Tag Archives: Tiki

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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Kitsch-O-Rama !

1 Jun

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 It’s time for our annual trek out to Camp Dearborn for the Tin Can Tourists Annual Gathering. Tin Can Tourists is America’s oldest trailer and Motor Coach Club; they are truly “Rolling History”. This year 180 vintage auto campers registered for the event, trailers range from 8 to 30 feet and cover the decades from the 1930’s to the 80’s–in a word, it’s awesome! Camp Dearborn is owned by the city of Dearborn, but, it’s actually located about 35 miles away in Milford; no, it doesn’t make sense to me either. Established in 1948, the camp is spread out over 626 acres of rolling hills, ponds, lakes and access to the Huron River. They offer tents, rustic or resort cabins for rent. I am completely useless as a vintage trailer expert, still I hope you will enjoy my narrative and Kris’s photos.

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Walking up the hill from the parking area it’s like we’ve gone back in time. On the campground tents and cabins look straight out of 1948, to the left vintage trailers are parked as far as the eye can see. We come up on a cute little 1965 Serro Scotty, polished aluminum, all decked out with an awning over the patio and accessorized in red. Next is a turquoise and yellow Aljoa, inside a string of flamingo lights hangs above a vintage tablecloth and antique dishes. Restorations can be factory exact from the wood to the light fixtures; many people decorate with pieces from the year the trailer was built, I imagine the hunt for the items is as much fun as displaying them. Picnic baskets, barware, thermos bottles, lanterns, potato chip tins, bedspreads and curtains represent bygone eras. I like this one, placemats of the Hawaiian islands, Florida drinking glasses, a pineapple bowl, bamboo lights and a ukulele. Check out the Shasta, lots of turquoise inside and out, hula girls and Hawaiian salt and pepper shakers.

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Holly, Shasta, Avion, Trotwood, the list goes on; some people name their trailers: Ruby, Rosie and Pete are all here. I’m fascinated with the interiors; fabulous light fixtures and sconces, one has atomic-patterned curtains, another is totally decked out in 1970’s style in harvest gold, avocado and orange. There are smiley faces, big-flowered fabrics, mushrooms, a lava lamp–even the toaster is cool! I love all the accessories; a pink RCA Victor clock radio, vintage magazines, a Rodeo themed trailer. Decor is clever, personal to the owner. The one that knocks my socks off has a stunning wood interior, a built-in dresser in the bedroom holds an old-fashioned mirror-tray complete with girly things like perfume bottles and jars. The sitting area looks straight out of a magazine; antique TV complete with antenna, record player, phone, fan and loads of trinkets and do-dads. Check out the covered wagon lamp, it has its own team of horses–sweet! Have you ever played the card game “Touring” by Parker Bros.? Me neither.

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Some trailers are sleek and modernized with LED lighting and all the latest conveniences, then there’s the semi-truck-turned-camper, it has a flat-screen fireplace, tool box counter and locker, very clever. How about those tow vehicles? A Mercury station wagon, an old Ford rat-rod, a 1953 Chevrolet Apache, more pick-ups by Chevy, GMC, International, a Plymouth Savoy. The prize for the most unusual tow vehicle goes to the Silver Streak convertible with the awesome plaid interior, love it. Campers are gracious hosts, we are welcomed into each trailer, some offer snacks, candy or a cold beverage, all are happy to strike up a conversation. I get a kick out of the different lights strung from awnings; palm trees, mini trailers, Edison bulbs. I see a trailer bird house, a Royal Crown (RC) cooler, a fantastic picnic set, lots of vintage bicycles, did I mention the Great Danes? Patios are set up like Tiki bars or just bars. On the way back to the car we check out the trailer on a trailer, it’s super Art Deco inside and out, looks like a big job ahead to restore it; maybe we’ll see it all done next year.

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Steeped in nostalgia Kris points the car toward Chin’s Chop Suey in Livonia. We have just enough time to eat before we have to be at Masonic Temple for Detroit Roller Derby. Marvin Chin opened Chin’s Chop Suey on this very spot in 1955. In those days Tiki and Polynesian themed restaurants were all the rage. Marvin went all out; bamboo matting, thatch, jade tiles, Tiki’s, masks, a rock wall and a bamboo divider. Chin’s served the typical Chinese-American cuisine of the day; Egg Foo Young, Chop Suey, Almond Boneless Chicken, Pepper Steak and Moo Shu Pork. 12 years later Marvin opened the legendary Chin Tiki in Detroit, sadly we never got to see it but people still talk about it. Chin Tiki closed in 1980, in 2002 the boards were pried off the doors when Hollywood came to town to film 8 Mile. I heard stories that the place was perfectly preserved inside and the family was considering re-opening the place. That never happened, the building has now been demolished.

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Chin’s is still owned and operated by the family, looking around I’ll bet not a thing has changed inside, seriously. Hanging blowfish, seashell lamps, long banquette seating, that room divider– it’s amazing, a little Tiki haven. On the other side a cool bamboo bar resides in the back corner with large Tiki statues clustered together around and behind it like it’s their own private section. I’m told some of the decorative pieces were brought here from Chin Tiki when it closed. We order a light dinner of Kung Pao Tofu and a couple of spring rolls. First we’re served cups of Won Ton soup, the egg roll and spring rolls arrive simultaneously, each is delicious. The main dish arrives in an oval, covered stainless steel dish, the rice in the standard round pedestal style, exactly the way I remember Chinese food being served when I was a kid. Keep in mind this is not gourmet, organic or farm-to-table, it’s good old-fashioned Chinese-American food with water chestnuts, pea pods, bamboo shoots, sliced carrots and green peppers in brown sauce; nothing fancy or exotic. There’s something to be said for that you know?

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Side note: Cocktails are served in Tiki Mugs from Chin Tiki, they’re available for purchase for 15 bucks. I highly recommend the Chin Tiki Scorpion, our server even let me pick the Tiki mug. It’s not very often you feel like you’ve gone back in time, from the trailers and vehicles to the decor and food at Chin’s, today we felt like time travelers and it was a blast!

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Columbus Ohio: Still Wandering..

16 May

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We’re in Columbus Ohio exploring downtown, on Fourth Street we pass a beautiful, old building, No. 16 Engine House; a sign out front informs us it’s the Central Ohio Fire Museum and Learning Center. The exterior of the building is red brick topped with a decorative layer of gold brick, like frosting on a cake, a fancy tower anchors the right side. Firefighters, corporate and community sponsors raised nearly $700,000.00 to authentically restore the 1908 building; it opened as a museum in 2002. Run by area firefighters, the museum teaches fire safety, prevention and life-saving procedures to people of all ages. Over 1500 area firefighters continue to contribute money through payroll deductions to help finance the project.

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The 1908 interior is still intact with glazed brick walls, tin ceiling and fire poles. Fire trucks include an 1881 Amoskeag steam fire engine, a 1913 Ford Model T American LaFrance and a 1920 Obenchain Boyer chemical engine. Models vary from a hand-drawn hook and ladder to a horse-drawn model and finally a motorized apparatus. Displays capture the everyday life of firefighters; uniforms, equipment, fire alarms. Black and white photos show firemen in action putting out raging flames, display cases hold speaking trumpets, shields, helmets, wood water mains. There are hoses and fire extinguishers; placards do a good job of explaining  what everything is. It’s very kid-friendly, little ones can dress up in firefighter’s clothes, drive the truck, slide down the pole– hey, that sounds like fun! 

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We cross into the back section, this is originally where the horses were kept, one stall remains as an example of how the space was used. We check out the Safety Kitchen, the exhibit pinpoints where most home fires begin. The Safe Bedroom allows kids to practice escaping from a burning bedroom with real smoke effects. We stop and stare into a full-size children’s bedroom as it appears after a fire, I get chills looking at the melted toys, pictures and damaged furnishings. Volunteers interact with visitors, they’re enthusiastic and share lots of interesting information.

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While we’re downtown we decide to have lunch at Grass Skirt, a fun, Tiki-themed restaurant and bar on North Grant Ave. Part of the Columbus Food League family of restaurants Grass Skirt serves up Hawaiian and Asian dishes along with a 4-page, Kahiki-inspired drink menu jam-packed with Rum/Non-Rum cocktails; Mai Tai anyone? Inside lights are low, the custom-made skull chandelier hangs central in the room. Blowfish lights, a waterfall complete with a Sailor Jerry Hula girl, tiki torches, sculptures and a fabulous glowing lava wall make this place kitschy-cool! The S-shaped bar is made from custom-colored concrete inlaid with colored glass and mother-of-pearl. Open shelves hold tiki mugs, pandas and Buddha’s. We wander around looking at the fish floats, pine log tiki carvings, masks and the ship’s rigging–all very Polynesian.

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Paging through the menu we finally make our selections, we watch old episodes of Family Affair on the bar’s flat screen TV until the food arrives. The Island Nachos are a platter of won ton chips smothered with black beans, creamy cheese sauce, pineapple salsa, shredded lettuce, guacamole and lime sour cream; every bite is delicious. The teriyaki tofu tacos are really good; marinated tofu, cucumber-mint slaw and avocado-yum! At the end of the meal our server places an upside-down skull on the table, she activates the dry ice and smoke billows out the top and hovers above the table; what a great way to end a dining experience.

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We’re just about out of time in Ohio’s capital city. A quick computer check informs us that north of us in Worthington a vintage shop will be open for another hour or so—let’s go! Off the beaten path for sure, in a 2-story office warehouse complex is Dawn of Retro, a resale shop dedicated to Mid-Century Modern and vintage furniture and decor spanning from the 50’s to the 70’s. The space is a maze of dressers, buffets and china cabinets; from blonde to walnut each one acts as a resting place for glassware, serving pieces, ash trays and the like. Puffy, furry couches in wild 1970’s patterns snuggle up to table lamps, retro arc lamps and starburst clocks. Broyhill, Kent Coffey, classics to funky, orange and avocado green. Dawn has it all stuffed into two floors of space. In a cabinet I find a set of glasses I can’t live without…I can’t wait to get home and use them!

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DETROIT: Tiki Time

6 May

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In the 1930’s a young man from Louisiana traveled by sailboat through the South Pacific. Intrigued and excited by what he saw he changed his name to Donn Beach, moved to Hollywood CA and in 1934 opened the first Tiki/Polynesian themed restaurant in the US called Don The Beachcomber. The restaurant was decked out in rattan, bamboo and thatch, it served Cantonese cuisine and tropical drinks dispensed in coconut shells, tiki mugs or huge bowls meant to share, oh, don’t forget the little umbrella. Donn is credited with creating the tropical drink genre of mixing flavored syrups and fresh fruit juices with rum. Three years later Trader Vic’s opened in Oakland CAPost WWII, interest in the South Pacific swelled, Tiki infiltrated music; artists such as Les Baxter, Martin Denny (Quiet Village) and Arthur Lyman (Yellow Bird) created a whole new genre called Exotica. Songs conjure up images of tropical rainforests, Hawaiian luaus, Tahitian villages, beaches and palm trees. Tiki bars sprang up from the California coast to the Atlantic coast; the Tiki culture of mid-century America was born.

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Detroit  joined the Tiki bandwagon with a Trader Vic’s downtown, Chin Tiki on Cass (featured in the movie 8 Mile) and the ultimate in Polynesian grandeur, The Mauna Loa. As a young boy Kris actually had dinner at the Mauna Loa, the place was so spectacular it remains a vivid memory of Palm trees, waterfalls, gurgling streams, foot bridges, giant Blowfish lanterns and tall torches. It is said to be the most expensive restaurant built east of the Mississippi at the time, $1.6 Million dollars in 1967. Though none of the buildings remain today, stories, photos and memorabilia of Detroit’s lost Tiki palaces keep the memories alive and well. Today Zenith at the Fisher Building is hosting a Tiki Brunch, I’m so excited!

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When we arrive the Tiki party is in full swing; tables are filled with diners noshing on the likes of cornbread french toast, huevos montulenos, chicken and waffles, candied mango bacon and grilled biscuits. Roland Remington and Johnny Ukulele are serenading patrons with the relaxing sounds of mid-century Exotica tunes such as Blue Hawaii, Hypnotique, Henry Mancini’s Moon River and Tequila. Roland is classically dressed in jacket, tie and Shriner’s hat as he plays the xylophone. Johnny is a little less formal in his print shirt, he switches between the electric organ and the ukulele. The Tiki mood has been set, tropical flowers are arranged near the performance area, smoke filters out the mouth of a tiki, leis are draped over the ukulele case, very swanky.

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We are seated at the bar in the lounge area, this section is steeped in Tiki style from the bamboo furniture and hula girls to the tropical flowers painted on the walls; the lamps are pretty awesome too! We love the brunch here, at Zenith Poutine is a MUST, today’s version goes like this: crispy french fries topped with scrambled eggs, shredded cheddar, jalapeno hollandaise, scallions and 4-pepper gravy, it’s worth every single minute you spend on the treadmill. Then there’s the Red Velvet Waffle, served with a slightly tart pomegranate sauce, tamed by the cream cheese icing, it’s delicious!  We finish our brunch right as the musicians take their break.

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At 2:00 pm members of the Detroit Area Art Deco Society arrive for a tour of the space in celebration of Detroit Modernism Week; being members ourselves, we join the group. Owners Melissa and Robert Jasper have been collectors of all of the fabulous stuff we see here for the last 30 or so years. Gathering in the Tiki lounge, Melissa points out specific pieces, she explains the significance of the item, where she got it or what she likes about it; the fountain is new since our last visit. Kris and I have been to a least a hundred flea markets, antique stores and vintage shops all over the south and mid-west, this is some of the coolest stuff we’ve seen.  In the very front of the restaurant facing W Grand Boulevard is the “paint by numbers” room, you guessed it, individual paint by numbers from western scenes to animals and sailboats to the Eiffel Tower decorate the walls.

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The space the restaurant occupies was originally a bank, our hostess leads us downstairs, through the gates to the old safe-deposit-box-room-turned-lounge area, super cool! Next to that is the performance space now known as the Wrectory, a heavy metal karaoke nightclub. The decor is a mix of religious items and adult themed posters creating a humorous contrast. Back upstairs the music has resumed, we reclaim our seats at the bar and sip on tasty tropical drinks made for a lazy Sunday. If you’re looking for a bit of the good life, the next Tiki Brunch is May 17—we’ll see ya there! UPDATE: Zenith is now closed for business.

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