETROIT: Old Skool Chillin’ ….

16 Jul

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There’s nothing like a Summer night in the city; the sun has set beyond the skyscrapers, the temperature has dropped only slightly, the concrete tightly grips the heat. Out of nowhere a slight breeze ruffles the leaves of trees planted along the streets, it is a welcome gesture. The season is short, we are drawn outdoors to soak it up, we will remember it fondly come January. It is Wednesday evening, Movie Night at New Center Park, tonight we are seeing PSYCHO! We pass through the park gate and grab ourselves chairs, we scan the area and choose where to sit, dusk is falling. New Center Park opened as an outdoor concert, activity and concession venue on the corner of Second Ave and W Grand Blvd in 2010, it was an instant hit. The indoor concession area offers a bar, restrooms and a small amount of seating. A patio off to the right offers menu choices such as popcorn, hot dogs, hamburgers and Better Made potato chips. We are starving, I follow the scent of food and place my order at the outdoor cash register, in an instant both a veggie patty and a burger are placed on the sizzling grates of a grill. While I wait for the food Kris goes indoors for drinks, we arrive at an open table about the same time. We dress our burgers with condiments and vegetables, we share bags of BBQ and Sour Cream & Chive chips; dinner under the stars.

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The movie begins just as we finish our meal, we take our seats in the orange folding chairs we had placed on the grass earlier. The sloping lawn has become dense with blankets and chairs, viewers are quiet, all eyes are glued to the big screen. It is 1960, Janet Leigh appears onscreen as Marion Crane, a mild-mannered secretary employed  by a real estate company.  Regarded as one of Hitchcock’s best films, he creates a great sense of tension and doom as Marion flees Phoenix with $40,000.  The Fisher Building’s Golden Tower is aglow, it watches over us as the infamous “shower scene” takes place, it’s even scarier on the big screen. I had forgotten the iconic scene takes place so early in the movie, the close-ups are unnerving. We anxiously follow the characters quest to solve the mystery of what happened to Marion, in the final scene Marion’s car is being pulled from the swamp. Janet Leigh won the Golden Globe that year for Best Supporting Actress. As the credits roll the crowd begins to disperse, we have only a short walk to our next destination.

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Northern Lights Lounge is just around the corner on Baltimore. Let’s just say it wouldn’t be surprising to find us here on a Wednesday night, NLL is one of our favorite spots to catch Jazz in the city. Home to live music every evening, each night features a different genre; tonight is Str8 Jazz No Chaser, don’t you just love Wednesday’s? Inside, the bar is done up in funky light fixtures, groovy furniture, knotty pine paneling and glass block windows; it captures the hip, cool style of the 60’s, I think I just saw Joe Mannix walk by…. The music is in full swing, the stage, crowded with visiting musicians. Plates filled with burgers, nachos, seasoned fries and their quasi-famous chicken strips fly by; several steps above your average bar fare, we often partake. Finding an open table near the back, we order drinks, an apple martini and VO & diet will soon arrive. 

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The Mike Jellick Trio consists of pianist Mike Jellick, bassist Miles Brown and Drummer Jesse Kramer, you can find them here each Wednesday beginning at 9pm. The group mainly plays great Jazz standards from days gone by. A song begins, it is easily recognizable, then we are taken on a musical joyride lasting a dozen or so minutes, ending up right back where we started. The musicians are extremely talented, their play looks natural, effortless. Tables near the stage are becoming crowded with hopeful musicians. The trio play the first set exclusively, after that there is an open invitation for others to take the stage. Each session is unique, some nights the horns rule, it is not uncommon to see a flute or guitar added to the mix, on rare occasions we are treated to a vocalist. The music is always top-shelf, Detroit is home to a multitude of fabulous musicians. If you are a fan of old Motown tunes, be sure to stop in on a Tuesday evening, former Funk Brothers studio band member Dennis Coffey will astound you with his guitar-playing skills. Blues more your thing? Thursday is the night for you. Great music, chill atmosphere, delicious food, what more could you want?

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