Tag Archives: visit detroit

HAMTRAMCK: Out For The Evening..

26 Apr

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We’re in Hamtramck for a night on the town. First order of business, dinner. Sushi may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of eating in this ethnically diverse city but thanks to Fat Salmon Sushi it’s one more option to the wide variety of cuisines available. Fat Salmon has taken over the Joseph Campau space most recently occupied by Rock City Eatery and Maria’s Comida before that. Fresh paint, new furniture and a flat screen TV that continuously shows K-Pop music videos add a unique charm to the space.

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Servers are friendly, we are greeted immediately, seated and offered water and menus. The tables are full, there’s a steady stream of carry-out orders, still our food arrives in a timely manner. We start with vegetable gyoza, very tasty, followed by an excellent sweet potato roll. The Bibimbap arrives sizzling in its hot stone bowl, flavorful toppings sitting atop a bed of rice, a sunny-side-up egg the centerpiece. I gently mix it all together being sure to scrape the crunchy rice bits from the bottom of the bowl. I scoop the mixture onto plates, we each add desired amounts of deliciously spicy chili pepper paste–this is so good! We’re already looking forward to our next visit.

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Over on Caniff, Planet Ant Hall is celebrating its grand opening with The Detroit Musical. There’s about a half hour before showtime, Ghost Light Bar, Ant Hall’s adjoining bar is open, let’s grab a pre-show cocktail. The former Indian restaurant has been transformed into a dimly lit, funky space serving cocktails and food. The lengthy bar can easily accommodate a dozen or more patrons, liquor bottles rest on lighted shelves, the bartender is busy making an Old Fashioned for Kris. A few minutes before showtime we walk through the interior door over to the theater space. This new venue will allow for additional improv comedy, theatrical productions needing more space than the intimate theater across the street, live music and movie nights.

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For tonight’s performance of The Detroit Musical roomy chairs are arranged into rows and aisles, lights are low, scenery consists of a couple of flats; one is Detroit 1701 the other Detroit 2017.The show opens with cast members paddling their canoe down the Detroit River circa 1701, we meet Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Native Indians and The British. The talented cast of 5 sing and dance their way through Detroit history; from the days of fur trading to Marvin Gaye, the exodus to the suburbs and the arrival of hipsters. The timeline moves swiftly, songs are hilarious and clever, it’s so Detroit! Audience members laugh out loud, nudge one another and nod in agreement; they’re telling our story–and what a story it is!

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The night is young, we’re in the mood for a cocktail, I bet we can find a bar somewhere in Hamtramck… We drive around the city a little, over on Yemans St Polka Dot Bar is open, let’s check it out. Some of you may know the place from when it was Atlas, it’s come a long way from its days as a dive bar. A fire on the second floor made renovating a must. Burgundy walls, the original bar and tin ceiling make up the quaint interior, colored lights and stars strung from the ceiling are charming. Round tables wear checkered cloths, a pair of flat screen TV’s flank the bar. Kris orders drinks at the bar and brings them back to the table. We spot a familiar face, Carolyn owns the bar and also runs Polish Village Cafe. The bar is only open on weekends; tonight the crowd is chill, the pool table sits unused. This is a great spot to come when you just want to have a drink and relax, I’m glad we did!

 

 

DETROIT: Showtime

14 Mar

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We’re in Southwest Detroit to catch a show at the Matrix Theatre on Bagley. Founded in 1991 by Shaun and Wes Nethercot, the company’s mission is “to build community, improve lives and foster social justice. Matrix Theatre Company teaches, creates and shares theatre as an instrument of transformation”. In addition to professional theatre the company also includes the School of Theatre, Matrix Teen Company and the Community School For The Arts which teaches play writing, performance and puppetry for all ages. Members of the groups collaborate to create new plays about important community issues such as teen dating violence, bullying, gang violence, immigration/deportation, HIV/AIDS, homophobia, ethnic intimidation. They also bring awareness to the history and culture of Detroit. 

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We park in the lot adjacent to the building, for years I have admired the mural on the wall; a young girl blowing dandelion seeds into the air, her eyes closed tight concentrating on her wish, other dandelions join the dance in the breeze. The orange brick building stands 2-stories high, a wrought iron hanger holds the Matrix shingle. Inside the lobby is compact; here you can pick up your ticket, grab a candy bar and a cold pop before heading into the performance space. Intentions is sold out today, we spy two open seats next to one another and claim them. The theatre is one of those intimate spaces where the people in the front row are practically on stage; you can’t help but feel the energy from the actors.

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For the next two hours Nell, Gabe, Maya, Leif and Lou share their lives at Tillerman House with us. Tillerman is an intentional community/urban farm, the characters share common values but each one views life a little differently. The entire story takes place in the common area of the house. Playwright Abbey Fenbert has created a funny, entertaining, honest look at the effect change has on human beings. I too experienced change; I felt one way about the characters at the beginning, then as things happened and the story evolved I saw a different side of them, altering my view. Things are always shifting, we’re always looking for balance. The actors are marvelous, the story timely, what a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.

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We’re having an early dinner at Ima, a new Japanese-influenced restaurant that took over the old Rubbed space on Michigan Ave. Serving signature noodle soups, rice bowls, curries and small plates, the restaurant has received high praise from diners and critics alike. The communal tables are full but two seats have opened at the bar overlooking Michigan Ave. The menu is simple and concise, making for easy ordering. We are having the Golden Curry; silky curry sauce, root veggies, ginger pickle and roasted tofu, it’s fantastic! The Boombap is Ima’s version of Bibimbop; a fried egg, shitake, slaw, cucumber, ginger beef all served atop a bowl of rice with pepito chili sauce on the side, it’s outstanding. A line of people waiting has formed, we finish every last grain of rice and we’re off.

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Bobcat Bonnies is on the other side of Michigan Ave, something about the name has always intrigued me, tonight I finally get the chance to check it out. The space was formerly The Red Devil and O’Blivion’s after that, see those names did nothing for me… We’re stopping in at the neighborhood spot for an after-dinner-drink. We grab a couple of seats at the bar, order drinks then chat with the bartender and the couple next to us. The place has a very comfortable, chill vibe. I like the orange brick, the geometric patterns of the tile and the original wood ceiling that’s over 150 years old. This is a nice way to end the evening. Oh and I did find out about the name, Bonnie is the grandmother of one of the partners, rumor has it she likes to drive a bobcat around her farm in Ohio–sweet!

DETROIT: Wanderin’ Around Midtown…

15 Sep

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Detroit is buzzing with economic activity; every week there’s news of a new boutique, bar or restaurant opening. It’s hard to keep up but we’re happy to do our part! Today we’re on Third Street, Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken is open for business in a modest brick building that seemed to pop up out of nowhere. Gus’s came from humble beginnings over 60 years ago in Mason TN, today we can enjoy that same family recipe right here in Detroit. The menu is simple and straightforward: fried chicken and side dishes. We order the 3-piece plate and add sides of fried okra and mac and cheese. The fried chicken is mildly spicy, the skin is crispy, it’s the juiciest chicken I’ve ever had–how do they do that? ‘Plates’ come with baked beans and slaw, both are delicious, there’s a slice of white bread too. We enjoyed the mac and cheese, the okra was good though I thought it could use a dipping sauce. Meals are served on paper plates with plastic silverware and cups. Service is fast and friendly.

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Across the street is the fabulous 1949 Art Moderne building that was once home to the Willis Show Bar. The neighborhood fell into decline, drugs and prostitution became prevalent; the building was boarded up in the 1970’s. Today the sleek exterior of burgundy, peach and green enameled-steel panels is visible once again.  The bar and a small retail space are still undergoing renovations, Blossoms (same owners as the Birmingham location) a florist, is open for business, let’s take a look.

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Extra large planters decorate the sidewalk, leafy plants cascade to the ground, tall grasses and ornamental shrubs add eye appeal. Inside it’s like walking into secret space, a garden room where flowers bloom, topiary share space with statues, branches and columns. It’s organic, earthy, charming, beautiful; the space is much deeper that I expected. I take my time looking at everything, items are carefully chosen and artfully displayed. Speaking of art there’s a small gallery of art for sale at the back of the shop. Canvases hang on chain-link fence draped over olive-green walls. Today there are landscapes, cityscapes and portraits, all amazing.

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One of our favorite neighborhood streets in Detroit is West Canfield, it’s just a couple of blocks away, let’s take a stroll. The property that is now the West Canfield Historic District once belonged to Lewis Cass, Governor of Michigan from 1813-1831. His daughters subdivided and sold the land, in the 1870’s it became an upper middle class neighborhood of mostly Queen Anne’s with some Gothic Revival, Italianate and Second Empire added to the mix. The neighborhood suffered during the Great Depression, in the 1960’s concerned residents formed the Canfield-West Wayne Preservation Association. The neighborhood was awarded the first Historic designation in Detroit; it became a Michigan Historic Site in 1970 and was placed on the National Register in 1971. Having said all of that, this is one gorgeous street!

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The road is granite pavers, reproduction street lamps light Canfield at night. Large homes rise 3-stories with ornamental chimneys, pinnacles and turrets. Constructed of high-quality brick they feature ornately carved wood, stone trim, roomy porches and leaded glass windows. Intricate paint jobs in pretty pallets of green, brown, orange and gold  adorn pendant trim, pointed head windows, balusters and balustrade. Slate roofs resemble fish scales, some have simple patterns. Recent rains have returned the lawn to a lush green, hydrangea wear large blooms. Homes are meticulously maintained, a labor of love I’m guessing. The picturesque street (minus the cars) looks much like it did in the 1890’s. Embracing the past for the future. A small group of red-brick buildings are clustered on Third Street, the Calvary Love Mission Station; photos in the windows show Third Street at various points in time.

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Not far away on the corner of W Alexandrine and the Lodge Service Dr is City Sculpture, a sculpture park featuring the large-scale work of Cass Corridor artist Robert Sestok. This is one of those really cool things you drive by and say “what was that?” So you have to park the car and check it out. The sculptures are laid out in a grid pattern, the tallest one comes in at 12 feet and weighs 4,000 lbs. Made up of welded steel, bronze and stainless steel, the recycled materials give each piece its own personality. Each sculpture stands on a concrete base, a small placard gives the name and year it was created. 

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I enjoy walking through the park, Kris and I point out different elements we like in each. Time and the elements have rusted the metal, it makes a nice substitute for paint. The art feels perfectly at home in the fenced off lot, homes on one side a busy freeway on the other. Take your time and really look at the pieces, you may recognize items from their intended use incorporated into the art. There are intricate cut-outs, metal is coiled and twirled, some have pieces that stick out like quills. Sestok is dedicated to exposing the public to his experimental sculpture work in Detroit, we thank him for that. Check out City Sculpture Jamboree September 30, 2016.

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DETROIT: A Little Night Music

19 Apr

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It’s dusk when we arrive at the Detroit Yacht Club on the banks of Belle Isle, interior lights are just beginning to glow within. The building, designed by George Mason in the Mediterranean style was completed in 1922. We enter through revolving doors, ascend a stairway and find ourselves in the main lobby. Directly in front of us is the Detroit River, the view is spectacular. It is here the fairy-tale like evening begins.Tonight the Downtown Opera Club, one of 14 opera clubs across southeast Michigan, will be performing in the ballroom. Opera clubs present performances in local communities as a way of educating and entertaining both the novice and die-hard opera enthusiast. Programs feature the operas seen on stage that season at the Michigan Opera Theatre, during the evening the host talks about the operas, piquing interest in the upcoming season.

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We have a little time before the performance begins, we roam a bit taking in the beauty; amazing works of art come in form of paintings, sculptures and architecture. Peacock Alley, named after the Peacock Alley in the Waldorf Astoria where society ladies would have tea, is where a number of paintings hang, the elegant chandeliers came from Rose Terrace (the former Dodge mansion), arched windows line the exterior wall. Inside the ballroom rows of chairs have been set up in front of the massive fireplace, enormous chandeliers light the room, the gorgeous wood ceiling is over 3 stories; the room exudes an old-world charm. At the bar we have our choice of red or white wine or beer, one long table holds platters of cheeses and assorted crackers. Did I mention this event is free?

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We take our seats as does the pianist, after a brief introduction music and voices join together. The acoustics and beauty of the room create an incredible dynamic for the performers. Three men and two women take turns as soloists and ensembles, singing numbers from Macbeth and Magic Flute along with songs from My Fair Lady and Carousel. The showstopper of the evening was Leo Delibes Flower Duet. I don’t think a single person moved or took a breath for the 6 or 7 minute duration of the melody; it gave me goosebumps, some were moved to tears. It seems impossible for a piano and two voices to create such an enchanting, tranquil sound. Nearly two hours later the opera club finishes with the full ensemble singing the final number. 

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The only proper way to end such an evening is dessert at The Whitney. This magnificent mansion has stood on this spot at the corner of Woodward and Canfield since 1894. The Romanesque Revival residence, designed by Gordon W Lloyd, was the home of lumber baron David Whitney Jr. The rose-colored exterior is fitted with a slate roof, stone carvings and Tiffany stained glass windows. The interior is even more impressive with its bronze balustraded staircase, quarter-sawn oak, English tile and 20 fireplaces. The home has been a fine dining restaurant since 1986. We’re headed to the second floor, home to the Katherine Whitney McGregor dessert parlor, named after Mr. Whitney’s daughter.

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We climb the massive staircase, stopping on the landing to admire the 2-story Tiffany window, amazing woodwork and ornate light fixtures. The second floor was originally the ballroom and bedroom suites, tonight glass covered cake plates and multi-tiered stands hold cakes, tortes and individual pastries. We study the selection then are seated in a cozy candle-lit room. Our coffee is served with a tray of sugar cubes and 2 petite dishes of fresh whipped cream. The white chocolate marscapone cheesecake is topped with sliced bananas and cinnamon-roasted almonds, an amaretto glaze finishes it off. We’re also trying the miniature chocolate banana boat and the chocolate peanut butter mousse…..yum! I’ll be honest, they could serve Twinkies and we’d be happy just to be sitting here in this spectacular, grand, lavish place. Another magical night in Detroit…..

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DETROIT: Holiday Style

9 Dec

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It’s the holiday season; trees are wrapped in lights, Christmas music fills the airwaves, cities and towns celebrate with events and activities. In Detroit, Campus Martius Park has been transformed into Winter Magic. Each weekend the park is filled with music, entertainment, ice skating, tents to keep you warm, food and cocktails. Shoppers can head over to City Loft in the First National Building where stores from the Somerset Collection will take up residence until December 23.

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It’s a crisp Friday evening, we park the Jeep and fill the meter with quarters. First stop, 1515 Broadway for a warm cup of coffee, as we approach the counter a woman asks us if we’re here for Unsilent Night……well, maybe, what’s that? Turns out we have stumbled into something oddly cool. Here’s how it works: participants record one of four tracks on a cassette, cd or mp3 player, the group gathers together, then walks through the streets of the city, when all four tracks are joined it creates an “ethereal, electronic soundscape”. A crowd has formed inside 1515, I haven’t seen so many boomboxes since the 90’s, anything that amplifies music will do. Coffee’s in hand we wait on the sidewalk as the mass moves outdoors, a few brief instructions and the music begins. We join the promenade through the streets of Detroit (one of 33 cities in the world to participate), at times it sounds like bells or chimes, folks on sidewalks pause to look and listen, as the group nears Campus Martius we branch off in our own direction; that was delightful!

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There it is, Detroit’s Christmas tree, placed prominently atop the fountain; thousands of lights wrap the branches, packages are adorned with big red bows, water flows and sprays below; dozens of cameras at a time record the beautiful image. Surrounding trees join in the festivities with their own lights, buildings are specially lit, rosy-cheeked skaters fill the ice rink, freezing cold hands are warmed by fires blazing in barrels throughout the park. As we amble, a stilt walker dressed up as a snow queen pauses for photos, a street performer practices his fire-eating skills, next thing you know we stumble upon an igloo on Cadillac Square. Inside, the light phases from purple to blue to green then white, 25 designer snowmen are decked out in fashions by Somerset retailers; top hats, beautiful scarves, capes,  I can’t decide which one I like best.

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Well past our dinner time we make our way to the Showcase D’ Holidays tent, ooh, it’s warm in here. Every Friday and Saturday they have live music in this space; Bermuda Mohawk is just finishing up, Dennis Coffey comes on at 8:45. Big snowflakes hang from the ceiling supports, lights glow in green and red, the ping-pong table is vacant at the moment. Food and beverages are on the left, seating on the right, the stage is all the way in the back. Restaurant vendors vary from week to week, today some of our favorites are represented, we get vegetarian chili from Mudgies and a Southwest bowl from Johnny Noodle King, yum! Sitting at a high-top table we notice the crowd increasing steadily, it’s nice to get off your feet and enjoy a little music.

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Outside we wander around a bit, the streets are busy with bundled up pedestrians, horses’ hooves sparkle with glitter as they pull carriages through the the maze of streets—- what a fun way to see the city, the Zamboni is hard at work refreshing the ice at the rink. Stopping in at the Compuware Building, we relax at the sound of water falling in the fountain, it’s quite lovely; Santa packed up at 7 pm, but he’ll be back tomorrow for pictures and wish lists. Outdoors, the line to rent ice skates zigs and zags, all seem in good spirits as they await their turn. At the other end of the rink stands a temporary bar, a table empties just as we enter, immediately we claim it. You couldn’t ask for a better view; tables are set up along clear plastic windows of the tent, the decor is straight from Ikea, the beer from Atwater, there’s also a full bar, too bad it’s only here until the end of the month….. Kris grabs us a couple of drinks at the bar, the space is cozy, tablecloths look like their made from logs, each table is decorated with a candle and centerpiece. It feels as if we’re part of the group out on the ice, expert skaters fly by as the inexperienced grasp the side rail, refusing to let go; someone is always stopping to take a photo. The holiday spirit has arrived in Detroit, come out and get some for yourself!

 

DETROIT: Far East Southwest ??

2 Sep

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Today we are in East Southwest Detroit; the tiny section of Mexicantown east of I 75. I need a few things from the store so our first stop is Honey Bee Market . There are so many things I like about shopping here: the space is brightly lit, pinatas fill the top shelves surrounding the aisles, produce is fresh, colorful; my favorite thing, of course, is the guacamole. As soon as I step in the door, tubs of guac, pico and salsa are being chilled on ice, bowls of chips are plentiful, allowing one to sample freely. If you can walk away without a bag of chips and a container of dip, you have much more willpower than I! Avocados and tomatoes are piled high next to tomatillos and jalapenos, in case you’d like to make your own tasty dip. The first section is venduras frescas-fresh vegetables, along with everyday items, you will find a huge assortment of peppers, varieties of cactus pieces and yucca root; it’s all so appealing. Cheese is next; it’s fun to try a different kind from time to time, haven’t found one yet that isn’t tasty. Corn chips come in blue, salted or unsalted, the list of tortillas is long; flour, corn, crunchy, soft, in a multitude of sizes. Thirsty? How about some coconut or cactus water? If you’re looking for something fruity try a juice or nectar from Jumex or a Jarritos Mexican soda; hibiscus, strawberry and tamarindo are just some of the thirst quenching flavors.

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Signs hanging from the ceiling are written in Spanish and English, brings back a little of my high school Spanish; funny how some things stay with you. The meat counter is huge; beef, chicken, pork, marinated or plain. The chorizo is made from scratch using a secret family recipe; try it in tacos instead of ground beef-yum! The store is filled with Central American ingredients; beans, mole, dried peppers, unique spices…..this aisle smells so good. Much of the packaging is written in Spanish, many have their own characters affiliated with the product; a cute little bear adorns cookie and snack wrappers. Prepared foods are available for take-out or you can eat at one of the picnic tables in front of the store, they also carry items from Michigan’s own Calder Dairy including ice cream and the most incredibly delicious chocolate milk you will ever drink…….just sayin’.  I check my list before we check out to make sure I have everything; we’re good to go.

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Looking at all that good food has given us quite an appetite, Mexican Village is just down the street, sounds good doesn’t it? This is the oldest Mexican restaurant in Mexicantown, it definitely caters to area visitors. Inside, a beamed stucco ceiling, archways and wrought iron sconces and chandeliers are intended to put one in the mindset of Mexico; it’s lovely. The space is large, yet charming; murals and sizable paintings fill the walls, there are several dining areas in addition to banquet rooms. As we are led to our seat servers carry trays of chips and salsa to surrounding tables, the menu is vast, filled with mouth-watering selections. The best way to try a bit of everything is a combination plate; once our order is taken, we have to restrain ourselves so we don’t fill up on chips and salsa; not an easy task. Food arrives quickly, the village combination comes with 2 beef tacos; one flour, one corn, a chicken flauta, bean tostada and cheese enchilada. We also asked for a tamale, rice and beans. Everything is tasty; we both agree we like the cheese enchilada the best.

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There’s a neighborhood market right next door: Algo Especial Supermercado; we take a peek inside. There’s a little bit of everything tucked into the narrow space; souvenir-type items, trinkets, produce and tortillas greet us near the door, along with festive pinatas that hang from the ceiling. Up a couple of steps, a small area is host to CD’s and DVD’s by Mexican artists, lovely, authentic costumes hang from a rack, American and Mexican flags are side by side. Just a little further you’ll find the meat counter, household items and the noteworthy tamale counter; be sure and take a few home. We walk back to the front passing tons of loose spices and teas, many I have never seen before. It’s always a fun adventure when exploring another culture!

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Until recently, Detroit hadn’t distilled a drop of spirits since prohibition; next we are stopping in at the city’s newest vodka producer, Our/Detroit Partners Kate Bordine and Sara Aldridge have teamed up with Pernod Ricard Vodka, who supplies the recipe and distillery. The all-female-owned and operated end of the business is in charge of sales, marketing and most importantly production. This is global vodka made by local partners, using local ingredients, giving the spirit a unique taste from city to city. In Detroit, cocktails are created using products from local businesses such as Mc Clure’s, Mc Clary Bros. and Wolf Moon Mixers; it never ceases to amaze me the way in which the business community here supports one another!

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The building itself was formerly the Bagley Billiard Center, it sat vacant for a number of years before its current incarnation as distillery and tasting room. Fresh white paint and a cool mural by Ndubisi Okoye covering one side of the structure peak the curiosity of passersby; many peer in the front windows to see what’s going on inside. The decor is simple and elegant in black and white, art is the work of local artists. The tasting room has a chill vibe, shelves are filled with bottles of vodka and mixers, a well-placed window affords patrons a view of the working distillery. We sit at the counter, glancing at the menu, it doesn’t take long to decide, I’m having a vodka tonic with lime and Kris is having Summer in the City, a refreshing combination of vodka, lemonade, blueberry-nutmeg simple syrup and a splash of sparkling soda; it tastes even better than it sounds. The drink menu is seasonal, it will change quarterly; can’t wait to try out Autumn’s offerings!

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EASTSIDE: Divine Dining

28 Jul

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As Detroiters we work hard and we play hard; beautiful summer days are something to celebrate. Today we are doing just that. It’s Thursday, a perfect July day; the sun is hot, the sky is blue, we are meeting friends for dinner at 8pm. With plenty of time before we have to be there, we take a spin along Lakeshore Drive through the Grosse Pointes; the sunlight sparkles off  turquoise water, boaters are out in numbers, we make a loop around the Lake St Clair shoreline, then duck into Grosse Pointe Park. There are a lot of changes taking place on this section of Kercheval; restaurants have opened, a bakery is in the works, and then of course, there’s the new Brewery: Atwater In The Park. That’s right, the good folks of Atwater Brewery have converted the former Grace Community Church on the corner of Lakepointe and Kercheval into a Biergarten and Tap Room. 

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We secure a parking space on Kercheval, two brick columns and a metal arch form the entrance to the Biergarten; the patio can seat up to 100, there’s a covered bar with limited seating and a table or two. We enter the tap-room/restaurant through the original church doors, the hostess stand is the former church’s pulpit, today we seat ourselves. Rounding the corner there’s a small dining area on the left with a fireplace, the main dining room is to the right, this is where mass was held. The sun is in a perfect position to illuminate the three stained glass windows at the front; this is also where the brewing process takes place. Original light fixtures hang from the wood-beamed ceiling, leaded glass makes up the side windows. We take a couple of seats at the large horseshoe-shaped bar, additional tables line both walls, church pews are re-purposed for seating. A clipboard holds menus, the selection is huge……they have 40 taps! I am trying the Shaman’s Porter, Kris, the Blueberry Cobbler Ale; patrons all around us are enjoying dinner and a beer. The bartender returns with our selections; Kris’s comes in a plain pint glass, I can smell the blueberry, mine comes in a fancy footed glass. First off, we take a sip of each other’s beer; Kris’s is delicious, like blueberry cobbler and beer——–in a good way! The Porter is dark and smooth, having been aged in a bourbon barrel. Not a bad way to start the evening. Off to our dinner reservation……

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 We drive through a traditional suburban neighborhood in Harper Woods, not far from Eastland Mall, turning on Old Homestead Dr we keep watch for the monastery. A white picket fence runs the length of the property, blue onion domes rise above surrounding rooftops, buildings have a distinct Russian flare. At the covered entryway we are greeted by a monk, following the red-colored concrete pathway, we find ourselves in one of the most charming settings around. St. Sabbas Orthodox Monastery began with the purchase of a single property in 1999, a lone house that now serves as the Monastery Library and Visiting Monastic Quarters. Later that year construction began on the Monastery church, which has been added on to in stages and still has several to go. Today the monastery is situated on roughly 6 acres which include the Monastery Kathlicon, library, Abbot’s quarters, trapeza and candle making shop. The Royal Eagle Restaurant also occupies the monastery grounds; built in the traditional Venetian Style to honor the memory and bequest of an Italian-American church patron, it serves traditional Eastern European Cuisine. Royal Eagle operates as a non-profit, all proceeds go directly toward the building and maintenance of the institution.

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Beautiful gardens surround the monastery, fountains and mosaic shrines are tucked into the greenery replicating the style of the ancient monasteries of Jerusalem, Russia and Poland. It’s beautiful everywhere I look; flowering shrubs, petunias, lilies, purple coneflower, marigolds and hostas are blooming in beds and urns, water trickles in the distance, you would never imagine this paradise exists in the midst of a neighborhood… We requested a table on the patio, we are shown to our seats and delighted to find we are sitting by the pond with a perfect view of the gazebo and bridge; there is definitely a sense of tranquility and serenity in the air. The four of us look over the menu, it all sounds delicious; everything is prepared in house. It’s impossible to pick just one thing; we order three appetizers and each of us chooses a different entree……. plates will be passed around the table.

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 Guests are permitted to bring their own wine, so we did. We start with a sparkling white from L Mawby in Suttons Bay, our appetizers arrive, we commence to cutting them up and passing the plates; the Tower of Basil is a stack of ripe red tomatoes, alternating with fresh mozzarella and basil, drizzled with an aged balsamic vinaigrette, oh, so good! The crab cakes are meaty and delicious the lemon aioli and pomodoro sauce are perfect sides. The Siberian Pelmeni are little round dumplings stuffed with beef, veal and pork accompanied by a garlic dipping sauce, wonderful. When we are finished we open the bottle of Rioja as the rest of our meal arrives. There are four of us at the table, we have enough food for eight! As plates arrive and glasses are filled, the sun sets, throughout the gardens tiny white lights illuminate the grounds, the glow of the gazebo reflects on the water, it is so enchanting I don’t ever want to  leave. The food is magnificent, truly one of the best meals any of us have had in recent memory. I cannot list it all, but here is a sampling of what we had: the most heavenly Chicken Paprikash with divine Eastern European style dumplings, potato pancakes, homemade sausage, barley/mushroom kasha, pirogi dumplings, salmon, and the most amazing sauerkraut ever! We ate and we drank, we shared stories, then we ate and drank some more.

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It seemed impossible to eat anymore, but when dessert was offered we couldn’t resist. While we waited, we wandered over to the church to get a glimpse inside. Built and beautified in original authentic iconography, over 30 icons adorn the walls and ceiling, it’s gorgeous. The gold surrounding the renderings of saints reflects off the glossy floor, they are hand-painted by a local iconographer in the strict, traditional Orthodox style; a tiny chandelier is the only source of light. There is not another Katholicon church like it anywhere in the world. Returning to our table we notice night has fallen, strings of lights are draped across fences and over the entrance, it’s lovely. Coffee is served as dessert arrives; the yogurt cheesecake is rich and delicious, but it’s the Russian Napoleon Cake that we all go crazy for, absolutely outstanding. Talking over candlelight, somebody notices the time, it’s after 10 pm, our server who is dressed in a traditional Russian costume approaches, she couldn’t be nicer; she offers boxes for left-overs and tells us to take our time finishing up. We can eat and drink no more, we are the last people left on the grounds, alas, it is time to go. We all walk out together, leaving this magical place; it is a night that will stay with us, it was an extraordinary experience shared with good friends.

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DETROIT: Eastern Market….Sunday

30 Jun

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Sunday’s were made for relaxing, taking it slow, easy. It’s a day to sleep in, enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee, go shopping  just for fun. If that sounds good to you, we have just the place for you to spend a Sunday: Eastern Market. That’s right, since the beginning of June, sheds 2 and 3 are home to the new Sunday Street Market; let’s have a look. 

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Parking is a cinch compared to your average Saturday; we are in front of Germack Coffee, perfect, we grab a cup to go, cross Russell Street and begin to browse the market. Shed 2 is open-air; a cute vintage trailer with pink and green stripes is parked just inside the entrance, a swimsuit hangs from the open door, scarves hang from a line on the side. A table in front holds old hats, suitcases and other funky items, the set-up is great, like an outdoor vintage store. Across the way an artisan has set up shop, Two Stix 5 Stones sells handmade knits and accessories; her shawls are gorgeous. We take our time strolling past various booths, there’s a nice mix of antiques, handmades and vintage; a mannequin wears a cool old STP jacket, photographs of iconic Detroit buildings are transferred onto pieces of wood, a large jewelry case holds rows of antique rings. Rehash By Amy has taken ordinary light fixtures, given them a whimsical paint job and converted them to solar power, what a great idea! They would look fabulous hanging above a porch or deck. Across the way we spot a grouping of antique signs; Coke, beer and old street signs are all for sale along with a parking meter, you never know what you may find.

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There are a few different T-shirt makers, another booth has a wide selection of items from automotive pieces to the old aprons the newsboys used to wear. On my right I notice an old delivery truck that has been converted into a boutique; step up into the make-shift store, clothing hangs from a rack on the right, accessories are on the left, very clever! Making our way to Shed 3 we pass The Detroit Pop Shop, flavors include chocolate peanut butter banana, blueberry lemonade and cucumber lime basil;  by the number of people eating them, I’d say they’re pretty popular. Shed 3 is completely enclosed, a large Shinola clock hangs from a post, food trucks are serving up lunch, there’s even a gelato truck. A few vendors are selling fresh fruits and veggies, another is selling flowers; dahlias are eye-catching in peachy-pink, scarlet and lavender, zinnias are blooming in bold red, yellow and orange. Live music is being played in the distance, sounds like a xylophone, buskers perform throughout the market. Looks like the Sunday Street Market is a hit!

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The Eastern Market area is also known for its vast array of graffiti, it’s fun to drive up and down the streets looking for new pieces. Right on Russell St a huge mural covers the front and side of Wholesale Produce Distributors; done in shades of turquoise and purple on a tan background, a slew of characters from a guy in a hat, to a shark, are in action. Take the time to really absorb it, the detail and expressions are fabulous! I still favor the grazing cow on the side of Eastern Market Cold Storage, it’s like he’s watching over everybody while he eats—-we are his entertainment. There’s another cool one over on Division, the Greenbriar Foods and Corridor Sausage building; it’s a great scene with a cool cast of characters. Throughout the area you can find wild colors, groovy settings and hip creatures on anything from a building to a dumpster or a roll-up door. We did stop to check the progress on the expansion of the Dequindre Cut, currently running from the riverfront to Gratiot, when the next phase is completed it will continue all the way to Mack; look for it to be completed sometime after Labor Day. 

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It’s such a lovely day we are having lunch on the patio at Mercury Burger Bar on Michigan Ave. The space is really charming; picnic tables are right at home on the brick patio, gardens surround the fence line, nearest to us a goat made from a recycled Quaker State sign appears to be eating the flowers. A graffiti mural covers one wall, strings of lights criss-cross over head, I bet it’s a sweet place to hang out in the evening. While we wait for our food to arrive I notice many Boston Coolers and shakes being delivered to surrounding tables, mmmmm, they look good…… Before long our meal is set in front of us; the French Onion Burger is wonderful, the meat is tender and juicy, topped with crisp bacon, carmelized onion, Gruyère cheese and onion straws, makes you hungry doesn’t it? The Chicago Dog is done up right; mustard, relish, tomatoes, sport peppers, onions, pickle and celery salt packed into a poppy-seed bun. No meal would be complete without an order of Mercury’s hand-cut fries, the sea salt and black pepper are our favorite; the perfect amount of seasoning on incredibly fresh, just from the deep fryer fries…..yum!

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DETROIT: Something New, Something New……..

23 Jun

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Coffee and (____) began life as a pop-up in the West Village neighborhood, it popped-up again last June on Jefferson in the up-and-coming Jeff Chalmers district; the popular coffee shop and bakery has returned to its charming space on Jefferson as a permanent fixture, hooray!  Conferring with Angela, the space was built out last year by the Detroit division of the AIA, she has added her own personal touches such as colorful pillows, potted plants and fresh flowers on the table daily, walls are covered with colorful artwork by local artists. The stars of the coffee shop are, of course, the pastries. Angela is a formally trained pastry chef who knows her way around Key Lime Pie, heavenly scones, gooey chocolate brownies and the best banana bread you’ve ever tasted. Each day a variety of pastries from the full flour, sugar, butter variety to vegan and gluten-free sit under glass domes, tempting all who enter. Let’s not forget the coffee; regular and decaf, drip, espresso or our favorite cold-brew in town, you can have it made to drink in-house or to-go.

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We pull up in front of the shop; the patio has sprung back to life with bright red umbrellas, plants, tables and chairs. Inside, there are open seats at the counter, our favorite place to sit; while Kris takes a seat I eyeball the pastries, it’s no secret I love chocolate—a brownie it is! The atmosphere here is very laid back; customers often engage in conversation with one another about this and that. As I devour my chocolately brownie and sip on cold-brew coffee I take in the large paintings that hang on the walls; Kris and I each pick a favorite. When we have finished, we check out the courtyard in back; benches are made from reclaimed wood, colorful cactus, a money tree and potted palm add color, miniature white lights are strung overhead, it’s truly an oasis. Hello Records second location is taking over the space adjoining Coffee and (____), currently open on weekends, more on that later.

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The transformation of the Detroit riverfront over the last few years has been amazing! There are now 3 miles of completed pathways, parks and green space making the river accessible to all. We are visiting the east riverfront; Mt Elliott Park has been completely renovated by the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy to include a plaza, water features, restrooms and a cafe—today is opening day. We follow the freshly poured concrete pathway toward the river, the grass is green and lush, benches are arranged here and there, LED light poles flank the path. The tented park pavilion is off to the right, but what really grabs our attention is the water feature to the left; a life-size replica of a great lakes schooner appears to have sunk into the plaza, masts poke out from the ground spraying water into the air. As we approach we notice stacks of crates, the ship’s wheel, treasure chests and barrels, all with the ability to give you a soaker. Here a layer of soft material in shades of blue cover the ground, making it user-friendly, I spot a few yellow disks marked with a blue footprint that activate the water flow, it’s really cool! Further on kids are spraying one another with water cannons,  jets of water shoot up from the ground intermittently drawing screams and laughter from those who are now wet. A trio of children hang on to a giant cattail and spin around, further on, wind chimes are ringing in the gentle breeze. As we head to the silver railing that lines the water a small boy bangs on drums, another bangs on pipe-organ-style hollow tubes, the sight of all of this activity brings a smile to my face. The MacArthur bridge connecting Detroit to Bell Isle is picturesque from this spot. The pathway continues to the right, colorful concrete circles add whimsy to the route, where there is no railing rocks are piled high, where the pathway ends we find ourselves overlooking a Coast Guard boat. Turning around I am able to take in the entire park; the scene is picturesque, even nicer than I had anticipated, seating is plentiful, flowers spill from large planters, multiple generations are enjoying a little fun in the sun at this most welcomed park.

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There’s an old 4-story, red-brick building near the park entrance. Kris notices the new awning and balloons over an open door, I fall into step behind him to check it out. The name on the awning says “Fun Shop“, let’s see what it’s all about. The shop is a combination art gallery, cultural gifts store, snack shop and overall ‘fun’ place. Near the door you can purchase sunscreen, bottles of water and towels, snacks are sold by the register. The walls are covered with old posters of names like Iggy Pop and MC5, works by Gary Grimshaw, Carl Lundgren and Leni Sinclair can be purchased here along with t-shirts, bags and jewelry by local artists, indeed, lots of fun stuff. I pay for my really cool Detroit watch and we are off to get some lunch.

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Southwest Detroit  seems to be calling us; traveling a little off the beaten path we end up on Springwells at El Asador. A brown brick building with red trim, it’s sits across the street from Vince’s, a well-known Italian restaurant that has been around forever. Inside, the walls are painted a golden-yellow, black chairs are pulled up to white tablecloth covered square tables. As usual, we take a table near a window; our server greets us with menus and returns quickly with chips, salsa and glasses of ice water. Along with traditional Mexican favorites, the menu concentrates on steak and seafood dishes, it all sounds good. After taking our order, our server returns with a cart which holds a large stone bowl, avocados, tomatoes, cilantro, salt, onions, lime juice and chopped jalapeno’s—-they make the guacamole tableside, awesome! As ingredients are added and softly smashed together we are asked how spicy we like our guac, she continues to add items from small bowls, mixing them in until, voila’, it’s done. The dip is garnished with freshly made flour tortilla chips and placed on our table; immediately we  scoop up the flavorful green mixture, wow, it is outstanding! We have never had guacamole so fresh and delicious, you have got to try this. Everything is made fresh to order so dishes do not arrive rapid-fire from the kitchen, but don’t worry, it’s worth the wait. This time we have a chorizo taco, tasty and different from any other chorizo we have had, a lobster taco, delish, served with its own sauce and veggies and chicken enchiladas verde. The enchiladas are moist and flavorful, topped with sour cream and diced fried potatoes, they come with yummy rice and refried beans that are an orange-ish hue, also excellent. The food here is wonderful and unique to the area, service is excellent; next time you have a hankering for Mexican food, you know where to go…….. you’re welcome…….

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Vintage In The Metro

5 May

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Spring in the Detroit area can be tough; days can be chilly, windy and rainy, not exactly an invitation to spend time outdoors. Still, we have spent so much time indoors, we are antsy to just get out. Days like this, lunch and a little shopping get our mind off the weather and onto fun things. We are actually more the browsing type, our shopping trips usually lead us to great vintage shops, antique stores and flea markets; lots of looking and every once in a while, a great find we have to bring home.

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Our first stop is Vogue Vintage Surplus, a warehouse-type space on Wolcott St in Ferndale. This is nitty-gritty type shopping; it’s colder in the building than outside, items are everywhere, shelves are full of smaller pieces. An old dryer chair catches my eye as soon as we walk in the door, its sparkly blue vinyl is cool. There are so many things to look at I have to stop and really focus. A true treasures hunter’s emporium, goods are sorted as opposed to displayed, couches, end tables and large landscape scenes are huddled together. Used telephones span the decades from rotary dial to cordless, desks vary in size from single to multiple cubbies. Old trophies, a complete set of china, wacky knick knacks and an old wooden canoe make it fun to look around. The warehouse has everything a home needs, light fixtures, glassware, televisions, stoves and refrigerators; while some of it is antique or vintage other items are simply ‘used’. If you’re looking for a milk can, traffic light, a pair of wooden shoes from Holland a piano or an old radio, you know just where to go!

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Traveling up Woodward into Pleasant Ridge we park behind Vogue Vintage and enter through the back door. Once things have been gone through at the Surplus, the nicest items come here to be sold. Racks of vintage clothing are separated into men’s and women’s sections, pieces are in nice condition, funny how many of the styles are popular again today.

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 The shop has a fabulous array of lighting, everything from table lamps and pole lamps to sconces and hanging fixtures. Furniture and accessories are set up in vignettes, a living room here, a dining room there, all very swanky; it’s sometimes surprising how well mis-matched pieces go together. Along with traditional Mid-Century pieces there is a nice selection of 1960’s and 70’s; you know, shiny chrome, bright colors, bold designs, Lucite and yes, a sofa pit. With the impending arrival of summer, outdoor furniture, a super cool bbq, coolers and bicycles are timely items. From large pieces to small, hats to vintage games, posters to metal wall sculptures, they have an awesome selection. Vogue Vintage is now located at 2747 Hilton Rd Ferndale 48220

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Going shopping and out to lunch go hand in hand, there’s a cute little diner on the east side of Woodward called Mae’s. There’s an open parking spot right out front and no line, good timing by us. From 1959 to 2009 this tiny space operated as Anna’s Coffee Shop, in 2010 Sean and Jessica Mc Carthy re-opened the diner as Mae’s, it is Pleasant Ridge’s oldest restaurant, a bit of a landmark, you might say. There are two unoccupied turquoise and aluminum stools at the counter, we take a seat and begin studying the menu. Serving breakfast and lunch, most of the items are made in-house from scratch; biscuits and gravy, jam, baked goods and pancake batter are all made in the 7-foot wide kitchen, bread comes from Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, chips are Better Made and the pop is Faygo and Vernors. We have a great view of the goings on; hot food comes through an opening in the kitchen, servers are busy taking orders, running the espresso machine, filling containers with jam, and delivering food. Ours arrives piping hot, the Mexicantown Skillet is two scrambled eggs sitting atop a combination of homefries, sausage, black beans, sautéed onions, jalapenos and pepper jack cheese. A side of 8 grain 3 seed toast and pico de gallo make this dish delicious. The Portland Special is a sandwich made up of Cap’n Crunch breaded chicken tenders (seriously), pepper jack cheese and hot sauce between grilled farm bread, a side of blue cheese dressing and a bag of chips complete the meal, yum! UPDATE Mae’s is now closed for business.

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There’s still more old stuff to see…… Moving on to Royal Oak, we stop in at Lost & Found Vintage; specializing mainly in clothing, the shop is laid out as a great little boutique with men’s items on the lower level and ladies on the upper. Mannequins are dressed in spring outfits, basket-type handbags and pastel scarves polish off the look. Old street signs top off a large wood cabinet that holds accessories and colored bottles. Downstairs a fellow can find everything he needs to be fashionable; denim jackets, plaid sports coats, silky ties and bowling shirts. The space is masculine with trunks, antlers, an old shoe shine chair and stylish hats. Upstairs is definitely girly; skirts, dresses, purses, sandals and hats. Merchandise is all good quality, many items are sure to bring a smile…..or an eye-roll as the case may be.

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Oddfellows Antiques is on 12 Mile in Berkley. The 9,000 sq ft  building was built in the 1920’s for, you guessed it, the Oddfellows. This is one of those antiques stores that divide the building up into smaller dealer spaces, there are nearly 50 here. Opened eight years ago, it is a favorite of locals and has been voted “Best of Hour Magazine” for the last three years. We enter on the lower level; lots of folks seem to have had the same idea as each aisle is busy with shoppers. You never know what you’ll find in a store like this as the variety of items is wide. Kris and I browse slowly through the shop, I see owls are back in vogue, Elvis never went out, glassware is abundant. Dealers sell a little bit of everything; great old tin signs, soda pop memorabilia, beautiful antique mirrors,tools, rugs, even a little bit of Mod from the 70’s. I love all the old glasses, each with its own purpose; juice, water, highball, martini anyone? There are things we remember from our grandparents homes and things our parents had too. All of these things create a link from the past to the present–maybe that’s the real draw, familiarity, fond memories, good times.