Monday, November 30, 2009

Cool fact about the skating rink at Campus Martius Park

Here’s more proof of the magic of moviemaking.

Have you ever seen a movie in which a scene takes place at the skating rink at Rockefeller Center in New York City? It’s a pretty common image. ‘Elf’ comes to mind, but no matter what movie, the place always appears to be huge, like a sprawling pond bigger than a hockey rink. 

In contrast, the rink at Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit has always seemed small to me when I visit in person. When you’re skating, it feels like you’re constantly turning. (Trust me, it starts to burn the thighs unevenly.) The size of the rink – and the steep $7 fee to skate – have been my only two beefs with the Campus Martius rink since I first went a few years ago.

But here’s a little nugget I found interesting: the rink at Campus Martius is actually bigger than the world-famous Rockefeller Center rink! Dimensions of the Rockefeller Center rink are listed at 122-feet x 59-feet. I can’t find measurements of the Detroit rink listed anywhere, but according to the Campus Martius website, it’s bigger.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving from the Kage

I don't have much to post on here today except to say Happy Thanksgiving to everybody. 

In the spirit of the holidays, I'm adding this picture of the Salvation Army kettle that was recently set up near the Christmas tree at Campus Martius Park. I believe I heard that this puppy set a new Guiness World Record for "Largest Kettle".

Anyway, enjoy the holiday everybody, and I hope to see you over the weekend.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Grand Trunk Pub celebrates Michigan with beer – a lot of it!

I was doing a little light reading the other day and I thought of Todd, which doesn’t happen very often. Of course, I was reading the beer menu at the Grand Trunk Pub – which specializes in beers brewed in Michigan – and I noticed they sell three beers that are brewed in Mt. Pleasant. So I thought of Todd. (Like you wouldn’t have?)

Anyway, Todd would love the Grand Trunk. Aside from specializing in Michigan beers, it also promotes a lot of other Michigan-made businesses. They’ve got Faygo pop on the menu, serve their sandwiches on Avalon breads, and use produce bought at Eastern Market. As for my order, I went with a glass of Full Circle beer, a tuna sandwich and a side of chips. Full Circle is brewed in Holland and the chips are Detroit’s own Better Made. If I didn’t know otherwise, I’d guess the tuna was fished out of Higgins Lake.

The Grand Trunk is on Woodward between Campus Martius Park and West Jefferson, in a building that’s been there since 1879 and was once the ticket office for the Grand Trunk Rail Road’s Brush Street depot. The building is a Michigan historical landmark, and it’s worth a quick visit just to check out the 1900s architecture with high vaulted ceilings and hardwood floors. It's a beautiful place.    

As always, this abridged pub commentary is being made available exclusively to Kage readers. The full review will be posted soon along with these other downtown bar profiles. Enjoy! 

Monday, November 23, 2009

Building trivia: A bit about Detroit’s One Woodward Avenue

Some buildings downtown are widely recognized (like the Renaissance Center). Some are known for their ornate architecture (the Guardian Building, for example). And others are embraced because they’ve been abandoned and left to rot (sadly, take your pick, but I’ll say the Michigan Central Depot). 

Of all of the buildings in Detroit, One Woodward Avenue isn’t the “most-anything”. But the 29-story high-rise across from Hart Plaza does stand out among its neighboring towers for at least one interesting piece of trivia.

Architect Minoru Yamasaki designed the building – located at the corner of Woodward and Jefferson –  and in the process, formulated a design that he would later use when creating the World Trade Center in New York. Take a look at the photo; you can definitely see the similarities. (A picture taken at Hart Plaza and posted on the Kage a few weeks ago shows One Woodward Avenue in the background. See it here.) I’m told that since the Trade Center was destroyed, One Woodward Avenue is Yamasaki’s tallest building still standing, although I can’t confirm that.

Incidentally, in the photo included with this page, see the building that One Woodward is connected with via a skywalk? That’s the Guardian Building I mentioned. (More on that some other day – that place is really cool!) 

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bagley Bar returns to its roots in historic Michigan Building

About a year ago, Matthew and Virginia Pieroni opened a bar in the old Michigan Building. The bar was previously called something else – the Cracker Barrel, I think – so they decided a name change was in order. They settled on the Bagley Bar. It’s on Bagley Street. They weren’t looking to be overly clever.

Then the redecorating started, and the couple decided to use one of the walls in the bar to pay homage to the Michigan Building itself, which used to include the famous old Michigan Theater. (Kage readers may recall a recent entry about the Michigan Palace. It was Virginia who let me take a snapshot of the poster with all of the old rock groups that played there.)

Anyway, one of the wall hangings they found was a large picture of the Michigan Building in its hey-day. The theater sign was shining bright. There was car and pedestrian traffic. Restaurants and stores filled the building’s street-level spaces. And when the Pieronis looked closely at the picture, they saw the space currently occupied by their bar. Over the door was a little awning. On it, it said, “Bagley Bar”.

Virginia insists it was merely a coincidence that the name they chose is the name that it was all those years ago. I think it’s a pretty neat coincidence. They seem like nice people ("Bird-type" people, for those Kage readers to whom that might mean something), and I encourage you to stop in at the Bagley some time. Right now they cater to the downtown work crowd, so you won’t find them open on weekends, or even very late in the evening. But if you get the chance, it’s worth popping in for a quick beer, burger, and history lesson of one of Detroit’s forgotten landmarks.

(As always, this Bagley Bar mini-review is being made exclusively to Kage readers. To read full-length bar reviews, click here.)  

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Discovering (and trying to figure out) the Spongebob Parking Lot

Somethings just defy explanation. Like vegetarian lasagna. And Keanu Reeves' career. And now this. In downtown Detroit, near the Rosa Parks Transit Center, we stumbled across a parking lot that features Spongebob Squarepants on its sign.

Walking around Detroit, I've gotten used to people sleeping near statues – I still can't figure that one out, there's got to be something softer, but they do it all the time!  But seeing Spongebob on a sign really caught my attention, and immediately raised a few questions: 

One, why Spongebob? Two, why not Plankton? Three, isn't it illegal to just, you know, steal a trademarked character? And four (and most interesting to me) has the parking lot owner really seen a spike in business since putting this sign up?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Welcome to the GAR Building, Detroit’s cool old frat house!

At first glance, it reminds me of the castle in “The Holy Grail” from which the little Frenchman repeatedly taunts King Arthur. It’s a gothic-looking old building on Grand River Avenue at Cass, and it appears to be standing guard against evil invaders. It would be fair to assume that it’s simply another of Detroit’s wartime relics. At least I hope it’s fair to assume that, because that’s what I did.

But then I consulted with the Kage’s crack research team (i.e. – the fine folks at Google) and learned a little bit about the building known as the Grand Army of the Republic Building. Without going into too much detail, it was essentially built in 1899 as an extravagant “thank-you” to veterans of the Civil War. It was a place for them to get together, play cards, drink beer, and panty raid the Delta Zeta house down on Woodward. (OK, I made that last part up.)

It sounds like it was a real rockin’ place, all the way up until the 1930s. The street-level space was rented to shopkeepers, but upstairs the old-timers had themselves a real fun house. By the mid-‘30s, there were only a couple dozen Civil War vets alive, and the building turned back over to the city.  

Interestingly, like too many of the buildings downtown, the GAR Building is boarded up and currently unused. Unlike many of those buildings, it seems to be drawing some demand to occupy it. Among the entities who’ve shown interest are Ilitch Holdings and a successful design company downtown called Mindfield. Unfortunately, because of stipulations in the original will, the building cannot simply be sold to the highest bidder and used for any purpose. Apparently there has to be a street-level “marketplace”, and that side of town ain’t exactly a retail hotspot. Hopefully it’s a detail that can be sorted through, because it’d be great to see the boards come down and the building explored again. There are probably some old beer bongs up in the attic!   

Meet the UMJenn Friends

Due to an inability of its participants to agree on rules, the Detroit Burberry Game has been cancelled. (It's too bad, I was already working on Photoshopping the RenCen plaid.)

In its place, the Kage introduces a new feature called "UMJenn Friends", which is catchier than saying "people who I see downtown wearing Michigan stuff." I should point out that this feature is inspired by a homeless guy who came up to me yesterday, asked me to remove my headphones, and started singing "Hards Days' Night". Then he started laughing. I was just glad he didn't ask me for money. He had a real cool, although not-too-clean Michigan sweatshirt on. Unfortunately, I couldn't get to my camera phone in time. Hopefully I can find the guy again. 

Anyway, I dug deep into the Kage's photo archives and unearthed this picture of a guy who was working during the filming of "Master Class" a few weeks ago. You gotta love the Bob Ufer reference, especially coming from an out-of-town Hollywood type.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It’s time for a cold one at Greenwich Time Pub

Hanging over the bottles behind the bar at Greenwich Time Pub in Detroit, there’s a clock showing time in Paris. Another shows Tokyo. And London. And you get the picture. Off to the side there’s even one for Detroit. This, we presume, is another way of proclaiming, “It’s five o’clock somewhere!”
Hounding research here at the Times teaches us that Greenwich Time (or Greenwich Mean Time) is time as measured from the zero-degrees longitude in Greenwich, England, which is used as the basis of standard time. What this has to do with a little bar in Cadillac Square in downtown Detroit, we aren’t sure. We figured we better order a tuna sandwich and try to figure it out.
The GTP (that’s what the cool kids call it) has been serving up lunch and drinks across from the Wayne County Building since the 1950s, and it’s a unique little hangout. On one side, it’s a diner. On the other, it’s a pub. It’s like Mel’s Diner meets the Regal Beagle. There’s also a second level dining room that doesn't remind me of any sit-com sets, but is available to rent for private parties or small banquets. Or to have lunch.
In Detroit’s endless historic bar scene, the Greenwich Time Pub is another perfect example, an aging building full of nice people and fairly priced food and drinks. Its evening hours are fluid, which is to say it stays open for as long as customers want to stay there and order drinks. When the people leave, it’s GTPCT, or Greenwich Time Pub Closing Time.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Detroit Burberry Game - Round 5

Factor in the Photoshop bonus, and this one's worth 1.847. 
Kage 4.847 - UMJenn 5

Friday, November 13, 2009

Michigan Theater tells an amazing history of Detroit

Down on Bagley Street and Grand River, a mammoth old building is standing there looking (like many of the buildings downtown) particularly under-used. It’s called the Michigan Building, one-time home of the Michigan Theater, which by itself has a remarkable history.

Back in the 1950s, the theater was a 4,000-seat place that showed now-classic films. In the 1960s, it was used to show closed-circuit television events, in particular, simulcast Red Wings games for people who couldn’t get in to Olympia. And in the 1970s, it was a concert venue for rock bands.

What few people realize – Kage readers no longer included – is that before the Michigan Theater closed in the late 1970s, the name was changed to the Michigan Palace. I hope the photo I took of a poster comes through clearly enough for you to read, because it’s unbelievable to see the names of the some of the bands who played there. (To give you an idea, the marquee in the poster reads “The Doors”.)

Sadly, sometime after the theater closed, it was converted into a parking garage, which is what that part of the building remains today. Interestingly, parts of the theater are reportedly still visible in the garage, and the place has been used recently during the filming of movies, including “Eight Mile”.

Christmas tree kicks off holidays in Campus Martius Park

I guess I can’t rag on CVS or Home Depot anymore for setting up their holiday displays too early. Apparently the Christmas season is officially here.

The Christmas tree in Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit that annually stands over what is a fountain all summer is up, complete with enormous bulbs and ornaments on its branches and giant, wrapped packages underneath. The city officially kicks off the holiday season on Nov. 20, with a tree-lighting ceremony from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m.

Although I’ve never been at the park during the actual tree-lighting ceremony, I have spent a little time down there during the winter, and it’s a cool atmosphere, with or without kids. The skating rink is open and music plays overhead. If only there were shopping to complete the picture! Oh well, it's still a great way to spend an evening sometime this winter, and there are a ton of bars nearby to take the chill off. 

Kage note: Speaking of bars, our series of bar profiles will continue soon with my discovery of place just down the street from Campus Martius. Be sure to visit us again soon for a look at the Greenwich Time Pub. (In the world of pointless blog creation, that is what we call a "teaser".) 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Game on! Who’s up for some petanque’?

Down in the heart of Detroit, people on pistas rolling silver boules at cochonnets caught my attention the other day, mostly because I don’t know what any of those things are.

Turns out, it was the Detroit Petanque Club meeting as they do everyday from noon to 1 o’clock in Cadillac Square, right next to Campus Martius Park. I watched them play Petanque (pronounced: pa-TONK)  for a little bit, but I only picked up a few of the rules. It’s a lot like bocce ball, except the balls (called “boules”) are silver and a little smaller. You stand inside a ring and roll the boule at a cochonnet (a small wooden ball).

The courts where the game is played are called pistas, and apparently the Detroit Petanque Club is in such good standing with the city that a few of them were put in when the Campus Martius area was reworked a few years back. To the untrained eye, it looked like tightly packed gravel.

As I was getting ready to leave after I watched and took a few pictures, the guy in this photo invited me to play a few games. Any time, he said, they’re there every lunch hour. Now, I didn’t point this out to him, but give me about a half-hour to develop a touch, and I predict I will absolutely dominate. Stay tuned to the Kage for details.

To read more about the DPC, click here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tri-Centennial State Park & Harbor creates a whole new Detroit

During what I assume is the year's final week of bike-riding weather, I figured I better use it wisely. Maybe pedal somewhere new. The other day I wound up on the RiverWalk riding further east than I have in the past.

Although the Tri-Centennial State Park portion of the RiverWalk isn’t open yet (it’s still fenced off at Rivard Street), I skirted around the closed portion by riding up Atwater Street. The RiverWalk reopens near Chene Park.

And it’s unbelievable.

Just a few-minute bike ride from the RenCen (see how close it is in the photo!) is a harbor with dozens of boat skirts. Next to them is a pavilion and picnic area, and a winding bike path curls around both sides and out to the water - where earlier this week some sweet old guys were fishing.

There’s even a lighthouse at the entry point into the harbor, which makes for a very strange mix of images. Seeing the huge buildings of Detroit behind a lighthouse is unusual, in a good way. I’ve got more pictures; maybe I’ll get around to posting them separately sometime. Unfortunately, this blog-site only allows one image at a time, which is starting to annoy me. (Perhaps it’s time the Kage gets an upgrade?)

(For more info on the RiverWalk, there’s a great map available at

Monday, November 9, 2009

Biden swings thru Detroit, eats a Coney

As always, when something newsworthy happens in Detroit, the Kage is there. At least if it's convenient. And as long as it happens around lunch hour. And it's best if it isn't raining. Or cold and windy, that's no good either. 

So anyway, weather conditions were ripe for a motorcade spotting Monday afternoon, as Vice-President Dick Biden was lunching at Lafayette Coney Island. Not sure why he was in town, but the police escort in front of and trailing the VP's limo was impressive. There were state troopers on motorcycles at every corner from the restaurant down Lafayette to the Lodge.

As Biden was quickly whisked out of the restaurant, I managed to dismount my bike quickly enough to snap the picture you see. Onlookers spotted Biden in the second limo pictured. I'm not positive but I think there was a mustard stain on his collar.

Movie production company has plans for old Free Press building

No word yet on how much renovation will be required, but another of Detroit’s old and long-empty buildings is being targeted for use.

The old Detroit Free Press building on Lafayette Boulevard – one I’ve been hoping would follow in the path of the Fort Shelby, the Book-Cadillac and others – is reportedly going to be the new home of Motor City Film Works, a production services, studio and casting company.

According to crack research at the Kage, the 80,000-square-foot space that once housed the Free Press’ printing presses will be transformed into a sound stage. No word on whether the company plans to occupy all 16 floors, but we’re pretty sure that the broken and/or boarded street-level windows will be repaired. As a result, we consider this a good thing.

You can read more about Motor City Film Works at

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Signs of winter: Return of the Campus Martius Skating Rink

It felt a little cold walking around the other day, but c’mon! The skating rink is back already?

Sure enough, the park at Campus Martius in downtown Detroit is once again being transformed into the skating rink. I haven’t heard when the rink will officially open for skating, but my guess is, if the temperatures stay in the 40s, it won’t be long.

Sometime this winter (I nominate a Saturday afternoon) I say we organize a group skate., followed by some food and drink at one of the bars downtown. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Detroit Burberry Game - Round 4

UMJenn tossed the rule book out the window when she submitted this e-mail, hoping to finally get on the board in the Detroit Burberry game. It's weak, but we'll count it. (I smell a rally coming!)
Kage 3 - UMJenn 5

Monday, November 2, 2009

One time 'round the block

Sometimes I take a photo and like it just fine without adding words to it. (This is the sculpture at Hart Plaza.)

More movie news: ‘Crave’ starts filming in downtown Detroit

Without needing to block off any streets, the small cast and crew of a movie called ‘Crave’ quietly went about their business last week of filming a movie in Detroit. It was so small, Kage credientials weren’t even necessary. I thought about sticking around and helping them with some rewrites.

I spotted them as I walked past the Detroit Beer Co., a handful of people setting up cameras and lights, and at first I assumed some of the ‘Master Class’ folks had moved a few blocks away to shoot a scene. It turns out, though, that this was a whole separate endeavor, a small independent film called ‘Crave’ starring some people whose names are Josh Lawson, Emma Lung and Ron Perlman (I think I’ve heard of him.)

My crack research tells me that the movie is a psychological thriller about a troubled photographer (Lawson) whose dangerous visions wreak havoc when his romance with a young woman (Lung) ends and he is pursued by a world-weary detective (Perlman). Writing credit for that last sentence should go to the folks at