Tag Archives: visit detroit

DETROIT: Downtown Living

9 Nov

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Location, location, location… Today we’re exploring the latest and greatest residential developments in Detroit on the Hour Detroit & Detroit Home’s Downtown Living Tour. The introduction in my tour booklet goes like this: “With more than 3,000 newly constructed and historically renovated units currently online and thousands more in development, downtown Detroit offers lifestyle options for everyone.” The residential boom in the city is mind-boggling; buildings shuttered for decades have become vibrant living spaces, new structures have sprung up from vacant lots, all in a short time span. Curiosity has lured us to today’s tour, let’s have a look.

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Advance Plumbing and Heating Supply Co. is the check-in spot; established in 1920 they are the oldest plumbing distributor in the city. The 5,000 sq. ft. showroom is stuffed with lighting and plumbing fixtures; it’s dazzling. The building itself was constructed in 1918, the facade has been restored, windows re-installed, inside some of the original terazzo floors remain. Merchandise displays are visually stunning; from sinks, faucets and tubs to lighting, vanity’s and mirrors, they have every style and color you can imagine. You can see and experience products through functional showers, tubs, toilets. faucets, steam units and lighting, how cool is that? Swag bag in hand, I grab Kris and I each a water and a cookie as we head out the door.

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The Assembly on W Fort St.  is an attractive, four-story, Neo Classical industrial building  we have admired for years. Made of reinforced concrete and dark reddish-brown brick, the 160,000 sq. ft. warehouse building was constructed in 1913 for the Edson, Moore Dry Goods company after they outgrew their former space. I think it’s interesting to note the development company hired by Edson Moore to construct the building was owned by John and Horace Dodge who in turn hired Smith, Hinchman and Grylls to design it and contracted Bryant and Detwiler Company to construct it. Edson and Moore continued to grow and evolve, they moved out in 1958. The building was sold twice more then Bedrock Real Estate purchased it in 2016 and turned it into what we see here today; a beautiful, active, useful building. We wander through attractive communal spaces offering cozy seating areas, ride the elevator and wander down long hallways making our way to several loft apartments; it’s a nice blend of historic architecture with modern comfort and style. Apartments have high ceilings, warehouse-style windows, quartz kitchen counter tops and hardwood floors. The best part is the outdoor terrace offered in some units. If you’re not lucky (or wealthy) enough to have your own private terrace, don’t worry, the top floor Residents Lounge has one large enough to share. Several seating areas, flower boxes, gas grills, fire pits, a spectacular view of the city and the West Riverfront can all be yours for a monthly rent check.

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I’m extremely excited to see the next venue. Over in Capitol Park the Art Deco Stott building soars 38-stories high into the Detroit skyline. The iconic skyscraper opened in June of 1929. The first 3 stories are faced with marble, granite and limestone, from there the slender structure is constructed of a warm-toned reddish-orange brick accented with terracotta; I love the way it tiers to the summit; architectural sculpture was done by Corrado Parducci. The Stott Realty Company built it in honor of its founder David E Stott. Due to the depression it was the last skyscraper built in Detroit until the mid 1950’s. You may remember the building as housing the Sky Bar back around 2011-12. It was then sold at auction in 2013 for 9 million. Unfortunately the owners didn’t bother heating it through winter; pipes burst, water flooded the building destroying everything in its path. Luckily Bedrock purchased it in 2015, pumped out 1.8 million gallons of water and completely restored the Stott to its former glory; it’s now a mixed-use tower. The lobby is stunning; ornate tiles, woodwork and lighting were saved and restored, plaster walls were repaired or replaced. Look at that gorgeous ceiling, the gloss of the marble, the brass surrounding the reception window, the letter box…

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We are directed to the elevators, back when the building was new these were some of the speediest elevators in the United States! Apartments range from 418 sq. ft. studios to 3-bedroom, penthouse-level suites with about 2,600 sq. ft. Guess which one they’re showing today. You’re right, we’re in a penthouse. Except for built-ins and appliances the space is empty, I mean why bother with furniture when you have a panoramic view of the city? Let’s all gaze out the window…

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This time we’re at the corner of Bagley and Clifford in what was formerly known as the historic Rockwell-Standard building (1965), previously the Detroit City Gas Company HQ (1918), now going by the name Philip Houze. The lobby is what I would call Modern-Industrial; funky light fixtures, bright colors and a fabulous wall treatment behind the reception desk. The building is pet-friendly and offers studio, one and two-bedroom apartments all with open floor plans. A sign at the desk tells us which units are being shown. Apartments have high open ceilings, hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances and are simply furnished.

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We’re off to Brush Park to see 104 Edmund Place to check out 9 condominiums in what was Lucien Moore’s Victorian mansion circa 1855. The exterior is lovely; orange brick, gold and burgundy painted accents and an elegant wood entryway. Each unit has a unique floor plan, 12-foot ceilings, exposed brick, double-pane windows and open kitchens. We walk through all of the units in the main house, the largest takes up the entire third floor. Styles and colors vary from one to the next, I like the condos with the great architectural angles, it reminds me that I’m in an old house. There are 3 additional units out back in the carriage house. From here it’s an easy walk to the QLINE, Little Caesars Arena, restaurants and coffee shops. It’s nice to see the old mansions in Brush Park brought back to life.

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The final building we’ll visit is Jeffersonian Houze at 9000 E Jefferson. If you travel Jefferson through Detroit you’ll recognize the Mid-Century Rivertown building immediately. Built in 1965 in the International style, 30 stories high and constructed of glass and steel, every unit has a private balcony with views of the city skyline and the turquoise Detroit River. Having recently undergone a multi-million dollar renovation I’m curious to see what they’ve done. The lobby is still very Mid-century; large open spaces, rectangular marble columns, modern light fixtures, terazzo floor, surrounded by glass walls. The building is constructed on a slope, the Jefferson Ave entrance is 17 feet higher than the back entrance along the river. There are 410 one, two and three-bedroom units, we are seeing two of them today. Whether from the floor-to-ceiling windows or the balcony, here’s no denying the view is spectacular. From here we can gaze out into the river, Harbortown Marina and the Olympic-size swimming pool. These are both renovated units, we were hoping to get a peek at one of the classic Mid-Century units, none-the-less these are lovely. From here residents can bike or walk along the River Walk. play tennis or just hang out in the 6 acres of waterfront landscaping.

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How about a cocktail? Sounds good to me. The Monarch Club is the penthouse level of The Metropolitan Building and includes a rooftop bar. Got your attention with that didn’t I? The Neo-Gothic Metropolitan, also known back in the day as the Jewelers Building was built in 1925, designed by Weston and Ellington. It is so beautiful. From the Great Hall on ground level to the luxurious deep blue, red and gold of the bar to the elegance of the Tower Keep, it’s a spectacular place to have a cocktail. Outdoors the sweeping views of downtown Detroit are breathtaking. It’s hard to decide where to sit; if it’s a little chilly cozy up to a fire pit, love architecture, sit near the parapet, I guarantee you there’s not a bad seat to be had. I can’t think of a better way to end a day of exploring some of the best architecture in the city, can you?

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DETROIT: New Kids on the Block…

19 Apr

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 We’re parked near the Opera House, the meter is full and my sweet-tooth is talking to me. Good thing Dilla’s Delights is only a short walk away. The donut shop is owned by Herman Hayes, aka Uncle Herm to late Detroit Hip Hop legend J Dilla. Dilla’s two daughters are the ‘delights’ in the equation. The petite shop is tucked into the end space on the ground floor of the Ashley Building, decor consists of photos of old Detroit, baseball players, portraits and posters of Dilla. The main attraction of course is the donuts. Made with organic flour and fried up in the kitchen at Avalon bakery, Uncle Herm offers 15 flavors including vegan options. It’s a tough decision; Brewster’s Banana Pudding Cake, apple fritter, Cakeboy Chocolate Cake, cinnamon raisin, blueberry. We follow the advice of the man behind the counter; one of the original classic John Doe Cake and a raised and glazed lemon lime; good advice. 

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Our walk continues to John R Street and the old Metropolitan Building, now the Element Detroit Hotel. Abandoned nearly 40 years, this is a perfect example of a building that nobody would have dreamed would be restored. Standing back we take in the 14-story, wedge-shaped, Neo-Gothic structure. The terracotta, brick and granite exterior is adorned with escutcheon and pieces of armor to accent the Gothic appearance. Built in 1925 it was informally nicknamed the jeweler’s building; floors 5-10 were leased to jewelers, diamond cutters, goldsmiths, watch-makers and silver workers. Other floors were leased to milliners, beauty and dress shops. Now part of Marriott’s Starwood Collection, it’s an extended-stay hotel. There are 3 restaurants planned including a rooftop cocktail lounge named the Monarch Club, Yesss…

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We step inside, walk a few feet then, taken aback by the beauty of the Great Hall, we just stop. Wow. Pink marble walls are topped by ornate plaster moldings, a beamed Medieval ceiling with cayenne-colored plaster rises above, glossy wood frames doorways and windows, simple globes and new recessed lighting light up red, yellow and blue designs high on the walls. The grand staircase is to the right, more pink marble and ornamental bronze grillwork. A quick trip to the second floor reveals terrazzo floors, divided storefronts and a large window overlooking the city. Returning to ground level we walk the hall marveling at the restored archways, magnificent plaster moldings, original floors. A lounge area displays large historic photographs of the Metropolitan in different phases. Decor hinges on Mid-Century here, the fireplace looks inviting. The Roxbury Group spent $33 million restoring this unique skyscraper, they’re the same group that restored the David Whitney Building/ Aloft Hotel. Nice job and Thank You!

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Farmer Street has been completely transformed. With the creation of the Shinola Hotel a new building stands where a short time ago was just a gravel lot. Up for a little shopping? Good Neighbor, a clothing boutique, sells casual pieces for men and women, if you’re into Levi’s you’re in luck, they have a large selection. Other items include jewelry, handbags, jackets, shoes and scarves. The Velvet Tower is next door, Long Island transplant Emily Bernstein has been collecting for over 2 years to amass enough vintage pieces to open her own resale shop. Pieces are high quality, she has a nice variety of casual and upscale pieces, hats, shoes, household and fun things. 

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Madcap Coffee has just opened its first location outside Grand Rapids, time for a coffee break. Roasting beans and serving coffee since 2008, we have enjoyed their offerings for years; now that they’ve arrived in Detroit we can indulge more often. The all white interior is accented in black, shelves hold logo merchandise, bags of coffee beans and several styles of pots to brew your own.  I’m glad to see they have nitro cold brew; one for me and one for Kris and we’re off again.

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A sharp right out of the building leads us to Parker’s Alley, a block-long walkway behind the new Shinola Hotel, a few independent storefronts face the alley. Remnants of old painted advertising still clings to the brick wall. Around the corner a 4-story enclosed bridge connects the hotel to the new building, large lights illuminate the walkway, planters already celebrate Spring. Organic raw juice company Drought has a location here. Their cold-pressed, glass-bottled juice has become the leading brand in the Midwest. The Lip Bar cosmetic boutique makes products that are vegan and cruelty-free. Have a seat on a swing at your own personal vanity; sample lipstick and lip gloss that moisturize your lips thanks to shea butter, coconut oil, avocado oil and vitamin E. Fun colors and cool packaging; what more could a girl want? The smallest space belongs to Posie Atelier, a charming florist that also sells houseplants, unique gifts and jewelry. I love the colors of exotic tropical flowers.

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Time to eat. Penny Red’s (Buckets and Biscuits) is a carry-out fried chicken stand located on the Farmer St side of the building. The modest space with wood paneling has a mid-century feel to it. There’s one window for ordering, one window for pick-up. Shelves in a recessed area hold rolls of paper toweling, secret recipe sauces, and disposable wood silverware. We place our order and are given a pager, we’re going to eat next door in The Brakeman. A simple doorway leads us into the beer and rec hall. It’s one huge, attractive, industrial-looking space that will seat 200 people at community or high-top tables. There are two bars, big screen TV’s, foosball, table shuffleboard, beer pong and ping-pong tables. You can even reserve a Beer Tap Table. Roll-up doors and windows run the length of the front and back of the building, this place will be packed in nice weather.

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A token booth stands at the far end, $7 gets you a token good for a single draught beer or a flight of three. I take my token to the bar serving beer and select a Short’s Soft Parade Shandy. The second bar serves cocktails and accepts cash. The pager goes off, I pick up the food and meet Kris back at our table overlooking Farmer Street. The food looks and smells delicious. The Classic sandwich is a chicken breast topped with urban ranch, sweet pickle and hot honey; very tasty. The crispy brussels are tender and flavorful with a smoked maple sauce and crunchy topping. Honey butter biscuits come dry or dunked, we got ours dunked, yum. Several times today I thought to myself, where am I? People fill the sidewalks and alley, empty spaces are disappearing as new buildings take their place. Travelers come and go from a long forgotten skyscraper. My eyes can hardly believe it. Detroit is alive and well.

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DETROIT: In Living Color

14 Jan

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For the third consecutive year the Murals In The Market festival landed in Detroit’s Eastern Market in September 2017. Inner State Gallery along with 1xRUN have curated and produced over 100 murals in Eastern Market alone. World-class local and international artists converge in Detroit, taking over the market district armed with scissor lifts, a rainbow assortment of paint, superior talent and an endless imagination. The result is an exceptional array of stunning art covering buildings both in use and long forgotten. In turn Eastern Market has become one giant public art gallery, expanding the walkable footprint of the district, making it a must-see destination for locals and visitors alike. We’re here on an exceptionally warm November day, let’s see what’s new…

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Russell St. is the market’s main drag, we park near new murals by Fel3000ft and Malt. The first is a powerful image of a fox, its face in color as his fur becomes a flowing mane in black, white and grey, gears turn in the background. Tucked beside it is Malt’s flock of blue birds flying into an autumn breeze. Further down Russell Denial has created another comic-like series of images in bold colors; a tiger, peace sign, woman’s face and the words ‘never say never’, I like this style. From here we just wander the streets looking for new murals, it’s a Friday, trucks come and go down narrow streets, men unload meat, produce and other goods. On the backside of Bert’s Warehouse Jose Felix Perez and Michael Vasquez have painted a group of rappers, Eminem is front and center. Picnic tables remain on the patio hoping for one more warm day. Around the corner is another tribute to musicians; first a scene by Shade anchored by and old-fashioned microphone intermixed with a female singer, musical notes and instruments. Beside it we find black and white images of Jazz greats; singers, drummers, bass players, clarinet players–you get the idea. Over a fence is Sheefy’s creation of red, pink, blue, yellow and green body parts. Hitsville USA, Berry and Esther Gordy are portrayed further down on the same wall.

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Camilo Pardo has an incredible rendering of a 1967 Fastback Mustang over on Alfred St. A girl relaxes against the front fender, the smoke from her cigarette rises and dissipates. The car is super cool in green and gold; Kris and I really like his style. Tatiana Suarez’s goddess is enchanting against a blue background. We walk some more, ending up near the Dequindre Cut, a host of vacant building are either being restored or waiting for renovation, it’s really quiet over here, we wander around traversing broken concrete and uneven ground. On the Cut we are welcomed by more art, look at the image of the bicyclist and his shadow, the wall of bubbles in blues and purples. On street level Anthony Lee’s fire-breathing robot-dragon shoots laser beams from his eyes as repairmen make adjustments, the detail is amazing. HoxxoH and Brian Lacey’s scene reminds me of the sea or an aquarium; green leaves, blue reeds and coral-like images. A prism-colored skeleton resides on a funky pink wall, his medieval flail wraps around the building connecting with another skeleton on the other side.

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A pheasant and an old car occupy two squares of earth hovering above water in Johnny Alexander’s contribution, Paul Johnson’s piece makes me think of life on some other planet where Palm trees grow like upside-down pineapples and stars are huge in the night sky; Chris Saunder’s eagle takes up the adjacent wall. Street after street, building after building, at every turn another mural comes into view,  Lauren Y’s moth-girl is beautiful, the tunnel created in greens and yellows by 1010 makes me want to climb up and look inside. HoxxoH’s piece on Mack reminds me of a giant Spirograph, love it! Hey, did you know they still make Spirograph? If you like astronomy check out Mary Iversons constellation piece near St. Aubin.

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We’ve walked enough, let’s grab some lunch. Beau Bien Fine Foods shop and cafe opened a few months ago on Riopelle. They have been making  jams, mustards and chutneys for years, we have seen their products at maker fairs and local markets; the Peach Bourbon Vanilla Preserves won us over immediately. The shop is a mere 400 sq. ft, it’s adorable; a crystal chandelier hangs from the black ceiling, the black and white tiled floor looks vintage.  Walls are lined with jarred preserves, chutneys and vinegars all made with Michigan fruit. We order at the register and have a seat at the counter at the far end of the space. First to arrive is a bowl of steaming Tomato soup, delicious. The tortilla de patatas is next, it’s wonderful, the kick of the chorizo-spiced mayo is perfect, a mixed green salad is served alongside. You can sample anything they sell for free; Kris really likes the Plum Honey preserves, I’m torn between the Michigan Apple and the Cranberry Mustard, Cranberry wins, I’m quite satisfied with my decision.

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Back out on Riopelle we find ourselves standing in front of Eastern Market Brewing Company; the building has undergone a complete rehab and is now a fully functioning brewery and tasting room. Eastern Market has been home to dozens of breweries over the past century, EMBC continues the tradition. The brewers use ingredients from market vendors and local businesses whenever possible. The interior is a large, open, airy space, front windows roll up when the weather allows, the garden wall is really pretty with live plants and wrought iron accents. Community tables rest on concrete floors, the EMBC elephant is painted on the wall behind the bar. The menu changes seasonally, so many choices, the only thing to do is try several. Our sampler includes Cherry Porter, Apple Jacked, Coffee Stout and Nitro Honey. Being a dark beer girl I am surprised that the Apple Jacked is my favorite, Kris’s favorite is the Nitro Honey, no surprise there. 

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We meander the maze of market streets back to our car, we park in a lot so we can view the murals along Gratiot.  A multi-color tiger looks fierce, he’s so big he takes up the entire side of the building. The wall of cartoon-critters makes me smile, another mural welcomes us to Eastern Market Fresh, Lunch Money’s piece reminds us ‘there is no beauty without strangeness’. Our final stop is Pat Perry’s piece, I love his work and this piece is exceptional. The entire side of the building is his canvas, just look at the detail; the woman, the man, the house, the wildflowers and the placement of the lantern. The mural looks completely at home, it belongs in just that spot. It catches me completely off-guard, I draw a breath in and stare, it’s perfect.

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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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