Detroit, Michigan – February 2019
Popping the gull wing doors, we brought our bags from the front-trunk of the brushed stainless steel DMC-12 to the 1950s/1980s mash-up factory-turned-residential space at Lafayette Lofts in Detroit’s grey and bleak West Side Industrial.
We boarded the flickering, glowing, lime green, hoistway elevator with old-fashioned hand-slide door and vintage iron scissor gate. I’ve never been in one of those before but I felt a conscious effort to keep my fingers inside the unit lest I arrive at our floor with fewer than ten digits.
We unpacked our things to our temporal abode and jetted off in the cold Detroit twilight. At dusk I had the unique experience of being the only straight male in a sea of five thousand Murderinos while seeing a sold out live podcast presentation of My Favorite Murder at Fox Theatre.
Fox’s flagship opened in 1928 and this lavish “Temple of Amusement” was the first film venue in the world constructed with built-in Movietone equipment for talkies. Outside, the ten-story marquee overlooking Woodward Ave is only topped by the gargantuan grand lobby, which stretches a half block.
Scarlet interior columns of scagliola rise from octagonal bases, projecting patchworks of floral pattern starbursts, haunted faces, and majestic eagles. The indigo blue focal point of the theatre oculus is adorned with a globular chandelier of colored glass, and suspended as high as the eye can see.
As the curtains opened beneath an elephant’s head residing in the center of the proscenium, we got to hear the grisly stories and tales of true to life Motor City murder in the most foul, along with a lot of patented, gratuitous cussing.
I don’t consider myself a Murderino. I have, though, begun to enjoy the podcast specifically on road trips with my wife, as the murder stories are just as disturbing to hear, as they are entertaining on a vacant interstate highway. I would consider myself a “skipper”, meaning, in MFM speak, if I was a regular listener I would most definitely skip the first thirty minutes of each episode because they talk about nonsense and they laugh at their own jokes. It really does go nowhere.
After the show we found ourselves at Batch Brewing Company in Corktown, just a few blocks from our stay.
Sarah and I scooted up to the bar for a passion fruit syrup-squirt Berlinerwiess and a donut themed pastry stout, respectively. The beers at Batch were striking and lent themselves well to the midnight snacking of a big soft pretzel with honey-horseradish and Thai chili crispy, fried chicharrones.
The bartender was either named Patience or Peaches depending on which customer you were to ask.
Peaches was sloppily sliding beers across the bar and spilling them at patrons like a splatterpunk lobbing Molotov cocktails in Robocop 3. It was a little painful to witness, and that sentiment was felt across the board so much so that I saw one kind-hearted customer apologizing to her for it.
I ordered a New England IPA expecting an opaque orange juice bomb, but what was delivered was a transparently gold, translucent West Coast, albeit well-made, double IPA. I was confused because it wasn’t even slightly hazy. I waved down Peaches.
“Peaches…oh Peaches”, I beckoned, “this IPA is really good, but I’m wondering if perhaps I got the wrong beer since this beer isn’t even a tad hazy”.
Peaches took offense at the idea that she may have poured the wrong beer. She also took the liberty of explaining that New England IPAs don’t have to be hazy. She began to walk away, but stopped short with an additional thought, then spun back around to spill it at me. “That beer actually has a hazy mouthfeel.”
I don’t have any sort of moral problem with someone accidentally pouring the wrong beer and not fessing up to it. But it is awkward. I would have, and I did drink it either way, and it was delicious. Even if she had admitted the mistake, I’d still pay for and enjoy the beer…but I couldn’t not press it just a tiny bit further.
My only follow up inquiry was to the tune of: If New England IPAs don’t have to be hazy, then why return the obvious afterthought of “hazy mouthfeel”? It’s not necessarily non sequitur I suppose, seeing that a third category of New England IPA could exist that doesn’t have a hazy appearance or a hazy mouthfeel. But this was not addressed at that time. Really I was more curious because I know there is no real, official basis for a lot of these style classifications.
I’m no advanced Cicerone but I just don’t know that someone can detect haze with his or her mouth. I felt interested to know more about the physics involved since it seems like more a visual queue than anything.
Peaches wasn’t in the mood for this discussion and I think she was having a rough night so I then digressed.
Exploring and meandering the next morning, we entered Anthology, a highlight of the Detroit coffee scene. Anthology is located in a well-hidden café, buried in the Motown outskirts of civilization, inside of Ponyride, a social and artistic missional nonprofit.
The incubator is a perfect way for people to take dream maker risks while having space to study failures and continue tweaking. Fall off the pony they may, but having Anthology on the ground floor helps to regroup under a perfectly articulated pour-over of Pink Bourbon Las Nubez – a 1984 World Series clinching three-run homer from Kirk Gibson.
We ventured down the lane to Hello Records to find the Cypress Hill Remixed & Revamped record that the man there refused to sell to me one year prior because he hadn’t yet priced it for sale. It was no longer there. Apparently what happened was that there exists a second person on this planet who actually wanted the Cypress Hill Remixed & Revamped record on vinyl, and they somehow ended up at the exact global coordinates where it existed: Hello Records. After it was priced for sale.
Expending effort digging through crates of twelve-inch vinyl bore no fruit that dateless morn, so we decided to take off. Two seconds upon exiting, in terrifying, flashing 8mm slow motion, I saw my coffee cup slip from my grasp and cascade in a luscious jet stream down to the sidewalk.
Like Goose Gossage refusing to walk Gibson in ’84, I anted up and wouldn’t allow it. We headed right back over to Anthology for another Tiger’s three-run Series clincher.
The east side, near Faygo, is quarters to Heidelberg Project. This evolving composition is a fascinating and permanent outdoor art exhibit, encapsulating multiple city blocks in McDougall-Hunt. Visionary artist Tyree Guyton sparked the project in 1986 in political protest with a mission to improve the lives of local people through this evolving piece in the neighborhood in which he grew up.
Homes splashed with color and recollections of collections, mosaics and tableaus staggering. The fact that it breathes and subsists casts a bewitching and jarring spell.
“Am I supposed to be here?”
“Is this place supposed to be here?”
“This. Is. Very. Weird.”
Regardless, it’s there and I wouldn’t hesitate to call it anything less than Tyree Guyton’s magnum opus.
Scouting about the blocks in the neighborhood gave way to all types of unusual expression. I can’t do it justice here but just to scratch a surface – we saw an entire car covered with pennies, a massive, sculptured compilation of nothing but prosthetic limbs, and forgone relics to the key of the payphone, the console television, and the archaic operating table. Dolls and records and spots of polychromatic hue, tying in surrounding vacant lots and trees to the gargantuan hodge-podge. All-encompassing, polka-dotted poetry.
To me, the centerpiece is the Dotty Wotty House, also known as The New White House.
Tyree challenges the typical and the traditional both. In an economic system ripe with corruption from the inception to the outlay, and where values have been formulated from a top-down dynamic yielding systemic disinvestment, Heidelberg Project is a signal on a hill and a lighthouse – a powerful work of art that expresses life, educates, and transforms. His work in color, shape, and found object establishes an unconventional and rare beauty and a heartbeat that moves with time. Traversing the neighborhood ocean of artifacts carefully tuned to themes and fluid notion is like nothing I have ever seen before.
Ferndale is just a fanciful treasure trove with a jewel-studded path all along 9 Mile Road. Rust Belt Market, Blue Jay Way Vintage, Secreto Cigar Bar. Found Sound is a true cathedral devoted to vinyl on that stretch, right off Woodward Corridor.
Right between downtown Ferndale and Detroit’s Avenue of Fashion lies Axle Brewing’s Livernois Taproom. The exterior hang zone is a play on urban park settings while inside the stube is a loving tribute to European bierhalls with a gallery devoted to local artists.
I partook in possibly my favorite beer styling – an offering of straight liquid gourmet bread, Vienna malt Livernois Lager, accented with a bittering Noble hop. That’s all there is to it. This Epicureanist was stocked in kinetic pleasures over transcendental perfection in a glass tulip.
All things being equal I could have downed a half-barrel of that lager alone, and I do so in my dreams. I was lucky to have serendipitously obtained the emblematic final pour of the weekend because as soon as I ordered my second round, the keg sputtered out like a ’77 Ford Pinto.
We voyaged east of the Chrysler Freeway, through the vast sea of murals and collective produce vendors and fresh breads and coffee, and galleries and open-air flowerbeds at Eastern Market, America’s oldest and largest historic public farmers market. We found Detroit Hustles Harder.
Signal-Return is a print shop, Detroit nonprofit, and community letterpress inviting individuals to submerge themselves in creative expression and craftsmanship in the old world mechanics of the printing press.
Dedicated to the preservation and the education of the traditional letterpress as well as constructing a community center for art, craft, and design popular and esoteric. A means of artistic expression and communication within an ever-evolving Detroit arts community flushed out in wood, metal and photopolymer type.
The Whiskey Factory, Detroit City Distillery’s production facility, just south of Eastern Market, used to be Goebel Brewing Company in the 1930s before it was bought by Stroh’s thirty years later. Stroh’s, already having a brewery across the street, used it to make ice cream. But from waffle cones to conical column copper kettles, the factory now creates small batch artisanal whiskey, gin, and vodka, serving spirits to revolutionaries of a great American city.
We docked at Detroit City Distillery tasting room at Eastern Market. The transition from the blinding sunlight directly in to the cavernous bar was a mystifying contrast. Once dim photons slowly faded in through filtered aperture and eyesight was restored, we discovered a venue of distinction for philosophically distilled spirits. High proof whiskeys showcasing the finest locally grown Michigan barley and corn, and experimental gin incorporating botanicals and pine, all sourced directly from local farmers. The Giostra d’Alcol – the carousel of alcohol, began to spin as we proceeded to unlock the formulas displayed before us. To make it full-circle they handed us barbeque meatloaf in a waffle cone.
Our maestro in dad jeans, to be sure – a true musician of alchemy, meticulously conducted a symphony of a cocktail called The Cortex which included Peacemaker Gin, green Chartreuse, Absinthe, lime, honey, and ginger. Then he lit a garnish of rosemary on fire with a fucking blowtorch like Robocop blazing Old Detroit Delta City crime with his nickel-plated Desert Eagle, twirling it before gracefully holstering.
Eastern Market Brewing Company, the first brewery in the area since Stroh’s, supplied us with white coffee stout while we cheers’d to the pennant-hoisting elephant mascot mural beneath reclaimed meat hooks and the adjacent industrial scale of the previously existing meatpacking tenant. Wooden community tables and furry community dogs invited us to round out our neighborhood visit.
Library Street Collective in the bustle of downtown Detroit Rock City, smack-dab between Tiger Stadium and General Motors, truly contributes to an artistic renaissance of the city’s public heritage. The collective particularizes in the presentation of contemporary art with a focus on creators who shove boundary lines of traditional media and exhibition space.
On our visit to Library Street Collective we got to witness Sheida Soleimani’s fragmented history of OPEC cartel nations and Western political powers since the 1960s. In a Detroit iteration of her exhibit called Medium of Exchange she spotlighted a correlation involving oil riches and civil rights abuses.
I drew tangent toward Heidelberg Project and the reflection of the joke of a greed-is-good free enterprise, where money and power are motivation regardless of whatever ends up lying in the dusty wake. The Four Horsemen galloping to power on the spark of the oil boom one hundred years ago are still riding high on black gold, oozing across geopolitical divide, having set the dark theatre for infinite war. Mysterious stockholders, yet obvious stakeholders.
Soleimani’s haunting matrices were in a gorgeously compelling compilation, bearing found image from field to refinery, strewn about with paraphernalia. Models of all circumference, her dramatis personae, with an array of engagements, photographed in bizarre acts of aggressive decadence and excessive display, their bodies intentionally distinct from their masks – men responsible, whose faces they were wearing.
The images of outcome were tough to decrypt. I think this idea was to mirror how we grasp elusive at fragments of static waves via news media, your conservo-christian uncle’s Facebook rant, along with the seventy-eight twisted, contradicting comments down the chain. It’s hard to look away. By the time you do, even more dark forces have cited Mister Ouija’s prayer to Standard Oil Company’s sacred scroll of retained earnings.
The Collective leads out via secret passage to a curated and conceptualized back alley known as “The Belt”. Spanning a city block between Library Street and Broadway, The Belt, so it’s been said, was previously a grimy, desolate gangway, but now a mosaic of local public art and some pretty captivating murals. Refined and redefined, Public Matter is reimagining the underutilized.
This very same hidden alleyway bears entry to The Skip, a cocktail bar with tropical vibes. Drinks wealthy in technique yet unassuming in presentation. Green Chartreuse Swizzle and Velvet Falernum. The Old Fashioned with rum sent me to vice city Miami in an open-air exotic oasis. I became Sonny Crockett on duty twenty-four/seven, sipping that blend of sous vide pineapple and spiced rum, offset by chocolate and molasses. Poolside loungin’. I don’t know about Ransom Olds, but my white Ferrari Testarossa was parked out back. Phil Collins “In the Air Tonight” was full frontal in the overhead speakers and Rico Tubbs was keeping close eye. Uzi does it.
The sister establishment next door called Standby uses both the craft and the innovation of the cocktail inter alia, to simply bring people together. Spirit-forward stirred drinks layered with texture. Still at the top with the blending of heat and weight the further journey takes you. The infatuation on my end is suave, star striking, and as cultured as fuck.
Navy blue leather drapes you in boothside in the Standby dining area, with small round tables hovering below a couple of contemporary circular paintings. Primitive warriors cascade over the hall in a mural. Via centrifuge and vacuum chambers, through a glass pony jigger I was projected to a penthouse suite, ushering in visions of breaking ties with the Big Three and creating my own auto company. Surrounded by technically complex cocktails and advanced culinary art I became Kid Notorious, John Z. DeLorean.
Chomping Bangs Island mussels with fermented kimchi, sipping my Le Freak: wheated whiskey, amaro and chocolate bitters, with cosmopolitan stainless style, I was like, “Fuck Lee Iacocca. I’m the Detroit Dream Maker with my Gran Turismo Omologato and my chin implant. Now pass me that god damn coconut calamari!”
[This piece was remixed and revamped May 2021 – on the tail end of a global pandemic. Just a few notes… Axle Brewing, sadly, was shuddered, yet is now owned by Eastern Market Brewing Co and goes by The Ferndale Project. I can’t wait to visit. Also, Anthology Coffee moved to Eastern Market. Again, looking forward to the next time I can get over there.]