Monday, November 10, 2014

DETROIT, MICHIGAN: THE LOWDOWN ON MOTOWN



BY JANET STEINBERG
                
Like a ball that’s been slammed to the ground, Detroit has been slammed to the ground.  But like a ball, Detroit is bouncing back. Truly America’s “Comeback City”, Detroit has hit a home run with me. Detroit’s downtown occupancy rate is now at 98% and there is a waiting list for downtown living.  The Detroit Riverfront placed number 9 in the “10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards for Best American Riverfront”.

DETROIT’S RIVERFRONT VOTED ONE OF AMERICA’S TOP TEN

Among the many nicknames of this largest city on the U.S.-Canada border, my choice is “Motown” because of its musical legacies.  A recent trip to Motown gave me a first-hand look at many facets of this resurging city. Please allow me to show you the good time that awaits you in Motown.  However, first things first…where to stay.

I love old ladies…not only the kind with wrinkled faces and lilac hair, but also the historical icons that qualify as Grande Dames. Almost every big city has one and in Michigan’s most populous city, that regal lady is the 1924 Westin Book Cadillac Detroit.  This stunning lady, affectionately dubbed “The Book” is a landmark hotel that reflects the resurgence of downtown Detroit.


WELCOME AMENITY AT THE WESTIN BOOK CADILLAC DETROIT HOTEL

The historic 1924 Book Cadillac Detroit Hotel has been restored to its original grandeur.  This luxury landmark has returned its legendary style and splendor to downtown Detroit.  Built by Detroit’s famous Book Brothers, this Italian Renaissance-style hotel, with sweeping views of the city skyline or the Detroit River, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

At the 1924 Grand Opening, The Book was the tallest hotel in the world.  During the celebration, there was an endless flow of champagne.  Now the hotel’s 24grille has brought Detroit its first Champagne Bar.  After checking into the hotel, a champagne toast was definitely in order since we had arrived on our 26th wedding anniversary. A glorious pre-dinner massage at the hotel’s Spa 19, refreshed, relaxed, and readied me for a celebratory evening.  We could think of no better place to have our anniversary dinner than at the hotel’s award-winning restaurant Roast, a contemporary, uncluttered, and sophisticated dining establishment.


AN ANNIVERSARY TOAST AT ROAST


Celebrity Chef Michael Symon’s focus is on meat…what the restaurant terms the “Beast of the Day”.  On our evening at Roast, the “beast’ was a goat that roasted slowly on a spinning rotisserie. An open kitchen was adjacent to the rotisserie.


AWARD-WINNING CHEF MICHAEL SYMON’S OPEN KITCHEN AND ROTISSERIE
The following day, it was time to begin experiencing the Motown magic.  Motown is the great Detroit story…an American phenomenon.  What better place to start than at the Motown Museum that preserves the history and legacy of Motown?

Esther Gordy Edwards, sister of Berry Gordy who founded Motown Records in 1959, founded the Motown Museum in 1985. The Museum opened in the Hitsville U.S.A. building, “the little house that ROCKED the world".  In 1987 it was declared a Historic Site by the State of Michigan.  In 1995, a gallery was added and the early Motown offices, plus an upper flat in which a young Berry Gordy and his family lived, were restored.

HITSVILLE USA, “THE LITTLE HOUSE THAT ‘ROCKED’ THE WORLD"

Almost six decades after the founding of Motown Records, I was in awe as I found myself experiencing the actual place where the Motown Sound was created. Standing in Studio A, in the footsteps of Motown Stars like Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and the Jackson Five, I viewed the original 1877 Steinway grand piano.  When Paul McCartney visited the studio, the piano was so out of tune that he paid to have it restored. Only the original finish was retained.  Also, in the museum is Michael Jackson’s crystal glove and his black fedora with his name inscribed in gold on the hat’s sweatband.



Broadway comes to Detroit in the Fisher Theatre.  The Fisher Theatre opened as a movie and vaudeville house on November 11, 1928.  Its tacky d├ęcor, that once included banana trees, a goldfish pond and wandering macaws that audience members fed by hand, is now adorned with marble, Indian rosewood and walnut paneling, and crystal and bronze decorative work.


EXQUISITE CEILING IN THE FISHER THEATRE

As luck would have it, the Broadway hit “Motown the Musical” was playing at the Fisher when I was in Detroit.  “Motown the Musical”, is the “celebration of music that transformed America”.  It began as one man's story… became everyone's music… and changed our culture forever.  It is the American dream personified…the story of Motown founder Berry Gordy, a featherweight boxer who became a heavyweight music champion.  What better place to see “Motown the Musical” than in Motown itself?

The United Sound Systems Recording Studios (USSRS) is more than just a Recording Studio – it is an institution that birthed a musical legacy.  USSRS was the first independent and full service major recording studio in the nation that gave artists, musicians, writers, and producers the ability to record music, cut the record, and get airplay without being signed to a major label.

The Detroit Fox Theatre is one of five spectacular Fox Theatres built in the late 1920s by film pioneer William Fox.  Opened in 1928, it was Detroit's premier movie destination for decades.  In the 1930s, Shirley Temple made appearances when the theater showed her films. Decades later, after a 1988 restoration, the theatre staged notable performances such as a concert with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Liza Minnelli.

Another resurging downtown venue, not for music or theater but for connecting people, is the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue.  Currently housed in a former department store, bright red doors with Star of David door handles open to welcome all people to share and learn from one another.


THE HIP DOWNTOWN SYNAGOGUE IS ANOTHER SIGN OF DOWNTOWN DETROIT’S RENAISSANCE

Don’t leave Detroit without trying a few more unique dining/entertainment spots.

Top of the Pontch, on the 25th floor of the Crowne Plaza (formerly the historic Pontchartrain Hotel), offers spectacular views of the Detroit River and Windsor, Canada.  Along with the view is a menu of locally sourced food that is artfully prepared.  However, I must admit, the divine Dover Sole is actually from Dover, England. 

VIEW WINDSOR, CANADA FROM THE TOP OF THE PONTCH RESTAURANT


Bert’s, in the Eastern Market District, is a fun spot.  If Motown has already crept into your soul, you can opt for authentic soul food.  For the less adventurous, there is down-to-earth comfort food like meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  In any case, it’s “food for your soul…”
You might ask: ‘What was the secret of the Motown sound?’  The answer is not that it was the music.  The answer is that it was a feeling.  
 
Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, operating since May 1934, is the world’s oldest operating Jazz Club.  Many famous musicians, such as Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, George Shearing, and Cab Calloway have performed at Baker’s.  And the food is down-home Motown.  Believe it or not, I loved my short ribs, collard greens, and mac ‘n cheese.   All this, plus a keyboard-shaped bar, and the Motown sound belted out by a shimmering Audrey Branham-Northington and legendary saxophonist Allan Barnes, one of the original Blackbyrds.

AUDREY BRANHAM-NORTHINGTON BELTS OUT THE MOTOWN SOUND


You might ask: ‘What was the secret of the Motown sound?’  The answer is not that it was the music.  The answer is that it was a feeling.  


LEGENDARY SAXOPHONIST ALLAN BARNES, AN ORIGINAL BLACKBYRD, EXUDES THE MOTOWN FEELING  
A visit to Detroit, Michigan will also give you that feeling!

  JANET STEINBERG is the winner of 40 travel writing awards and a Travel Consultant with The Travel Authority in Mariemont, Ohio.


 

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