Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Revisiting our brief encounter with the late Pastor Henry Covington

I was shocked to read media reports that told of the passing of Pastor Henry Covington, whose work with the I Am My Brother's Keeper Ministries in Detroit was well-documented in Mitch Albom's book "Have A Little Faith".

I had a chance to meet Pastor Covington one afternoon last summer. I posted a few words on here following that meeting. Click here to read it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wah-Hoo Chinese restaurant puts its own spin on dining in the 'D'

There's no shortage of Olde English 'D' sightings when wandering around downtown Detroit, but the one we most recently spotted ranks among the favorites.

The still-kind-of-new Wah-Hoo Chinese restaurant on Congress at Shelby has done wonders for enhancing the street-level of the Murphy-Telegraph Building, including window signage that features the eatery's logo. The Olde English 'D' done in Far Eastern styling is pretty cool.

As for Wah-Hoo, it's a great addition to the downtown food scene. The dining room - which features a full bar complete with a large flat screen - is an upscale-casual area. Much of the food is a little pricier than I normally drop on lunch, but the plate of chicken fried rice was tasty, piled high, and only cost six bucks. They've also got a full sushi bar, if you're into eating such things.

Whether for a quick lunch, dinner out on the town, or a few drinks at happy hour, Wah-Hoo is definitely a place worth checking out. Find it at 536 Shelby, or call 313-324-8700.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The latest redevelopment plans for the old Free Press Building

Add this to the list of "cool doorways in Detroit that nobody ever walks through."

Hopefully, that will change in the coming years. The old Free Press Building on Lafayette has been empty since the Detroit Free Press moved down the street in the late 1980s. Peak through the street-level windows and you can still see evidence of its previous tenants.

Reports now are saying that a company called Free Press Holdings, LLC out of Florida is hoping to redevelop the building, with multi-million-dollar plans that call for creating retail space at the street level, commercial space on the second floor, and apartments in floors 3 through 13. The top 14th floor would feature a health club and conference space, and the below-ground floors, where the newspaper's printing equipment once lived, would be converted into a parking garage.

While we take this as good news, we contain our excitement, especially given other recent development plans concerning the old Free Press Building. Last year around this time, the rumor mill was churning out news that it was being targeted as the future home of Motor City Film Works. But then months passed and nothing changed at 321 W. Lafayette Boulevard (even though the Motor City Film Works website still lists that as its home address). Don't get us wrong, the old Free Press Building is one of our favorite unused buildings downtown, and we're pulling for a plan that will bring it back to life. It's not likely that work will begin any time real soon, but we'll keep our eyes peeled for the firsts signs of (re)development.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hotel Charlevoix: Detroit's 100-year-old pile of bricks

A few weeks back in this space, we stopped in at the Park Bar behind the Fox Theater, and I made mention of the lovely view that patrons are afforded of the Hotel Charlevoix just across the street.

It occurred to me that most of you have likely never vacationed at the Charlevoix, so I thought I'd revisit the block and offer a little more detail.

The Charlevoix was built in 1905 and originally served as a 12-story hotel before later becoming an apartment building, and then later yet an office building. Like much of downtown Detroit, it's been empty since the 1980s. Since then, it's been standing there collecting rain, to the point that (although I'm no architect) it now appears the Charlevoix is way beyond repair.

The interior staircases have reportedly been removed to dissuade urban explorers from venturing to its upper levels, and a fence has been erected at the street level to discourage squatters. It'll be interesting to keep an eye on the Charlevoix in the coming months (years?) to see if the wrecking ball is in its future. Honestly, though, to the uneducated eye, it looks like the Charlevoix is a good-stiff-breeze-ripping-across-Grand-Circus-Park away from tumbling without the help of demolition crews.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Jack Daniels ad takes over prominent space overlooking Campus Martius

Once upon a time, members of the Detroit City Council were all stirred up because of the Colt 45 billboards featuring Billy Dee Williams that had popped up all over the city.

Wonder what they'll think of this?

Replacing the huge mural that announced Quicken Loans' recent arrival to downtown Detroit, it now appears as if a Jack Daniels billboard will occupy the Campus Martius Park-facing side of the Cadillac Tower. Installation of the new mural was only half-complete when we wandered by earlier today, but the Black Jack brand was already clear.

To be fair, many of the city council members who were chafed by the Colt 45 signage aren't around any longer, after being either voted out of office or incarcerated. It'll be interesting to see how the new council reacts to having a 12-story whiskey ad towering over the city's public skating rink.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New Cadillac Square Apartment Building was once one of Detroit's grand hotels

A stone's throw from Campus Martius Park and a short walk from Greektown and the RiverWalk, the New Cadillac Square Apartments enjoy a prime location in downtown Detroit.

It's unfortunate they couldn't get a little more clever with the name, but I won't nitpick.

The New Cadillac Square Apartment Building – which stands 21 stories tall, next to the 40-story Cadillac Tower (the building that once boasted the Barry Sanders mural and now features a Quicken Loans welcome billboard) – was originally a hotel with a way cooler name. Built in 1927, it was called The Barlum, after co-builder John J. Barlum.

As a hotel, it featured 800 well-appointed rooms that each included (you ready for this?) a bathroom with a tub and shower. The building also included a cigar and news stand, a beauty salon and barber shop, and telephones. Illustrating how people's needs and wants have changed over the years, these days the building features 224 units in various studio and one-bedroom layouts. Call it urban sprawl.

And by the way, for anybody curious about such things, rooms at the New Cadillac Square Apartment Building range from $525 for a studio to $650-$850 for a one-bedroom. If you ask me, they should offer the first month free to anybody who can offer up a better name for the building. I nominate the Henrose, which is what it was called back in the '50s when then-owner Henry Keywell squished his first name with that of his wife, Rose.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Lafayette Building in downtown Detroit: Before and After

By now it's old news that the Lafayette Building in downtown Detroit is gone, but digging through our archives of photos, I came across this one that I had intended to post back when the demolition was first completed.

This is the view from the three-way intersection of Griswold, Lafayette and Michigan Avenue.

To see our incredibly in-depth chronicling of the Lafayette demolition, click on the "Lafayette Building" link below this post. It begins with the days when those little saplings were growing on the roof, and ends with the straw-covered, grass-seeded ground that's there today.

Monday, November 29, 2010

America's Thanksgiving Parade is more than what you see on TV

In past years, I've relied on the TV to see those big balloons make their way down Woodward during Detroit's Thanksgiving Day parade. I've never watched real closely, but I've seen it.

This year I decided to catch the parade first-hand for the first time, and from my spot on the parade route in Grand Circus Park, I found out why America's Thanksgiving Parade is one of Detroit's cooler holiday traditions.

The crowd size was impressive. I never realized how many people turn the parade into a family outing. Some get there early and set up tents along Woodward. Some bring portable grills and make breakfast. Some bring step ladders to get their kids a better view.

And I was also treated to some of what they don't show on TV, like how the balloons have to be pulled flat in order to get beneath the People Mover track on the south edge of Grand Circus Park. It's kind an odd sight, and seems a little hokey for the self-proclaimed "America's Thanksgiving Parade", but it doesn't take away from the fact that the parade - along with the Lions' home game that follows - is one of the truly unique things about Thanksgiving in Detroit.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Park Bar a quiet addition to Detroit's growing Foxtown

Don't look for a screaming neon sign to announce you've finally found the Park Bar in downtown Detroit. There isn't one.

In fact, there isn't a sign at all. Just a white-brick and dark-glass building on a quiet little corner a few blocks from Comerica Park, precisely the kind of place that's helping the glow of Foxtown spread beyond Woodward. Cliff Bell's sits next door on Park Avenue; the Bucharest Grill - which serves up the Park Bar's grub - is next door on Elizabeth.

While the Park Bar seems content to keep quiet from the outside, inside they've built one of Detroit's cooler new taverns. The taps spew out everything from Michigan-made Arcadia Ales to grandpa's favorites like Pabst Blue Ribbon. For lunch, the Bucharest serves up diverse offerings such as Schnitzel Plate and hummus, as well as an assortment Americana hotdogs, including The Chicago, The Philly Dog, and, of course, The Detroiter.

The bar is also in the process of expanding its performing arts area upstairs. Currently, a homegrown play called "Detroit Be Damned: A Beaver's Tale" is playing through Dec. 18. And for weekly live music, the Park hosts Accoustified Wednesday.

If nothing else, the Park provides an excellent place to sit, enjoy lunch, and look across the street at the aging, crumbling Hotel Charlevoix, a stark reminder that Foxtown's glow still has plenty of hurdles to clear.

Friday, November 19, 2010

DIA: Inside/Out program puts art on display around metro Detroit

As a way to share fine art with folks throughout southeast Michigan, it's a pretty cool idea.

And as a marketing tool, it ain't too shabby either.

The DIA's Inside/Out program, part of the museum's celebration of its 125th anniversary, takes framed reproductions of classic works of art and displays them in points throughout Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties. Since "public paintings in Detroit" typically means "graffiti on an old building", the Inside/Out program is a great way to class up the joint at little bit.

Having never heard of the program, this reproduction of "Eleonora of Toledo and Her Son" surprised me when I first spotted it in a well-manicured, grassy area on Woodward between the Fox and Fillmore theaters. It's one of five works of art on display in the city; 35 other are scattered around the region. (For our Downriver readers, the closest to home for us is on Biddle in downtown Wyandotte).

You can get detailed locations of all 40 at And, of course, you can always see the real deals at the DIA. If you haven't been down to the old museum lately, it's worth getting reacquainted.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

'Close Quarters' cancels shoot in downtown Detroit parking garage

(Updated 11/18) 'Close Quarters', the action thriller that was scheduled to shoot at a parking garage on the west side of downtown Detroit, has canceled its scheduled plans to shoot scenes Friday, Nov. 19. No plans for rescheduling the filming have been announced.

The parking garage, located on Lafayette and Third, was used recently during filming of 'The Double' starring Richard Gere. If you're unfamiliar with the building, it's located across Third Street from the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News building, and is visible from the Lodge as you enter downtown (it wears an enormous billboard that features the newspaper company's rather curious slogan "Time To Engage".)

'Close Quarters', a Lifetime Movie Network production, will star Catherine Bell as a military-trained special-ops agent who's forced back into duty when her husband, played by Anthony Michael Hall, is kidnapped. The movie will also star Mekhi Phifer.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cool cash: Detroit Community Scrip aims to keep money in the city

It isn't Monopoly money. And it isn't a clever little keepsake. It's called Detroit Community Scrip (sometimes known as Detroit Cheers) and it spends like real cash, provided you're in the right bar or restaurant.

Detroit Community Scrip is real currency, backed by a handful of Detroit bars who were looking for a way to ensure money stayed in the city. It's much like a gift certificate, but it's accepted at a  growing list of places in Detroit. If, for instance, your tab at the Grand Trunk Pub comes to $16, just fork over six of the Detroit Community Scrip $3 bills. You'll get change in U.S. currency.

You can exchange it for U.S. currency any time at the Grand Trunk, Park Bar or Motor City Brewing Works out in Midtown. And you can buy Detroit Scrip with U.S. currency, dollar for dollar. The benefit to the bars, restaurants and other retailers who deal in Scrip is that it ensures the  money will be spent somewhere in the network of Detroit businesses who recognize it.

So what's the benefit to you, the person spending it? I asked that to the bartender earlier today after I handed over a few $3 bills to cover my lunch. She seemed pretty happy to see me using the bills. "If you ever come down to a bar, maybe before a game when the places are packed, just show your Detroit Scrip. You'll get served before everyone if they know you have that."

Cheers to that!

Aside from the three backing establishments, other places currently accepting Scrip are Cliff Bell's next to the Park Bar, the Woodbridge Pub, Supino's Pizza, and Union Street, as well as retailers such as Wheelhouse Detroit, Canine to Five Detroit Dog Day Care, and Dormouse Design, among others.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Motor City: Uncovering another sliver of Detroit's car-building history

The big logo at the top of the building makes it tough to miss who lives in the Ren Cen these days. But near the base of General Motors' world headquarters lives a more subtle reminder as to why we call this place the Motor City. Our most recent discovery of a Michigan Historic Site marker in downtown Detroit teaches us of a man named David Dunbar Buick, who long ago formed a company that would later build your grandfather's car. The placard stands on the Jefferson Avenue side of the Ren Cen, and tells of Dunbar's early days of building gasoline engines for boats that ran the Detroit River during the 1890s. 

By 1900, his motor firm Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company was operating at the corner of Lafayette and Beaubien, where Bouzouki Restaurant and Lounge is located. Of course, the engine work being done for boats was eventually applied to an automobile, and it was around that time that the first experimental Buick automobile was built in Detroit. Three years later the Buick Motor Company was founded; soon after it was sold to the Flint Wagon Works in Flint, which built the first retail Buicks in 1904.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Quicken reportedly looking to buy Madison Building near Grand Circus Park

As its employees still settle into rented digs in the Compuware Building, Quicken Loans is reportedly considering purchasing additional office space in downtown Detroit to accommodate more workers who are still out in the 'burbs.

The Madison Building, which neighbors the Broderick Tower across from Grand Circus Park, is apparently  Quicken's target, despite other apparently false reports that indicate a different Madison Building a few blocks away on Washington Boulevard.

At any rate, the Madison Building that Quicken is apparently considering is recently renovated but small – at least compared to many other available offices in downtown Detroit. If it's true that Quicken winds up occupying the Madison, it's fair to wonder what the company's long-term plans are, since the rented space at Compuware has long been considered temporary.

Rumors persist that Quicken will wind up in the old United Artists Building on Bagley, essentially across the park from the Madison. We recently noticed work being done at the UAB, but workers have been tight-lipped about the project. With Quicken having so many affiliate companies (i.e.-Fathead, ePrize,...) perhaps the Madison will become the long-term home for one of them while Quicken settles into larger accommodations elsewhere.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Phoenix Group presses for urban renewal from old Detroit police precinct building

Driving out Grand River one rainy day last spring, I happened past this gothic building on the corner of Grand River and Rosa Parks. I had no idea what it once was, nor if it was still being used today.

Turns out it is, which surprised me, given the rough condition of the neighborhood. But I was even more surprised by what it used to be.

These days, the building serves as headquarters for the Phoenix Group Companies, whose mission it is to redevelop urban communities through new residential construction and the redevelopment of existing homes. Look a block in any direction from Grand River and Rosa Park, and it's clear the Phoenix Group has its work cut out. (For all of you wise guys out there, no, MacGuyver doesn't work there.) 

The building was originally constructed in 1901, when it served briefly as a police station in Detroit's Second Precinct. It was eventually reassigned to Detroit's Eighth Precinct, and served as such for decades. It's got to be one of the most uniquely built police precincts I've ever seen, its architecture intended to mirror the Victorian style that was prominent throughout much of the Woodbridge neighborhood.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Car Is Born: A quiet nod to the site of Henry Ford's early work

The big building on Bagley doesn't see much traffic these days, not like it used to anyway. Back when the Michigan Building was home to the Michigan Theater, it was a pretty happenin' corner of downtown, just down the street from Grand Circus Park and an integral piece of Detroit's famed theater district.

Now much of it is a parking garage. Also in the building, the Bagley Bar, one of our favorite downtown lunch spots, is still grinding it out. Next door there's a sandwich shop, the Bagley Grill, I think it's called.

But hanging on the walls between those two hangouts is a quiet reminder that this site gained historic significance long before the theater (at times known as the Michigan Palace) was built back in 1926. Before that, the land was the site of a one-story brick building where, according to the Michigan Historic Site placard, "in 1892, Henry Ford began experimenting with the motorized vehicle in his workshop."

The sign goes on to tell that "his invention was quite simple compared to today's automobiles. It consisted of a two-cylinder machine, mounted in a light frame geared to bicycle wheels. That unpretentious auto was the start of the Ford Motor Company which played a major part in the automobile industry that changed the face of Michigan and the world."

Monday, November 1, 2010

MGM Grand Detroit goes big to build its seasonal displays

Operating with a bigger-is-better mentality that's typical of casinos, the MGM Grand Detroit doesn't mess around when it comes to dressing up the corner of Bagley and Third Street.

Five times a year, the MGM Grand introduces a new seasonal display in what it calls the Grand Garden, a triangular grassy area fronting the casino that's accented by 50-foot Canadian birch trees.

For its fall display, the area features a winding patch of monstrous pumpkins with occasional enormo-rolls of hay. Throughout the year, the displays often feature lighting that really makes the corner look special at night. It's worth a quick drive-by if you ever find yourself downtown in the evening.

The Grand Garden is maintained by a company called Design Solutions, the same gang responsible for the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens at Bellagio in Las Vegas, as well as the holiday treatment given to Rockefeller Center in New York.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Grand Trunk Pub, Vine host filming of made-for-TV 'Smooch'

It might seem like small potatoes compared to high-profile productions like 'Transformers 3' and 'LOL: Laughing Out Loud' that have swept through Detroit in recent weeks.

But  crews for 'Smooch' - a made-for-TV movie that will air on Hallmark TV in February - is in town today filming a Valentine's Day 2011 flick at the Grand Trunk Pub and Vine wine bar on Woodward.

Starring Kiernan Shipka ('Mad Men') and Kellie Martin ('ER'), 'Smooch' is a modern-day translation of The Brothers Grimm story 'The Frog Prince'.

In an interesting side note, some movie-makers doing work in Detroit appear to have grown tired of passers-by showing interest in their projects. When I asked one of the crew members what was being filmed, he said as seriously as possible, "A mayonnaise commercial," clearly not in any kind of mood to divulge the truth. Other people walking along Woodward had already been fed the same line. Fortunately, our relentless digging finally got to the truth: a movie that few of us will ever watch was filmed in Detroit today.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Biking downtown Detroit? Join the club, just watch your manners

Riding bikes in Detroit, it's been reported, is on the verge of making a resurgence.

Speaking one's mind in Detroit, we're pretty certain, never went out of style. Especially if your target is a quarterback or goalie, but that's another story.

We spotted this sweet rig chained to a pole on Fort Street, one of many roads, incidentally, that will soon feature designated bike lanes. Naturally, what most caught our attention about this chrome-fendered granny wagon was the basket decor.

Gotta love the D!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Nemo's Bar & Grill is still a pre- and post-game sports fan favorite

It used to be the most-famous pre-game bar in Detroit. And it might still be, except the game has changed.

When the Detroit Tigers moved from their long-time home at Michigan and Trumbull a decade ago, Detroit sports fans wondered about the future of places like Nemo's, a Corktown favorite that had become a pre-game cathedral for many baseball fans.

These days, even with the Tigers across town and Corktown a quieter area, Nemo's continues to thrive, thanks in large part to Red Wings fans who have embraced Nemo's as hockey game tailgate heaven. On school buses-turned-shuttles, fans can get to and from Joe Louis Arena in a snap, and while that same shuttle service also carries fans to Comerica Park and Ford Field, it's become especially popular before Wings home games.

If nothing else, a visit to Nemo's gives non-Corktownians an excuse to visit Detroit's most famous corner, get a first-hand look at the flat lot that once upon a time was Tiger Stadium, and get reacquainted with a Corktown neighborhood that continues to look for (and find) new ways to stay cool. Slow's BBQ is right up the street. Other old favorites like Hoot's and O'Blivions are still plugging along.

And in the middle of it all is Nemo's, the bar that many fans long considered the place to go before a game. And many still do.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Gourmet Hotdogs does dogs right at tiny downtown Detroit restaurant

Referencing our trusted Webster's dictionary, here's what we find under the entry for "gourmet": one who likes and is an excellent judge of fine food and drink.

Now apply that to hot dogs.

Despite the presumably unintended juxtaposition, Gourmet Hotdogs in Detroit is steadily earning a rep with the downtown lunch crowd, offering its various twists on our ballpark favorites, from its cole slaw-slathered Slaw Dogs to its signature Polish Boy. Not sure what's on it, I've haven't ventured that deep into the menu yet. Other favorites include classic Red Hots, All-American Hotdogs (Chicago style), Chili Dogs, and New York Dogs (mustard and sauerkraut).

And Gourmet Hotdogs does it all from a minuscule, concession stand-style kitchen on John R just off of Woodward. By all accounts, they're doing a fair business, especially on game days when foot traffic heading over to Comerica Park is heaviest. I, for one, will offer this. It's tough to beat one of the $5 combos – two dogs, a bag of chips and a Coke. It's a great deal on a quick lunch, and though I don't know if I'd qualify the dogs as gourmet, they are good.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Park plans scrapped. Lafayette Building site to be a field of grass

Where once the Lafayette Building stood – rooftop trees and graffiti-covered windows and all – now rests an empty lot, and rumors on the streets have said the city planned on building a park, neighboring the coney island restaurants and across Michigan Avenue from the Westin Book Cadillac.

We, in this space, have spent a little bit of time wondering what the name of the park should be, particularly since Detroit already has a Lafayette Park.

It turns out there might not be a need for a park name, because it turns out there really isn't going to be a park, at least not in the near future. In light of recent news passed along by landscape crew members working on site, plans have been scaled back and the entire area is being seeded. No trees. No sidewalks. No benches. Just a field of grass, which is better than dirt I suppose, but not quite a park.

To revisit our blow-by-blow of the Lafayette Building demolition, click on the Lafayette Building link below this story. There are some pretty cool photos, including a nice before-and-after.

Friday, October 8, 2010

1515 Broadway, just one small stage in Detroit's expansive theater district

The storefront window of Inside Detroit's Woodward Avenue office announces a bunch of interesting facts about downtown Detroit, stats that rave about the number of bars and restaurants downtown and the low-crime rate.

Another factoid glows about Detroit's theater district, the second-largest in the country (behind only New York). I always found that one hard to believe.

1515 Broadway neighbors Small Plates and the DBC
But then I got a peak inside one of that theater district's lesser-known stages earlier today when I happened by 1515 Broadway. For the first time, I realized that 1515 isn't just the address of a small store and cafe, which its first appearance suggests. Behind the small table and counter area up front, a black curtain hides a dark, intimate theater that hosts local productions and music acts. For the current show, "Play It Again, Sam" by the Magenta Giraffe Theatre Co., the house is full if 70-some people show up. Eighty is standing room only. On a typically evening, according to a woman working behind the counter up front, about 25 to 30 people show up, which makes for a theater experience you've never known if you're only familiar with visiting the Fox or Fisher.

If nothing else, the experience re-affirmed that when it comes to downtown Detroit, sometimes you need to slow down and take a closer look. A lot of times you don't know what's behind the curtain.

CHECK IT OUT: 1515 Broadway is located next to Small Plates, two doors down from the Detroit Beer Co. 'Play It Again, Sam' takes the stage every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Oct. 17. For more info, call 313-408-7269.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New angle, same result: the Ren Cen remains the focal point of Detroit's skyline

In case you haven't seen enough of the Ren Cen while watching the first few episodes of 'Detroit 1-8-7', here's a look at it from underneath the People Mover track outside of Cobo Arena. It's a cool looking place, and it always looks different to me depending on the angle from which I catch it. It turns out, though, that the Ren Cen isn't just the most prominent building complex in the Detroit skyline.

At 73 stories tall, the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center (the middle tower) is the tallest all-hotel skyscraper in the western hemisphere as well as the tallest building in Michigan. The entire seven-tower complex, with more than 5.5 million square feet of office space, is one of the largest office complexes in the world.

Somewhat ironically, despite currently being the home of General Motors' World Headquarters, the Ren Cen was originally conceived in part by Henry Ford II, and its construction was primarily financed by Ford Motor Co. When plans were announced in 1971 to build the Renaissance Center for $500 million, it became the largest private development in the world.

In case you haven't caught 'Detroit 1-8-7' yet, the Ren Cen has appeared often in the background, usually during chase scenes as the cops tear through the Rivertown district over near the Atwater Block Brewery. For more 'Ren Cen in the background' photos, tool around this website for awhile. It shows up quite a bit, even if only by accident.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Catch a great lunch and a cool vibe at Mudgie's cafe in Corktown

Mudgie's is on Porter Street in Corktown
Here's why it's important to get off the main road now and then. If you don't, you'll pass right by without ever finding those little-known places like Mudgie's.

Tucked in a quiet Corktown neighborhood, nowhere near the ballparks and what feels like worlds away from the casino crowd, a little cafe called Mudgie's is serving up gourmet-quality sandwiches while steadily earning a hip reputation among office workers and artists alike. At least that's what it seemed like it when I stopped in.

The sandwiches are first-rate, the atmosphere screams casual-on-purpose, and the menu is loaded with the requisite "made-in-Detroit" goodies like Better Made potato chips and Faygo pop. (This has grown beyond a trend in Detroit; some days it seems easier to get a Rock 'n Rye than a Coke!)

It wasn't long ago that Tiger Stadium shut it doors, the Tigers moved across town, and many people proclaimed Corktown officially dead. But 10 years later, places like Mudgie's, Slow's and Nemo's beg to differ. Stop by during a lunch rush someday and you might too.

FIND IT: Mudgie's is located at Porter and Brooklyn, just a couple of blocks west of the Lodge. Call them at 313-961-2000.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Club Waterfalls set to open doors by end of October in downtown Detroit

Club Waterfalls on Franklin.
Long ago it was the River Rock Cafe. More recently it was called the River's Edge Grill. Now the little space on Franklin – which has been home to a pair of popular downtown hangouts but for whatever reason hasn't been able to stay in business – will reopen as Club Waterfalls Ultra Lounge.

Our crack research team at the Times revealed that the new Club Waterfalls will feature a jazz club and restaurant. And the outdoor patio that helped make previous tenants a seasonally popular place to eat and drink will remain.

Interestingly, Club Waterfalls joins a handful of other downtown Detroit "ultra lounges", such as Ambience on Congress. Club Waterfalls' multi-level layout will no doubt provide space for dining in one area, perhaps a DJ or live music in another. We recognize that isn't a whole lot of detail, so perhaps as Club Waterfalls awaits receiving its liquor license, we'll spend some time in the next few weeks trying to get a slightly better picture as to what it will be like.

In the meantime, it seems fair to wonder: "What the hell is an ultra-lounge, and is the trend a uniquely Detroit thing?"

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Capitol Park project nearing completion in downtown Detroit

Capitol Park in Detroit
With all the hubbub surrounding recent filming of 'Transformers 3' near Capitol Park, it was easy, during our recent visit, to overlook the progress of the renovation project of the park itself.

Polishing of the triangular little chunk of land bounded by Griswold, Shelby and State streets is moving along nicely, with new concrete walkways and landscape boxes already in place. Sod and foliage is coming soon, and the project should be completed sometime this fall.

What this means for Detroit remains to be seen. Ideally, the refurbished space will anchor a retail/residential hub, similar to the impact Campus Martius Park has had on that area of Woodward. Of course, building the Compuware Building had a lot to do with that rebirth, whereas in the Capitol Park area, the buildings are already in place, towering, historic skyscrapers that give room for office space, lofts, apartments, and anything else. As always, the challenge will be finding tenants for those spaces. A resurrected park area in the middle of all can only help.

Friday, September 24, 2010

'Transformers 3' takes over downtown Detroit as filming nears an end

'Transformers 3' has transformed Griswold Street into a 'war zone'.
Reportedly scheduled to wrap up shooting in Detroit by Oct. 1, the 'Transformers 3' production hit high gear the past few days, dominating a three-block stretch of Griswold and setting up at various other locations downtown.

The Griswold stretch, from State Street, past Capitol Park and up to Clifford Street, looked like a war zone, with charred cars flipped everywhere, building burned out, and broken concrete scattered. It was really cool to walk through.

A block away on Washington Avenue, prop trailers were parked end to end with special cars and other pieces of the production's enormous equipment. A block further, crews were setting up banks of lights on Thursday afternoon in front of the AT&T building on Cass Avenue, preparing to film that evening. And at the Adams Street and Cass, huge white tents covered an empty parking lot to serve as the company's base camp.

But it was the Griswold Street location that drew swarms of people today. Crowds gathered at Griswold and Michigan Avenue to watch take after take. Some talked about the explosions they witnessed a night earlier when they visited the same location to see night scenes being filmed.

'Transformers 3' is scheduled to wrap shooting on Griswold this weekend. No word on where or if they'll set up elsewhere in town before finishing up.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

'Transformers 3' filming on Griswold and Clifford streets in Detroit

For 'Transformers 3'...
The 'Transformers 3' plans to film at a row of a previously boarded-up buildings in Detroit's Capitol Park swelled north on Griswold Street this week.

Fake building facades, props and other additions to the road now stretch to Clifford Street, where an old burned out building has been renovated to look like a liquor store. This same building - on Clifford across from where Griswold meets it - was also used during filming of 'Red Dawn' last year.

Other changes along Griswold include what looks like a fake cement half-wall that lines a portion of the east side of the street, and extensive facade work to the Farwell Building and others near to Capitol Park.

...and for 'Red Dawn'
According to security on site, filming is scheduled to take place on Thursday, but police notices posted on the parking meters  indicate that the area is off-limits to parking through Saturday.

In other 'Transformers 3' news, reports of the production company's plans to blow up a small four-story building across from Grand Circus Park on Washington Boulevard were either premature or those plans have fallen through. The lot on which the building sits still holds a number of items being used in filming 'Transformers 3', but no word on whether filming will actually happen there, or if the space is simply being used to store equipment.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Visiting an old row house in Detroit's historic Corktown

You hear Corktown and maybe you think about the old Tiger Stadium. Or Sloe's Barbecue. Or Nemo's.

Looking down Michigan Avenue
But off the beaten path of the choppy, red-brick Michigan Avenue, the real Corktown is a living, breathing community, alive with schoolyards, cafes, and tightly lined bungalows. And, if you look hard enough, you'll find remnants of the original row houses that were once occupied by the workers and families who made up Detroit's oldest neighborhood.

A recent walk took along Sixth Street, which runs parallel to the Lodge Freeway as it enters downtown, where we came across a three-room row house that the Greater Corktown Development Corporation is in the process of preserving.

It's empty now, but like a display at The Henry Ford, it tells the story of long ago Detroiters, Irish settlers who came to America when the potato famine ravaged Ireland in the early 1800s. Many of them - from County Cork in Ireland - settled on the west side of Detroit, between First and Sixteenth streets, and Grand River Avenue and the river. That's how large Corktown was until the building of I-75 and the Lodge Freeway cut through it. To put that into perspective, the original Corktown spread to where current buildings such as the MGM Grand Casino, the MotorCity Casino and the Fort Shelby DoubleTree Hotel now stand.
An original Corktown row house

It's only a sliver of that by now. But if you ever step off Michigan Avenue, you might find that Corktown is still a hell of a lot more than you ever knew.

Friday, September 17, 2010

'Transformers 3' to film at the Farwell Building in Detroit's Capitol Park

State Farm Insurance and Remax Realtor signs were added to the front of the abandoned Farwell Building for the filming of 'Transformers 3'.
As the renovation of Capitol Park in downtown Detroit continues (with a completion date later this fall), one of the park's neighboring buildings is also getting a bit of a facelift.

Crews in town to shoot the sci-fi thriller 'Transformers 3' have peeled back the boards that covered the street-level spaces in the Farwell Building, and are preparing the facade for shooting that will take place all next week, according to workers on the site. Tattered green awnings are being added, and by Friday afternoon signage for businesses such as Remax and State Farm Insurance were installed.

The movie project sheds new light on one of Detroit's long-vacant buildings. The Falwell, an eight-story brick unit built in 1915, has been empty since 1984, and when the boards were removed a row of businesses was revealed, including a burned out old bar and other office space.

With Capitol Park nearing completion of a major renovation outside, city planners hope the triangular block, once a pivotal business district in Detroit, will be rejuvenated, much like the area surrounding nearby Campus Martius Park was when that park was renovated. Perhaps the 'Transformers 3' project will help spur re-development, including that of the Farwell Building.

Detroit Princess Riverboat takes advantage of Motown's waterfront home

Possibly one of the best-kept secrets in Detroit is, at the same time, a huge 222-foot long, 88-foot tall riverboat that docks alongside Hart Plaza. 

The Detroit Princess Riverboat, often mistaken for one of the old Bob-Lo Boats, is a rare example of Detroit taking advantage of its waterfront home. It offers afternoon, evening and midnight cruises, fine dining and live entertainment. And it's reasonably priced. A two-and-a-half-hour cruise on a Friday evening will run you about $50, and that includes a buffet-style dinner of prime rib, chicken piccata and the like.

The Detroit Princess Riverboat
Each of the boat's four decks features a bar, and unlike the old Bob-Lo boats, the Detroit Princess boasts enclosed spaces with heat and air conditioning. In all, the Princess can host up to 1,800 people.

The Princess, which is also available for private-party rental, has been bobbing in the Detroit River since 2005, when it completed its journey from Orange, Texas, around the tip of Florida, up the East Coast past Maine and Nova Scotia, and through the St. Lawrence Seaway.

If you don't get a chance to get down to the RiverWalk to see the Princess up close, you can take a virtual tour on the website.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Artist Sunn puts impressive works on display on the Detroit riverfront

Artist Sunn displays his work at the Detroit riverfront near Hart Plaza.

He's down by the river, the Detroit Princess bobbing in the water before him. He's holding a copy of the day's Detroit Free Press in his left hand. With his right, Sunn works a paint brush, recreating a photo of Matthew Stafford that appears in the paper.

With a really cool style that I won't even attempt to define (since I know nothing of art) Sunn spends his summers in Detroit in the shade of Hart Plaza, perched on a cement wall next to a row of paintings that range from Bob Marley to smaller Detroit skylines. Sunn is no street performer gimmick; his work is remarkably impressive.

Sunn works on  picture of Matthew Stafford
For the Marley piece, he hopes to get $120; the smaller, 8x10 paintings go for about $20 each. "But I always negotiate," he chuckles. Less than a week after I first saw Sunn, I visited again to look a little more closely at some of his work. The painting of Stafford was just taking shape during my first visit, and I wanted to see how it turned out.

"Sold that one about 15 minutes after I finished it," he said, smiling wide. "And wouldn't you know, he got hurt yesterday."

You can find Sunn on the Detroit RiverWalk for the next few weeks. Once the weather breaks he'll move up to Greektown to continue his work.

Monday, September 13, 2010

'Transformers 3' brings special effects to monstrous set in downtown Detroit

'Transformers 3' created this set in a lot between Howard and Lafayette at Sixth Street.
Already done at the Michigan Central Depot, and still preparing to blow up a building near Grand Circus Park, makers of the film 'Transformers 3' will spend the next couple of days shooting scenes in a lot on the west side of downtown Detroit.

A peak through the mesh fence
Behind black mesh fencing that wraps the entire lot (between Lafayette and Howard at Sixth Street), crews have erected an enormous set that includes giant blue screens, which we're told are commonly used when a movie will feature a lot of computer generated effects. The lot, just west of the Lodge Freeway entering downtown, is also scattered with gigantic chunks of concrete and huge cement pillars, presumably the same type of foam materials that we spotted last week in a lot on Washington Boulevard where filmmakers are reportedly planning on blowing up a four-story building.

This sign worns pedestrians
One of the crew members said the 'Transformers 3' folks will be at the Lafayette-Howard Street location for a day or two, and should be wrapping up in Detroit sometime next week.

Friday, September 10, 2010

'Transformers 3' takes aim at blowing up a building near Grand Circus Park

These concrete chunks are actually made of foam and will be used during filming of 'Transformers 3'.
The latest word says this building will not be blown up.
(UPDATED SEPT. 14) – On the lot that once housed the famous Statler Hotel, only a lone four-story building remains. It stands empty, inside a curve in the People Mover track and neighboring a grass and gravel lot that in recent months has been often used by movie companies to store cars ('Street Kings'), tanks ('Red Dawn') and other large props.

These days, in this triangular parcel between Washington and Bagley just across the street from Grand Circus Park, crews from 'Transformers 3' have been working.

Enormous chunks of fake concrete (made of foam) are piled in one area, and banged up cars line the side of the little four-story building.

It's been rumored, though, that the little four-story building might soon take a lead role in the filming of 'Transformers 3' when it is blown up during filming of one of the movie's scenes. Not true, according to a source in the know. While that might change any day, the deal to blow the building up has not been finalized.

Jenemy #4: Color Me Bad Guy

It's been awhile since we've posted a new Jenemy, but this guy strolling down Lafayette Boulevard the other day was too good to pass up.

If earning a spot on our squad was his goal, then combining the Michigan State name with the Ohio State colors was pure genius. So much so that he's the team captain we've been looking for. (Get reacquainted with the rest of the squad by clicking here.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Is Trick Trick on the right road to being Detroit's next big rap star?

Considering Detroit City Council members keep scurrying to the nearest microphone to publicly vow that 'Detroit 1-8-7' producers will be booted back to L.A. if they dare portray Detroit negatively, posters hanging on Woodward Avenue downtown should probably at least raise an eyebrow or two.

Rapper Trick Trick, apparently figuring that one less than Eminem isn't too shabby, is advertising his new CD 'Straight Off 7 Mile'. Hey, if '8 Mile' worked...

Eminem even makes a guest appearance on the CD, as do other rappers with names like Dcyple, Fatt Father, Ketchphraze, and DJ Thrilla. Because we always root for the hometown, I'll be sure to hop on iTunes and give Trick Trick a listen. In the meantime, it's probably fair to question the promotional posters, which feature a guy, presumably that's Trick Trick, carrying a gun and standing behind police tape. And I haven't even touched on the track list, which I won't because this is a family-oriented publication. In any event, maybe City Council shouldn't worry so much about TV portrayals and instead focus a little more on the reality.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fans converge on Comerica Park for Eminem, Jay-Z bash

Fans wait for the first Eminem & Jay-Z show.
Tickets were sold out. Gates weren't to open until 6:00 Thursday. But that didn't stop throngs of people from lining up outside Comerica Park in downtown Detroit early Thursday morning for the first of two Eminen & Jay-Z hip-hop blowouts.

With only a handful of hours remaining before the concert was to start, crews were still finalizing the Comerica facelift. A sound check sent loud thumps through the streets of Detroit. Getting a glimpse inside the stadium was nearly impossible, but the centerfield fountain that normally sprays whenever the Tigers hit a homerun was covered in canvas and fashioned into what looked like a huge soundboard area.

The area surrounding Comerica was engulfed in the concert wave, as trucks presumably used to haul in stage materials and sound and lighting equipment filled Comerica's neighboring lots. Across the street, Cheli's Chili Bar was prepped for what likely will be the biggest two days of the year, its parking lot covered with tents that will likely host more people than they have since last year's Kid Rock bash.

And radio stations like 95.5 (pronounced "Nah-fah-fah", if you're really cool) were parked curbside, as eagerly awaiting the show's start as were the kids sitting in tents on Comerica's brick sidewalks. It was all enough to make you wonder what Day 2 might bring. And better yet,  what's this going to be like when it hits New York?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Work continues on new shipping terminal in downtown Detroit

Back in the day, ships sidled up to the banks of Detroit and dropped off all kinds of stuff. Steel. Coal. And believe it or not, people.

Those days pretty much died away in the late 1960s, but in recent years, the Great Lakes cruising market has reemerged. And it's not just cities like Chicago and Toronto that have implemented projects to accommodate cruise ships; even the likes of Toledo, Milwaukee, Duluth, Windsor and Green Bay have made investments.

Nice to see Detroit joining the party. The Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority is plugging away on a new terminal just west of the RenCen, and the project looks to be progressing nicely. A visit earlier today showed that pilings have been put in place for a new dock, which will eventually be able to host not just cruise ships but also naval frigates, historical tall ships, racing yachts and dinner cruisers.

To those who guffaw at the thought of Detroit being a included in a Great Lakes cruise, we offer this: if Duluth can be a tour stop, then damn it so can Detroit!   

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Third installment of the 'Hostel' horror-flick series filming in Detroit

'Hostel 3' is filming in Detroit.
The parade of movie production companies paying a visit to Detroit in recent months continued today as crews from 'Hostel 3' set up their base camp in a lot down the street from old Tiger Stadium.

Their cleverly disguised signs hanging at various points downtown steered crew members to a lot on Rosa Parks Boulevard at the I-75 service drive, once upon a time a great tailgate zone before Tigers games.

Most of the signs featured only an arrow and the word "SIX", presumably a reference to Sony's Stage 6 Films, which is producing the bloody three-quel. That's not me using Old English profanity; the 'Hostel' movies, for those unfamiliar, are apparently disgustingly gory tales of dismemberment, bloodshed, and death. Great date movies!

In the photo, that's the old Michigan Central Station in the background, where crews from 'Transformers 3' are still setting up for the third installment of that series as well. No word on where 'Hostel' is going to actually film, but it's somewhere nearby the lot on Rosa Parks, according to someone working the lot.

Monday, August 30, 2010

'Detroit 1-8-7' spends a day filming on Michigan Avenue in Corktown

As the countdown to the debut of the new ABC cop drama 'Detroit 1-8-7' continues, we spotted crews filming the new show last week on Michigan Avenue just off the Lodge freeway.

Michael Imperioli, John Michael Hill and Natalie Martinez were all on location at a car wash, just a few blocks from where the old Tiger Stadium once stood.

Among the props brought in, which caught the attention of Corktown passers-by, were a flock of Detroit cop cars and a black van that read "Wayne County Coroner" on the side. Behind the car wash, a two-story house was also being used in the scene, and a crane held a cameraman up near a second-story window.

Here's hoping '1-8-7' gets the ratings it needs to keep production in the city!

(Have you seen crews from 'Detroit 1-8-7' around town? Let us know what you've seen by posting it on the comment board.)