Tag Archives: Woodbridge Pub

DETROIT: Woodbridge

4 Nov

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Detroit’s true personality can be found in its neighborhoods. Today we are in Woodbridge, a historic neighborhood of mainly Victorian homes built from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s. The district borders WSU, New Center and Midtown–putting it within walking distance to great restaurants, boutiques, shopping, and cultural institutions. Long ago Ty Cobb, David Stott, James Scripps and George Booth walked these streets calling Woodbridge home; more recently Meg White and Sixto Rodriguez resided here. The grandest homes were originally built on Trumbull, as the campus of Wayne State grew, many homes were lost. The neighborhood was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, that’s when restoration of these gorgeous homes really got a foothold.

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We park on Merrick and begin our walk south on Commonwealth, today the street is picturesque; trees are still hanging on to their yellow, red and orange leaves, large 3-story homes with tiny front yards sit back from the street. It’s Halloween, residents decorate with spooky spider webs, pumpkins line the front steps, pots of mums and even a few annuals enjoy the mild autumn day. Bicycle racks dot front lawns, each a different shape, painted brightly in red, orange, blue and lime. Art is everywhere; sculptures sprout from the ground, paintings hang on exterior building walls making the street an outdoor gallery. A fenced in yard contains huge bicycle sculptures, a brightly colored painting spells out Laredo in yellow letters, rose bushes still bloom. The district embraces the creative, imaginative and artistic qualities of its residents.

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Dual stairways lead to front doors of duplexes, many are graced with leaded glass windows. Homes are well maintained; colorful trim and smooth columns accent fine brickwork. Covered porches shield residents from heat and rain, balustrades create second story balconies, windows of all shapes and sizes bring sunlight indoors. People are out raking leaves, walking their dogs, they stop what they’re doing as we approach, taking the time to say hello. Apartments are only 3 stories high, the architecture is understated with lovely details such as dentil moldings, heavy wooden doors and window pediments. Homes on Avery are almost all single-family, there are some real beauties! Many have steep hipped roofs, recessed porches, bay windows, dormers and round corner towers with pinnacles. On one of the blocks, houses are clapboard sided in a variety of bold colors; fish scale siding, conical roofs and decorative gables  make each one unique.

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In one front yard a Little Free Library has been planted; using Andrew Carnegie’s support of 2,509 free public libraries built in the US around the turn of the 19th to 20th century as inspiration, Little Free Library has a goal to build 2,510 libraries, and then keep right on going. Detroit Little Libraries has a goal of 313 libraries in the city; the organization turned 1 in September and has already planted 100 little library structures, making it the fastest growing Little Library city in the country. The little house-like structure looks right at home here, it even matches the big house it sits in front of. We continue our walk; leaves crunch under our feet, cars line the narrow streets, people come and go from their homes. Residents are diverse; students, professors, young families, servers and long-time residents all live side by side in this charming, appealing, engaging neighborhood.

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We take Merrick to Trumbull and walk a little more, 4759 is the address of The Lorax house, you know, from Dr Seuss. Built in 1900, current owner Alex Pereira has renovated the building into 5 units and a commercial art gallery. While the interior retains its original historic beauty, the exterior is whimsical with a wood-carved Lorax on the front lawn, a quote from the movie is painted on the retaining wall: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Pereira recently finished the “UP” house, based on the animated film of the same name at 4722 Avery, you’ll know it immediately by its cheerful paint job of light blue, yellow, fluorescent green and lilac; he’s currently working on the (Alice in) Wonderland House at 3947 Commonwealth.

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Back the other way more grand homes line the street, art covers walls, garages and alleyways; in one painting Detroit is an underwater city, scuba divers swim among the skyscrapers, the rays of the sun permeate the water’s surface…. awesome. At the corner of Trumbull and Merrick is the Woodbridge Community Garden; raised garden beds, picnic tables, art and sculpture have turned this into a neighborhood gathering space. Woodbridge Pub owner Jim Geary is responsible for the transformation of the garden from 3 city lots filled with overgrown weeds and trash to what we see today.

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Speaking of Woodbridge Pub, it’s time for lunch! The building, originally a general store built in 1926 had sat empty for a good 20 years when Geary bought it; time, money, patience and lots of salvaged wood turned it into the quaint space it is today. We’ve been coming here since it opened back in 2008. Sitting at the bar we scan the menu; one of our favorites, the Veggie Locker, is back, we order that and a side salad, kick back and relax. It starts to drizzle, Wayne State football has a home game today, folks escape the rain and fill the place up. Our meal arrives; we have a side salad with sherry vinaigrette and southwest dressings, we like them both. The sandwich is a combo of avocado, tomato, red onion, cream cheese, jalapeno, mustard and mayo on grilled Detroit 9-grain bread, accompanied by corn chips and a pickle– it’s delicious. 

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This is Detroit. Urban neighborhoods, gorgeous architecture, art, community gardens. Corner pubs, Little libraries, history. And a bright, promising future.



DETROIT: Union Street & Bonstelle Theatre

17 May

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I love live theatre. Each year I look forward to the spring musical performed by Wayne State’s undergrad company at the Bonstelle; this year’s production was Hairspray. The show didn’t start until 8pm, giving us plenty of time to enjoy a pre-show dinner with friends. Our restaurant of choice for the evening was Union Street located on Woodward, just a short distance from the theatre.  The atmosphere at Union Street is unique; patrons vary from students and professionals to the theatre crowd and hipsters. Built in the early 1900’s the building started out as a hardware store. In the 1930’s Arturo’s opened in the space; it would turn out to be the first of many Italian restaurants in this building. The wood is dark and glossy, the ceiling unique; indirect lighting glows a soft reddish-orange from the recess surrounding  the room. Art Deco details are evident in the distinctly shaped ceiling, cool medallion, swanky bar and lighting. The current owner bought the place in the late 80’s, by the mid 90’s he put in a new kitchen and remodeled the Michigan Room in the same Art Deco style and colors as the main dining room. One of my favorite things about Union Street is they have something on the menu for everyone! The food is good, from pasta and fish to sandwiches and jambalaya; portions are generous, prices affordable. At our table of six each person ordered something different; it was all delicious. It was almost showtime, we drove the few blocks south to the theatre, parked and dashed through the downpour to the lovely Bonstelle.

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The Bonstelle began life as the Temple Beth El, built in 1902 in the Beaux Arts style, it too was designed by Albert Kahn; by now you are probably wondering if there are any buildings in Detroit not designed by him. In 1922 the building was sold to Jessie Bonstelle who converted the temple to a theatre with the help of  C Howard Crane (think Fox theatre here). In 1951 Wayne State University took over the building and then purchased it in 1956, the rest as they say is history. The layout here is not like your average historic theatre; there is not a lobby per say, more like a hallway. The main floor is attractive; dark wood, pretty sconces decorate the walls. The wet plaster is the bumpy style giving the walls texture and character. Our seats were in the balcony; we climbed the stairs, made our way to the front row and settled in. From here you get a birds-eye view of the place; the intricate details of the ceiling have been long painted over with ivory colored paint. Antique chandeliers still hang, reminding us of the former glory the room once held. Overlooking the main floor and stage, we have an uninterrupted  view, these are my favorite seats in the house.  I like to peruse the program before the show starts, kind of get familiar with the cast. The lights dimmed, the curtain went up, the orchestra began playing. 

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From that moment on a smile was plastered across my face as my feet tapped along to the music. If you are familiar with Hairspray, you know what a fun show it is; set in the 60’s both the sets and costumes were fabulous. As usual the singing exceeded my expectations; the current company is an exceptionally talented group. At intermission we wandered to the concession area; Junior Mints and a cold bottle of water for me. Taking advantage of the break we visited with friends until the second act was about to begin. The singing and dancing continued, entertaining all in attendance; Edna and Wilbur’s You’re Timeless To Me stole the show! When the finale concluded the audience rose to their feet in a well deserved standing ovation.

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Too keyed up to go home yet, we stopped for a nightcap at Woodbridge Pub. This neighborhood spot is the perfect place to relax and unwind; the environment is laid back and drinks are good. Kris is content with VO and Coke, I don’t have a favorite, so I like to try different things. Woodbridge carries a line of Vodka called Hard Luck Candy Flavored Vodka, better yet, it’s made right here in Michigan. So far the only one I’ve tried is the Root Beer Barrel; it also comes in Red Fish, Orange Dream and Lemon Drop. They make a drink here with the Root Beer and locally made ginger ale, tastes like a root beer float…..with a kick….Yum!

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Derby returns to Masonic Temple !

11 Oct

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Summer has come to a close, the kids are back in school, and a new sports season has begun. People are flocking to football games at colleges and NFL cities, the NHL is set to begin while the MLB is in the process of crowning their champions. Also ready to kick off a new season are the Detroit Derby Girls, of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, that’s Roller Derby to you and me!

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Yes folks, Detroit has its own Roller Derby league, and they play downtown at the Masonic Temple. Though it bears similarities, this is not the same roller derby you may remember from years ago. Gone are the knock-down-head-slamming fights of the past; hair pulling, tripping, and punches are not allowed. What remains are women bearing campy names like Maim West, Ghetto Barbie, Tara To Pieces and Fatal Femme, skating on 8 wheels around an oval track trying to score more points than their opponent; It’s a blast!

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Like any worthwhile sport they hold an annual draft, and the public is invited. The Draft Party gives the fans a sneak peek of the upcoming season, the class of 2011 looks promising. I can’t think of a cooler venue anywhere than the Masonic Temple. Made of Indiana limestone and resembling a Medieval castle, the Masonic Temple opened in 1926 on Thanksgiving Day. The main lobby is fashioned after a castle in Sicily, it is Gothic in style and absolutely magnificent in person. The derby is played on the third floor mezzanine, before you head up in the elevator take some time to notice the details; The brass floor plaque is 5 feet in diameter and features symbols of Truth, Strength, and Charity. The specially designed chandelier is impressive, as are the brass elevator doors; symbols of the Craft are carried out through the entire building. The  derby takes place in the Drill Hall; 17,500 square feet of open floor space. The drill hall is equipped with one of three “floating” floors in the US. The wooden floor is laid out on felt cushions, allowing the floor more ‘give’, it was meant to relieve the feet of the marchers who practiced here, today it helps make the landings of wayward skaters a little less brutal.

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The action had ended at the Masonic, now it was time for dinner. There’s a great little pub on Trumbull across from the Wayne State athletic field called Woodbridge Pub, it takes its name from the historic neighborhood  where it resides. The facade is brick with large windows overlooking Trumbull, the interior is vintage with the majority of it rescued from old buildings and re-purposed. The tin ceiling and rich wood give it just the right amount of charm. The menu varies season to season, they say the majority of their ingredients come from within a 5-mile radius, talk about local! This is not your typical bar food, as a matter of fact I don’t think there is even one item on the menu that is fried. Meat-eaters and vegetarians will be equally impressed with the quality and selection.  We were really hungry, so we ordered the Queso Fundido appetizer; pork chorizo, cheese, and bell pepper blended smooth and served piping hot with corn chips. Next up the Cherry Chicken Salad with the homemade cherry vinaigrette, delicious, and one of our go-to menu items. Finally, the Stever McFever; a black bean burger topped with grilled onions, tomato, avocado creme, and a balsamic glaze, scrumptious. The pub has a great neighborhood feel, and has been a great addition to the area.