Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dining in the D: Shepherd's Pie at the Grand Trunk Pub

The Grand Trunk Pub might be more known for its huge selection of brews, but there's one menu item you've got to try the next time you're down on Woodward at lunch time. We never pass up the chance to indulge in a bowl of the Trunk's Shepherd's Pie, a heaping helping of mashed potatoes, corn and seasoned beef topped with a thin layer of cheese. It's good eatin'.

Click on Detroit Food to see some of our favorites feasts downtown.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tommy's Detroit Bar & Grill attracting attention in quiet corner of Detroit

Rule No. 1 in attracting customers: make sure they know you're there.

Tommy's Detroit Bar & Grill, tucked in a low-traffic corner of downtown Detroit that sees little action when the Red Wings aren't in-season, is turning to the basics as it tries to gain traction in the space long occupied by Mac's on Third.

Leading the changes are the additions of a black and orange awning and building signage, both visible to Fort Street travelers who happen to glance toward the Joe down Third Street.

So far, it's working.

It's fair to question whether those changes alone will be enough to give Tommy's a better fate than Mac's, which is why the current owner isn't relying solely on an external facelift to keep the place afloat. For example, in an attempt to warm up to the student crowd from neighboring WCCCU, Tommy's will soon tweak its backroom to feature lounge-style seating, coffee tables and WiFi service. They're good folks at Tommy's; here's hoping they survive the relative quiet of summer to enjoy the swarms of customers that come almost automatically with 40-plus Wings home games.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Detroit adds bike lanes on Michigan Ave in Corktown

Peddling through Corktown the other day, I was pleasantly surprised to see that one recently announced plan in Detroit was actually finding its way beyond the drawing board.

The addition of designated bike lanes to certain streets downtown – a plan announced sometime last year – is already becoming a reality, led by lanes on both sides of Michigan Avenue on the western edge of Corktown. (I was told that bike lanes have been added on West Fort Street too, but haven't made my way over there yet.)

As of last week, the Corktown stretch began near Slow's BBQ and went west, but I'm assuming the plan is to extend the lanes past the old Tiger Stadium site and Nemo's, over the Lodge, and eventually onto the currently-being-paved stretch of Michigan Avenue that leads to the heart of the downtown at Campus Martius. Time will tell.

As for the existing lanes, I only rode for a few blocks, but it was pretty cool having a designated lane on which to ride. Granted, Michigan Avenue in Corktown doesn't carry a particularly heavy load of automobile traffic, but the bike lane did provide a sense of safety.

I don't remember which roads downtown were included in the original plan, but we'll keep our eyes peeled for newly added lanes. In the meantime, we applaud the fact that another plan in Detroit panned out to become more than just a plan.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dining in the D: Sliders at the Big City Grill

When I was a kid, "sliders" were those occasionally edible mini-burgers from White Castle. Times change. Swing through the Big City Grill in downtown Detroit sometime and order up a three-sandwich platter of the Angus Sliders. I wouldn't even put them in the same food group as the White Castle version. Oddly, I'm no fan of onions and these babies are loaded with 'em, but they're so sweet I don't even think about getting them onion-free. They cost about $7 or $8 and come with fries. Nice.

(Downtown Detroit is loaded with great bars and restaurants, and nearly all of them feature a menu item I've come to love. You'll find my top dishes here. I'll steer clear of calling this a "Best Of" list. Just click on the "Detroit Food" label for a list of sweet eats to sample the next time you're downtown and hungry.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lafayette Greens taking shape in downtown Detroit

I have no idea what you expected when news broke of Compuware's plans to develop the site of the old Lafayette Building into an urban garden. Heck, I'm not sure what I expected.

But it wasn't this.

As plans become reality, the Lafayette Greens development is blossoming into an impressive site that far exceeds the rows of cabbage and corn that may have popped to mind with initial word of the project. Surrounded by a wrought-iron black gate, the triangular-chunk of land between Lafayette Boulevard and Michigan Avenue is already an enormous scenic enhancement to a neighborhood anchored by the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel.

Rows of vegetables in raised beds do line the parcel's interior, but saplings and other landscape features stand more prominently. Facing Lafayette is a series of three oddly shaped but not unattractive wooden buildings. And the tattered red-brick wall of the old (and soon returning?) Arcade Bar is a pretty cool contrast to the newly planted greens in front of it.

The urban garden idea was much-maligned when Compuware's projects were initially announced, and with regards to their food-production, maybe that criticism was warranted. I have no idea how much food this thing will produce.

But the corner where the Lafayette Building once stood is no longer an eyesore. By some measure, that has to be considered progress.   

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Heidelberg Project Light: Unusual street decor in downtown Detroit

I don't think they're authentic Chuckie T's, but they are Pure Detroit.

The fact that these black canvas sneaks have been dangling from a light post at the corner of Second and Lafayette for weeks – maybe even months – presents some pretty interesting questions, and perhaps a few ideas as to how city officials might approach future streetscaping projects.

Our first thought goes across town to the famous Heidelberg Project, the street-art sanctuary that's become known around the world by many,  but remains foreign to many locals – Kage included. We'll get there eventually.

In the meantime, we continue to keep our eyes peeled while wandering downtown, always on the look out for stuff you never expect to see – like a pair of black flat-soles strung to a traffic light. Click here to browse some of the other stuff we've come across.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Albom's 'Have A Little Faith' films at I Am My Brother's Keeper Ministries in Detroit

Follow along closely, this could get a little confusing.

There was a church with a hole in the roof.

Then a writer wrote a book in part about that hole, and the book raised money to help repair the roof.

Then the book sold so well they decided to make a movie of the story. Last week they filmed it, returning to the actual church for taping. Except the hole had been fixed by then, so to film the movie, they had to pop a new hole in the roof.

And now, filming of Mitch Albom's book-turned-movie 'Have A Little Faith" at the I Am My Brother's Keeper Ministries in Detroit is reportedly done, so the roof will have to be re-repaired. All of this according to a security guy who was guarding the set last week as Laurence Fishburne and the rest of the crew were inside the church filming.

"I don't know if this (hole) is as big as the one that used to be there, but they had to put a new one in for the movie," he said, chuckling. "The magic of Hollywood!"

He added that, in addition to re-repairing the roof, the movie will help pay for other renovations at the church, which is great news. It's a really cool old building on Trumbull near Grand River, and the home base for some folks doing great work. Click here read about some of our previous visits.   

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans adds Dime Building to downtown Detroit collection

The Dime Building lobby
If this were a game of Monopoly, Dan Gilbert just added another color to his set of property cards when he reportedly snatched up the Dime Building earlier this week.

Just to be clear, this is no 'Baltic Avenue' purchase. The Dime has got to be considered one of those orange properties. Maybe even a red.

The Dime Building now joins the Chase Tower, the Madison Theater Building and it appears eventually the First National Building (not to mention a couple of neighboring parking garages) in Gilbert's set of downtown properties.

We at The Times have never claimed to be real estate-savvy. Our color-coded evaluation above should prove that. But Gilbert seems like a sharp guy, and we tend to view his buying spree as a sign that more vibrant days for downtown Detroit are ahead.

What Gilbert's got in mind is anybody's guess, but he's already hinted at an incentive plan to entice Quicken employees to live in the downtown area. And more of those little green houses dotting the Detroit board wouldn't be a bad thing.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Enjoy a sip of Michigan-made rum at the Park Bar in Detroit

In a day when "Buy Michigan" is our best defense against a crappy economy, the good citizen in us all should swing by the Park Bar in downtown Detroit and drink a little rum.

While much has been written about the quality and quantity of Michigan's homegrown beer assortment, our state's spirit-making skills are less publicized.
It turns out though, that the Park Bar - one of our favorite downtown hangouts - serves up a selection of Michigan-made rums from New Holland Brewery, a company that's actually more reputable for its beer-making.

New Holland's line of rums include Freshwater Michigan, Freshwater Huron, and Freshwater Superior, and folks at the Park would love to you sell you a taste. Local bar. Local drink. It's a simple matter of smart economics. If you let them know that you read about Freshwater rum on the Detroit Times, maybe they'll explain why there isn't a Freshwater case you were wondering. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mitch Albom's "Ernie" is a fascinating trip down memory lane for Tigers fans

Turns out there was a lot we didn't know about the man whose voice we all knew.

Ernie Harwell was one of those rare public figures in Detroit that nobody dared to dislike. How could you? No doubt that's at least partly why "Ernie" – the play about the legendary broadcaster written by Mitch Albom – has been so strongly received in its short time at the City Theater in downtown Detroit.

Everybody loved Ernie, and the play serves as a reminder, if we needed one. But in addition to the memorable Ernie moments, Albom also gives us new insights. When he was young, Ernie spoke with a lisp. Ernie is the only broadcaster who was involved in a trade for a player.

Cool stories like those, and the many others that most of us already know, make Albom's two-person performance a memorable trip to the theater. From what we hear, the play's run at the City Theater is being extended through late August, so there's plenty of time to catch it.

The City Theater is located behind the Hockeytown Cafe, across from Comerica Park.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tommy's Detroit Bar & Grill settles in to Mac's old space

In a quiet little corner of downtown Detroit, removed from the foot traffic of people hurrying through Foxtown, Greektown or Campus Martius, a little bar sits behind the towering, ancient Fort Street Presbyterian Church.

For years, you've known that little bar as Mac's On Third, assuming you knew the place at all. But Mac's is gone.

Meet Tommy.

Bringing the best of the old Beaubien Street Saloon across town, Tommy's Detroit Bar & Grill opened in recent days and now faces the challenge of doing what Mac's couldn't in recent years: surviving. To do it, Tommy's will have to get through the first few months without the luxury of Red Wings fans filling the streets a couple times a week. 

The new ownership's changes to the bar have been minimal as yet, although during a recent visit, they had turned down the volume on the flat-screens playing daytime TV above the bar. Instead, soft music from an easy-listening, Sirius XM jazz station played overhead.

The new menu is scaled back from Mac's previous slate of favorites, and is now highlighted by made-to-order burgers and a selection of sandwiches. It's a good spread, definitely worth a visit if you're looking for somewhere old-but-new to check  out some time.

Tommy's is open Monday through Saturday til 2 a.m. Their website at is under construction, but in the meantime you can find them on Facebook by searching "Tommy Detroit Bar and Grill". Old-school drinkers can call them at 313-965-2269.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Urban garden slated to fill space where Lafayette Building once stood

You might recognize the aging red-brick wall in this photo as the side of the old Arcade Bar. Then again, you might not, since for years this wall was hidden by the once-hulking Lafayette Building.

In any event, when the Lafayette was brought down last summer, word on the street was that a park was in the plans. And, if spreading grass seed constitutes building a park, the word on the street was right.

Now, however, dozers are busy grading the lot between Michigan Avenue and Fort Street, and according to a very official-looking guy on the scene, the land will be the future home of a Compuware-sponsored Urban Garden.

I wasn't able to get a lot of detail – such as a projected completion date, what they'll grow, and which charity will benefit from the food to be grown – but I'll keep my eyes peeled. According to the official-looking guy, raised boxes are being installed, along with displays of artwork from children in the area.

It's going to nearly as fun watching this project spring up as it was watching the old Lafayette come down. (And speaking of that, click on this link to see blow-by-blow photos of the Lafayette's demolition.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Graffiti alive and well at Detroit's Metropolitan Building

Painting of this extent doesn't happen overnight.

But over three-plus decades, the possibilities are endless.

The Metropolitan Building in downtown Detroit, the one-time hub of the city's jewelry retailers, has stood empty on John R just south of Grand Circus Park since the late 1970s. Since then, nearly every window in the 15-story building has served as the canvas for an especially peace-minded graffiti artist.

Red hearts, the word "LOVE", and a cryptic splash of green letters have adorned the building's facade for years and can be seen for blocks up Farmer Street. It's pretty impressive work, were it not a reminder of another empty building downtown.

Also of interest (at least to us) is a fun fact we learned from our friends at When the Metropolitan was built, a handful of buildings were razed to clear space, including the former home of the Detroit Times. That was in 1924, years before the Internet made it possible for a guy with a cell phone camera and a computer to create a blog with the same name. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sign of the Times: Another building billboard pops up in Detroit

From the mural that adorns the Cadillac Tower and stands over Campus Martius Park, to the Broderick Tower billboard that hawks cellphones to folks at Comerica Park, building-side billboards seem to be a growing trend in downtown Detroit.

Before you go popping off with a real clever "At least they're using that building for something!" comment, our latest sighting graces the side of 1001 Woodward, not one of the unused towers downtown.

Visible from the north side of the 1001 building is a huge ad for the 'Droid, a fact that tells us much about people in today's world. One, we must like smart phones. And two, we must really like smart phones. In fact, if the cellphone marketing competition track record holds true, I expect we'll soon see an ad for the iPhone plastered all  over the RenCen.

Before you get too stirred up thinking that these billboards indicate the over-commercialization of downtown Detroit, sit tight. We hear the city is selling naming rights to The People Mover stations. Up first? The MetroPCS Greektown station.

More cell phones. We should've known. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Historic Fort Wayne: another forgotten Detroit landmark

Shackled by the misfortune of sharing a neighborhood with one of the more neglected corners of Detroit, Historic Fort Wayne is a marvel, if only for the fact that it still stands. Surely, anyone who's had the pleasure of taking a recent sight-seeing tour through Delray to witness the high weeds and broken bricks up close will vouch.

But yet there it is, Historic Fort Wayne, sprawling like a forgotten prep school just off West Jefferson.

It's easy to imagine that in any other city, Fort Wayne would be an at least a B-list tourist attraction. And because of that, we're adding it to our growing list of Things To Do In Detroit.

In the meantime, we did the next best thing and visited The Historic Fort Wayne Coalition website, where we stumbled across a few remarkable facts about the campus of buildings tucked quietly on Detroit's southwest side.

• It was built in the 1840s at a time of high tension between the U.S. and British Canada.
• The site was chosen, in large part, because the existing on-site fort was slated to be equipped with the most up-to-date cannon capable of firing on the Canadian shore.
• Fort Wayne never saw one shot fired in anger.
• It eventually became the primary induction center for troops entering battle in every U.S. conflict from the Civil War to Vietnam.
• It was the primary procurement location for vehicles and weapons manufactured in Detroit for both World Wars.

To get to Fort Wayne from downtown Detroit, take Fort Street to Clark and turn left. Pass the old Bob-Lo docks building, and drive until you see the Fort Wayne entrance on your left. Visit the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition online at

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Reflections of Detroit: Feature Photo

Down on Woodward between Campus Martius and Hart Plaza, there's a big, brown-glass building. Not sure what's in there, and didn't have time to research it.

But it gives off a cool reflection of the buildings across the street.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Getting up close with the Marathon Oil Refinery's Pistons tribute

Every now and then we let our "reporting" wander out of downtown Detroit. Sometimes, even outside the city.

This Pistons' tribute at the Marathon Oil Refinery actually sits in Melvindale just outside the city boundaries, but it's still one of the coolest Detroit sports tributes around town.

Marathon turned this huge sludge vessel (that's really what is stored in there) into a Pistons homage after Chauncey, Rip, Ben and the guys won the championship in 2004. For a few years, the ball also celebrated the Shock on one side, but that was  painted over when the team left town. (Pause for a moment of mourning.) Thanks to Marathon, there's no disputing the Pistons love that lives Downriver, even if driving to the Palace to see a game is too much of a pain.

And one more interesting sidebar: Longtime Detroit-to-Downriver travelers might  recall when this same tank featured the stitching of a baseball and served as a Detroit Tigers' tribute. How long ago was that? Well, we believe the ball also featured a WJR logo. You do the math.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Class Dismissed! Old Cass Tech High School meets the wrecking ball

Following in the footsteps of so many iconic Detroit buildings, demolition of the Old Cass Tech High School is in full swing. Walls of the graffiti-covered, broken-windowed hulk of a building on the north side of I-75 at Cass Avenue remain, but if you want to get one last look, you best get downtown by mid-summer.

No one's ever accused us at The Times of snubbing Detroit's great, historic buildings. We took no joy in watching Tiger Stadium nor the Lafayette Building tumble to the ground.

But the most unfortunate truth regarding Old Cass Tech is that its greatest feat in recent years has been to stand there and block the view of the beautiful building that is the New Cass Tech from drivers on I-75. That ain't real productive.

It's a shame that the building's condition was allowed to deteriorate as it did, and even more a shame that people didn't clamor to find a viable use for it until it was too late. But if removing the building opens up new possibilities to make the New Cass Tech an even better campus, maybe it can still be a change for the better.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Holiday Inn Express & Suites returning to downtown Detroit

Just call it the Holiday Inn-And-Out-And-Back-Inn.

It was just in January when we reported that the Holiday Inn Express & Suites signage was removed from the facade of the building on Washington and Michigan avenues in downtown Detroit.

Now, just a few months later, new temporary Holiday Inn Express & Suites signage hangs from the hotel's awning, which prompted our news hounds to wander in and ask the lobby host, "What's up?" (That's a professional interrogation technique we learned in journalism school.)

He did in fact confirm that the hotel would again be called Holiday Inn Express & Suites within the next couple of weeks, but couldn't offer up any explanation for the strange chain of name-changing events.

So we took our research efforts to Google, but after 30 seconds of relentless tracking, we realized that the "why" in this case really isn't all that interesting. Maybe they were just changing their signs from blue to green. Or maybe Holiday Inn altered the standards it demands of hotels using its name. Or maybe (and I think this theory has some merit) just maybe the national chain didn't want to run the risk of hosting Charlie Sheen and his gang while they were in town.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Clooney film 'Ides of March' works its magic in Detroit's Capitol Park

Not long ago, crews filming 'Transformers 3' set up shop in Capitol Park in downtown Detroit. The brief resurrection of the Farwell Building was something to see.

Before that, the remake of 'Red Dawn' filmed just down the street, while Faye Dunaway's 'Master Class' was a few blocks away in Grand Circus Park.

So when George Clooney and crew were in town last week filming scenes for 'Ides of March' in Capitol Park, it seemed fair to wonder whether another filming season in downtown Detroit was just getting underway, or if Clooney's production would mark the end of a short-lived era.

Politicians, movie industry contractors, and just about everybody in the state continue to debate whether Michigan's generous tax incentives are in fact overly generous, or rather a clever way to entice Hollywood to spend money in Michigan. Does spending millions to bring in production crews have enough payoff? Or are do we just like star-gazing?

It's a fun discussion, and if I had a vote, I'd likely fall somewhere in the middle, hopeful that a sensible but enticing package of incentives can be created to continue attracting movie-makers without giving away the bank. Provided the price tag isn't too high, there's no doubt a benefit to being the host site of so many film crews.

If nothing else, it's keeping things interesting in Capitol Park.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Mysterious red-brick cat finds a home near old Tiger Stadium

What do you think, is this a salute to the baseball stadium that once stood across the freeway?

A crosstown homage to Bricktown?

Who knows what it is? I've got no info on this cool brick sculpture I spotted across the freeway from the old Tiger Stadium, but it definitely seemed worth posting.

Just a few feet off the I-75 southbound service drive, not far from Trumbull, somebody used a pile of old red bricks to create what looks like a cat sitting in the ground. It's an odd place to create a work of art, but what the hell, at times Detroit can be an odd place.

If anybody knows anything about the Brick Cat - Who built it? Why? - let us know.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Quicken Loans considers purchasing Chase Tower in downtown Detroit

Quicken Loans already made a big splash downtown Detroit when it moved a majority of its workers from the suburbs and into the Compuware Building last year.

Then, Dan Gilbert and company made more news earlier this year when they announced they'd be refurbishing the old Madison Theater Building near Grand Circus Park and moving workers in there.

Now, Quicken is reportedly considering buying the Chase Tower just across Campus Martius Park from Compuware. The 14-story Chase building, which hardly feels like a tower next to the nearby Guardian and Penobscot buildings, enjoys a sweet location downtown. It sits on Woodward just south of the park, and if filled with Quicken workers would inject a boost into the downtown scene. Stay tuned, Gilbert is also reportedly looking at other buildings in the area, most notably the First National Building just across Woodward. (More on the First National in the coming days.)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mitch Albom's 'Ernie' coming to Detroit's City Theatre this spring

Baseball is in the air in Detroit as Opening Day draws near, and while we're not sure who's going to be playing second base for the Tigers, fans are excited about what will be playing across the street.

"Ernie", a play written by Mitch Albom about longtime Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell, will take the stage at the City Theatre in the rear of the Hockeytown Cafe building for a run that begins April 28.

It should make for a great build-your-own doubleheader, catching a matinee showing of the play before heading across the street to watch a Tigers game. In fact, while you're in the area, make it a triple play by swinging past the site of the old Tiger Stadium to see what fans have dubbed Ernie Harwell Park.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

George Clooney brings 'Ides of March' production to downtown Detroit

Getting in just under the wire before what we'll call the Snyder Film Industry Dis-Incentives kick in, George Clooney and company are in town this week filming "Ides of March", a political drama starring Clooney, Marisa Tomei and Ryan Gosling.

Clooney is also directing the picture, and the production crews took over Park Avenue just north of Grand Circus Park Tuesday to film some scenes inside Cliff Bell's. Across from the beaten up Hotel Charlevoix, and next to the Park Bar, Cliff Bell's wore a new marquee over its doors for filming Tuesday. It said "Ninth" something, we couldn't make out the rest. You can look for it when the film is released this October.

Seeing the movie trucks on the streets, and the yellow signs steering cast and crew to the base camp lot (the signs say "IOM" in large black letters) was a sure a sign that spring is nearing in Detroit. Filming has been pretty quiet throughout winter. Of course, this could be the last spring that sees a spike in movie production traffic in Michigan, should Snyder's plan to dissolve the film industry tax incentive hold up. Want to see to tax incentives remain? Try bugging the crap out of your local representative.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

David Stott Building: a Detroit skyscraper you may not know by name

It may not have the postcard recognition of the Ren Cen, nor the historic reputation of the nearby Book Tower, but the David Stott Building in downtown Detroit remains one the city's high-potential high rises.

Located at Griswold and State streets, adjacent to the recently refurbished Capitol Park, the 38-story Stott seems almost like the nearby Guardian Building's twin, if only fraternal. Its reddish-orange brick exterior is still in relatively decent shape compared to some of the demolition-bound towers in Detroit, evidence that the building had at least some occupants as recently as last year.

I believe the building is now completely vacant, but a redevelopment plan tossed around in the fall called for first-floor retail, five floors of office space, and apartments the rest of the way up. We'll keep a watch for any news about the Stott, but it certainly doesn't hurt that its stands in the center of Detroit's busiest redevelopment areas.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Imported From Detroit: Chrysler slogan takes on new life after SuperBowl ad

The Chrysler ad featuring Eminem that had (and still has) everybody talking following its airing during Superbowl XLV has spawned more than just conversation and web chat.

It also - even if inadvertently - launched a slogan that Detroit faithful immediately embraced, which in turn prompted Detroit-area company Wall-U to produce "Imported From Detroit" laptop skins and wall hangings. Available in 7-inch or 32-inch sizes, the "Imported From Detroit" removable stickers offer just one example of how the Internet is buzzing about the commercial, Eminem's appearance in it, the positive (and sometimes negative) reaction that followed it, and the slogan that appeared at its end. No doubt somewhere, t-shirts are already being printed.

To learn more about the Wall-U skins and wall hangings, click here to visit their Facebook page.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Mane Attraction: MGM Grand Casino lion takes over Cadillac Tower

We always knew a bottle of Jack didn't last long.

Sure enough, the enormous Jack Daniels advertisement that recently adorned the Campus Martius-facing side of the Cadillac Tower is gone, replaced recently by a mammoth ad featuring the MGM Grand Casino lion.

No word on whether this was in response to community objections, similar to those voiced when Billy Dee Williams and his Colt 45 billboards dotted the city. But it wouldn't be surprising, considering the Campus Martius area is about host hundreds of families and children for another Motown Winter Blast.

In any event, the MGM ad is a cool-looking billboard, probably my favorite piece of signage to hang from the Cadillac Tower since Barry Sanders occupied the space years ago. Is it too early to start hoping a picture of Ndamukong Suh ends up there?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sweetwater Tavern is a Detroit classic in historic Bricktown

With excellent food, a casual but upscale-leaning atmosphere, and one of the coolest bar names in Detroit, there's no denying Sweetwater Tavern's rank in the downtown Detroit bar scene.

But no matter what else they do right, Sweetwater's first impression will always be its most memorable. The little sliver of a building lives in Detroit's Bricktown Historic District, seemingly cut off from whatever it was once connected to, left to stand alone at the corner of Brush and Congress with nearby skyscrapers towering around it.

The aging three-story, red-brick building with the kind of detailed trim work that architects stopped using years ago almost seems like a model, particularly with the enormously shiny Ren Cen behind it.

The bar and grill inside, popular with both the lunch crowd and the after-work drinks gang, is a beautifully finished room, somewhat surprisingly given the gruffness of the exterior. The burgers are great, rumor has it the onion rings are too, and I still put the name "Sweetwater" right up there with Detroit's best. But visit the place one time and tell me you aren't most intrigued by the little brick building that still stands as evidence of a neighborhood that once was, a neighborhood that's long gone.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Motown Winter Blast returning to Campus Martius Park in Detroit

If you thought the popularity of the Motown Winter Blast would gradually fizzle after its inaugural Super Bowl-year success wore off, think again.

Winter Blast 2011 is fast-approaching, and with the return of the popular sledding hill, figures to be even bigger than it was a year ago.

For anyone who's never been there, Winter Blast organizers hit it right because they managed to make the event both adult- and kid-friendly. Warming tents with live music and beers are popular with the older set, while skating, sledding and ice sculpture displays (the one pictured is from last year) keep the kids entertained.

It's a great event, even five years after the Steelers beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl at Ford Field and the Winter Blast made its debut. This year's festival is scheduled to run from Friday, Feb. 11 through Sunday, Feb. 13.  Check out for more info.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Catching up with ‘Statue Guy’ during a ride on Detroit's People Mover

From the Detroit Times archives: OK, so the real name of this creation isn’t “Statue Guy”. It’s called “Catching Up”, and it’s one of the cool things to look for if you find yourself riding the People Mover downtown.

Right now he’s at the Grand Circus Park Station, but I’m pretty sure he used to be standing on one of the other People Mover decks. Regardless, the next time you’re downtown you should make a point to see this in person. The detail is really cool.

Anybody who grew up reading The Detroit News or Detroit Free Press will especially appreciate it. Both papers are included in amazing detail. (Statue Guy is reading The News, and the Free Press is folded and sitting on a briefcase at his side.) I blew up the photo and saw The News issue he’s reading is dated May 23, 1987. The lead story is about the Chrysler-AMC merger. 

My hounding research (interpretation: I Googled it) uncovered that the artist’s name is J. Seward Johnson, Jr. It’s a bronze sculpture, and what’s interesting is that, it isn’t an original piece of artwork. There are six others just like it across the country, but this one was tailored to the region by using molds of The News and Free Press.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Michigan Sports Hall of Fame: a hidden treasure inside Cobo Hall

Stray off the beaten path at the North American International Auto Show, and you'll find one of Detroit's cool sports landmarks that, unfortunately, you rarely ever hear about.

In a day when halls of fame are often swanky, big-money homages, the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame is a simple, no-frills reminder of the many great sports legends that have made an impact on Michigan sports over the years. From players to coaches to broadcasters, the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame is a collection of plaques (most with accompanying artwork) that line the back hallways of the vast Cobo Hall.

It's so understated that it almost feels like an afterthought, but that doesn't steal from the coolness of reading little snippets about the hundreds of greats who've made their mark on Michigan sports. It's definitely worth setting aside an hour or so the next time you're downtown with a a little bit of time to kill.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

2011 Detroit auto show, Mercedes advertising goes big time

It's seems everything's bigger at the North American International Auto Show. Especially the advertising on a nearby building.

Taking a cue from the Broderick Tower advertising across town, Mercedes-Benz has plastered an enormous billboard on the east-facing side of the old 25-story Pontchartrain Hotel, and it covers nearly the entire side of the building. That's about 245 feet in height (or about 75 meters for our faithful Canadian readers).

It's nice to see somebody getting at least some use out of the old Pontch, which has been vacant since the summer of 2009, when it officially known as the Detroit Riverside Hotel. Visitors to the Detroit auto show can look for the ad (as if they could miss it!) across Washington Boulevard from the main entrance into Cobo Hall.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Road rage: Matty Maroun's new Ambassador Bridge ramp to nowhere

By now you've heard news reports of the squabbling that's gone on regarding the building of a second bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor.

And you may have heard how a Detroit International Bridge Company executive was jailed for a short time yesterday because the company he represents (which owns the Ambassador Bridge) has refused to follow a judge's order to "stick to the plan."

But have you driven through southwest Detroit to see the half-road that's at the core of this whole mess?

While the state completed the highway rebuilding portion of its Gateway Project last year, the DIBC and owner Matty Maroun - who reportedly was supposed to make ramps that took traffic directly from the bridge to the freeways - instead built this: a ramp to what they hoped was their own second span to Canada. For now, it's a ramp to nowhere, and while the courts are demanding they dismantle it (along with a nearby fuel station and other amenities the DIBC went ahead and built because it felt like it) for now it stands as an odd-looking daredevil contraption for anybody willing to try and get to Windsor 'Dukes of Hazard' style.

That's Fort Street you see in front of the ramp, and the Ambassador Bridge next to it. If the courts ever get their way and force Maroun to bring in the wrecking ball, he ought to first consider loaning it to some Hollywood types to shoot a cool scene for a new action flick. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Is the Holiday Inn out in downtown Detroit?

Back in the '60s, this building on Washington Boulevard in downtown Detroit was home to a Howard Johnson's Hotel. In the decades since, it's been a Mariner's Inn, a Day's Inn, and a Best Western. For a brief stint, it was even called the Heaven on Earth Inn.

In recent years, the Book-Cadillac's neighbor to the south has been a Holiday Inn Express, and now it appears another name change is on deck.

What's left, Red Roof Inn?

The Holiday Inn Express signage on the front and sides of the building have been not-so-discretely covered with what looks like duct tape. (I think it actually a big, silver garbage bad.) Some reports have said the hotel is negotiating with Best Western to once again join that family. For now, hotel desk workers are reportedly answering the  phones by introducing "Downtown Detroit Inn & Suites". When I tried calling, the phones weren't working, although I did stop by and the hotel is definitely still open.

Hopefully, time will tell that this amounts to nothing more than a name change for one of downtown Detroit's hotels, rather than one step toward seeing another hotel close. Either way, the timing couldn't be worse. Auto show crowds are already making their way to town, and I doubt anyone will think to book a room at The Duct Tape Inn.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Stearns Telephone historic marker in downtown Detroit

Wandering through the cold down Woodward the other day, I stopped to check a text message that had come through on my cellphone.

To my side, I noticed another of those common Michigan Historic Markers that seem to be everywhere downtown. I'd been past this one dozens of times, but never noticed it before, likely because it lays awkwardly in a streetscape box in front of a yellow-glass building that I believe is empty. (I could be wrong on that...I'll have to go back sometime and check.)

Anyway, the placard marks the site where, more than 100 years ago, the Stearns Telephone was first sampled in Detroit. Here's a paraphrasing of how the sign reads.

In 1877, a Bell telephone wire was installed on this site in the drug store operated by Frederick Stearns. An iron wire strung along rooftops connected it to the Stearns Laboratory a half mile away at the foot of Fifth Street. Only 18 months after Alexander Graham Bell patented his invention, this was the first to be offered by the organization that eventually became Michigan Bell Telephone Company. A placard in the store window invited the public to stop in every hour on the hour to speak over the amazing new device. Other private lines followed but it was a year before the telephone exchange was constructed with 15 or 20 subscribers on each party line.

After reading the sign, I went back to my cellphone, checked another text message, and took the picture that you see above. Amazing.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Enjoying a slice of Hungry Howie's at the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

As the only college football bowl game played in the Midwest, the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl has the potential to become a great holiday-time tradition in Detroit.

Of course, it used to be called the Motor City Bowl, a clearly better name which avoided all sorts of confusion in the stadium. For instance, anyone wandering around Ford Field last week looking for a slice of Little Caesars was out of luck.

It's a funny thing. The game is sponsored by Little Caesars, which is owned by Mike Ilitch, who also happens to own the baseball team across the street. But Ford Field is one of the few slivers of Detroit not owned by Ilitch, and Little Caesars isn't one of its contracted vendors. So all around the stadium, despite the huge Little Caesars logos at midfield and in the endzones, people sat and watched while gnawing on slices of pizza from Hungry Howie's or Cottage Inn.