Monday, August 31, 2009

Lafayette Coney Island featured in ‘Hung’

We’ve all heard about the state tax incentives that have led Hollywood types to come to Michigan to film their projects. Knowing that, I wasn’t too surprised a few weeks ago when I rode through downtown Detroit and saw a mob of people and at least a dozen huge trailers outside of Lafayette Coney Island.

I didn’t stop to ask what was taping, but I could see inside one of the trailers and noticed racks and racks of wardrobe accessories, so I knew they were filming something. (I wish I had gotten a picture.) Anyway, it turns out, what I probably saw was the taping of a scene for the HBO show “Hung”. I read the other day that the show (known more for the cameo G-Money made when a scene was taped at Portofino’s in Wyandotte) was going to feature a scene at Lafayette’s.

A quick note about Lafayette Coney Island: The next time you’re in there, it would be worth it to use the bathroom. The building has been there for probably 100 years. To get to the bathroom, there’s a very narrow staircase that leads down to an even tighter hallway in the basement. It’s so cramped down there, it feels like you’re squirming around below deck on a submarine. A little eerie, but kind of cool.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Explore Sindbad's and discover something special

Until now, I've kept these wanderings to bars, parks and other places right in downtown Detroit. I guess I figure that, working down there, I might stumble across something that some of you might want to visit on those nights when you're in the mood to go exploring.

Today I'm in the mood to roam away from downtown, east on Jefferson a bit. There's a reason.

A few years ago, I had heard ads on the radio for a place out near the Belle Isle bridge, a restaurant on the river called Sindbad's. So Jen and I decided to try something new. You've probably heard of Sindbad's, maybe even been there. If not, the dining room is nice but not too formal; upscale-casual, I guess you'd call it. The steaks are thick, the beer is cold, and if you're lucky, the view out over the river is awesome. Most important, they serve lobster. Personally, I never let the stuff get within three feet of my mouth, but Jen loves it.

I think I've been back to Sindbad's once since that night Jen and I went out exploring. But I'm planning to get back there. Real soon. As soon as Jen gets better. I want a big, thick steak, and I want a tall, cold beer. But more than anything, I want to see Jen sitting next to me eating lobster. I don't even care how close she gets.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A tree grows in Detroit

Make that, “on” Detroit. City officials have made no secret about their attempts to improve Detroit’s greenspace areas in recent years, and Campus Martius and the RiverWalk are two examples of their success.

Then there’s this little chunk of nature springing up. Atop the Lafayette Building – that huge, hulking wreck of concrete that towers over Lafayette Coney Island – saplings have popped up to further brighten a building already decorated by some of the finest graffiti stylings this side of a CSX rail car.

From everything I’ve read and heard, the Lafayette Building, unlike the Book Cadillac and Fort Shelby hotels, is considered beyond repair, and will meet up with the wrecking ball sometime in the near future. In the meantime, the sidewalk at its base has been blocked, shielding innocent pedestrians from falling hunks of things that would, presumably, hurt really bad. It’s nice to know the city’s looking out for us!

All of this raises at least one question, not the least of which is: Why are we always reading about storms that up-root trees with 24-inch trunks, and yet these little saplings are somehow rooted deep enough in roofing tar that they’ve been able to handle any storm whipping in off the river? Just wondering…

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Detroit team 'Spirit' is a cool sports tradition

My apologies to Wings' fans for rekindling memories of that Pittsburgh series a couple months ago, but I thought this shot of the Spirit of Detroit was worth checking out.

Just when it looked like the Detroit City Council was going to screw up again and charge teams a small fortune to slap a jersey on the Spirit, they reversed course and decided that about $5,000 was enough to cover the maintenance costs that are incurred. Seems fair. I think Zetterberg makes that much before the Red Wings leave Traverse City.

An interesting note about the Spirit: When it was installed in 1955, it was the largest bronze statue cast since the Renaissance. Just one question: What size does that thing wear? I'm feeling the need for an Olde English D jersey in a few weeks!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Tiger Stadium's final days

As promised, here's another image I nabbed when the cranes were taking the final rips at the old Tiger Stadium. This shot shows the roof over the third base line as it crumbles when the cranes swiped away the supporting girders. I took the picture from the pedestrian walkway that takes people over the freeway, which was lined with people holding cameras and video recorders, and holding little kids high up in the air to get a better look at a stadium they likely never set foot in. It was a strange, sad event to watch.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ride like the wind! Tour downtown Detroit in a Breezecab

That guy in the picture is Frank. That thing he’s sitting in is called a Breezecab. I saw one earlier today for the first time and had to get a closer look, and when Frank noticed me taking a picture, he waved me over.

“We’ll get you all over downtown – Comerica Park, the Riverfront, Greektown, you name it,” Frank gushed. “Check it out sometime.” He said there are currently five Breezecab’s servicing downtown Detroit, and by next year they hope to have 10.

From the pictures I looked at, not all of the Breezecab’s look like this one. Some are bigger and seat three people. Another has no top and looks similar to a horse drawn carriage.

The company calls itself “Detroit’s largest rickshaw pedal company” – not sure how much competition there is for that title – and really, it looked pretty cool. If I get around to taking one of their 30-minutes tours, I’ll let you know how it goes.

WANNA KNOW MORE?: Visit, or call 248-894-8870.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

King Books is one of Detroit’s hidden treasures

It isn’t shiny and new like Border’s. And it doesn’t serve up latte frappe mochachino, or whatever it’s called. Actually it’s a pretty dirty old place.

But if you’re just looking for a particular book, and don’t mind that somebody else has already laid eyes on its pages, start your search at John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit. It’s the kind of place where you can get lost for a few hours.

You’ve probably seen it, the old brick building next to the Lodge at the end of the Howard Street exit. If you didn’t know better, you might think it’s just another of Detroit’s vacant, dying buildings. Inside, though, are five-stories worth of books, unending shelves that hold every author, title and genre imaginable. In all, they’ve got more than 750,000 titles! In stock!

I don’t know what the building used to be (signs hanging from the ceiling say “No Smoking in the Plant”, so make of that what you will), but King Books has been there since the early ‘80s. Before that, the store was located somewhere across town since 1965.

Hey, not many businesses in Detroit can say they survived the ‘80s. That alone is a reason is to check it out next time you’re heading downtown.

FOR MORE INFO: John K. King Used & Rare Books is located at 901 W. Lafayette Blvd. If you’re looking for a particular title, you can call them at 313-961-0622 or e-mail and they’ll check the shelves for you.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sunny D in ‘The D’: Drew tosses a strike!

It wasn’t the 60-feet, 6-inch toss he was hoping for, but from about 45 feet Tuesday evening, Sunny D brought the heat. Drew threw out the first pitch at Comerica Park before the Tigers-Mariners game, and a whole crew of Trenton folks were on hand to see him in action.

Throwing to firstbase coach Andy VanSlyke, Drew eyed his target, went into his windup, and delivered a tasty, two-seamer. Instantly, text messages from family and friends scattered throughout the stadium (and more from family and friends watching on TV at home, hoping it would be televised) poured in. Uncle Marko, seated somewhere at Comerica with a great vantage point of home plate, declared “good velocity…painted the corner.”

Afterwards, Drew exchanged niceties with VanSlyke (who autographed the ball for him) and was approached by the Tigers’ marketing guy, who told him, “Nice pitch. Call us in about eight years.”

All in all, it was an unforgettable night downtown. Mayor Bing even showed up. And for the record, the Tigers rallied for four runs in the bottom of the eighth and won, 5-3.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Campus Martius shows evidence that Detroit is changing

It’s no Central Park. It’s not even Grant Park. But for anyone who recalls Detroit of the 1980s as a wasteland lacking any public attractions (short of Tiger Stadium or Greektown, which are the only places I ever went), Campus Martius Park in the hub of downtown is proof that today’s Detroit ain’t the same ole’ Detroit.

Wander down there on lunch and it actually feels like you’re in…a city. There are people there, doing stuff like eating food. And listening to live jazz music. And chatting by the fountains. Not once have I seen anyone get shot, and I go there pretty regularly.

In the summer, they roll out a layer of thick sod to create a large lawn in front of the sound stage. And there are patio tables and chairs all around the place to sit and have a sandwich. In the winter, the sod disappears and is replaced by the skating rink you’ve probably heard about. If you can’t make it down this summer for one of the free concerts, you should try to get down there this winter when the rink is open. The atmosphere at night, with music playing over loud speakers that stand over the ice, is not what most people imagine when they think of “Detroit after dark”.

Signs at the park announce Campus Martius as being “Detroit’s Gathering Place”. In time, it may well be. I just think it’s cool that someone thinks Detroit even needs a gathering place again.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Colt 45 billboards causing a stir

Remember those news reports earlier this summer about the Colt 45 billboards in Detroit that are being fussed about by a lot of people, including some members of the Detroit City Council?

In case you haven’t had a chance/reason to be downtown lately, I thought I’d show you a picture of what all the ruckus is about.

Apparently some city council members are looking for a way to draft legislation that would give them some control over the content of billboard advertising. Not that I care if Colt 45 billboards are removed, but it seems like Detroit has image problems worth worrying about that are bigger than big beer ads. Naturally, one of the council members tossed out the “racist” comment, but from everything I read she didn’t elaborate as to how. (Billy Dee Williams is in the ads. I wonder if she’s calling him a racist?)

This whole thing raises a bunch of questions, such as: “What’s worse for the well-being of Detroiters, billboards promoting Colt 45, or billboards promoting the casinos?” Or better yet, “What’s worse for the well-being of Detroiters, billboards promoting Colt 45, or billboards (no longer available) that promoted Kwame Kilpatrick?”

There's a tough one...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Tiger Stadium takes a tumble

It’s hardly breaking news, but knowing that Tiger Stadium is gone doesn’t make it any less strange when you drive down Michigan Avenue these days.

The picture was taken when the stadium was on its deathbed, just before the final ruling came down that it wouldn’t be spared. When the final days of destruction were underway, I went by on my bike and watched for a while. I got some unbelievable pictures (which I’ll post here eventually) and watched as the rooftop over the third base line rippled to the ground after a crane swatted the girders out from under it. It was kind of sad to watch it get destroyed. Understandable, but still sad.

I don’t know what the plans are to commemorate the place, but I’m sure there’ll be some sort of memorial built at Michigan and Trumbull. I’ll post an update here when I see something happening.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

River’s Edge Grille is a Detroit secret worth discovering

The big plastic sign that once hung on the building’s façade was busted up and tucked out of sight. Heavy snow tore it from the building last winter. A guy on a ladder holding a paintbrush shook his head and smiled. “Can you believe that? They put a sign up that can’t handle snow! This is Michigan, man!”

With its signage temporarily displaced, the River’s Edge Grille relied on less visible means of announcing itself earlier this summer. I doubt that fact has anything to do with the bar referring to itself on its website as being “Detroit’s best-kept secret,” but it’s kind of a funny irony.

And beside, the website might be right.

Ten or 15 years ago it was no secret. The River Rock Café, which once occupied the same building on Franklin just east of the RenCen, was one of the most popular hangouts downtown. And for years before it was River Rock, McNarney’s Irish Pub was well-known place to eat and drink. River’s Edge isn’t there yet, but my guess is it will be.

So close to the Ren Cen you’ll hurt your neck looking up at the 72nd floor, River’s Edge is a nicely refurbished, three-room bar that’s definitely worth a taste. The bar & grill up front is finished with a mix of stained wood and old brick, and features the requisite ceiling-hung flat screens that bars are required these days. Both high-top and standard tables fill the space.

The back room looks more like a lounge, and on Fridays it hosts live music, typically from whatever cover band is on the schedule.

Be sure to stop by before summer fades away to check out the third room, the rooftop patio that gives a decent look toward the river. (Incidentally, during my lunch-time stop, I noticed steel-tip darts and a dartboard set up on the patio. I’ve got to believe those get put away at night.)

For more info: Stop by the River’s Edge Grille at 673 Franklin, call 313-393-3337, or visit