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?"