Off The Beaten Party Path
Looking for something other than a synagogue social hall, hotel or restaurant to have your bar/bat mitzvah party, wedding or other simchah? Here are a few unusual venues Detroiters can recommend.
Great Lakes Culinary Center, Southfield.
Mindy and Alan Nusbaum of Farmington Hills were looking for a relatively small venue for their daughter Emily’s bat mitzvah party and heard about Great Lakes Culinary Center in Southfield.
It’s not a banquet hall, but, as the name suggests, a culinary center. Here, one can do almost anything food-related: take a class, teach a class, test kitchen equipment, grow a food business — or throw a party with some of the best food around, thanks to Chef Reva Constantine and the venue’s mega-kitchen and large adjacent event space.
“You book a date and they do everything else,” says Mindy Nusbaum. “The event manager, Erika Miller, is just fabulous. Every detail was handled for us. The food was great and it had an intimate club feeling.”
Emily’s party had a “Paris” theme and Miller arranged for some fancy French desserts. The Nusbaums got a lot of compliments from the bat mitzvah guests, two of whom later scheduled parties of their own at the center.
The main event space accommodates 180 seated or 220 strolling. There are outdoor areas that can be used in warmer months, and the center’s organic garden can help create a unique farm-to-table experience. (248) 286 3100; glculinarycenter.com.
Planterra, West Bloomfield. Rachel Wolock and Steven Kish wanted a lovely wedding, but they didn’t want to fuss about the details.
Wolock, an attorney with Dickenson-Wright, knew Planterra as the company that took care of the plants in her office. So when she saw an ad for Planterra’s West Bloomfield conservatory in a wedding magazine, she knew she had to check it out.
The company, which opened in 1973, provides interior landscape and horticultural services. With the opening of the conservatory in 2010, Planterra also became a popular event venue.
The glass-walled and glass-roofed conservatory, which looks like a botanical garden, can accommodate up to 180 guests. The space is available Sept. 1 through June 15; all the glass makes it too hot to use in the summer.
“I loved the idea of a beautiful outdoor wedding surrounded by nature, but I didn’t want to have to make alternate arrangements in case of bad weather,” said Wolock of Farmington Hills.
And their March 8, 2014, wedding date wasn’t conducive to an outdoor party.
A lot of the unusual venues Wolock may have considered were just “too much work,” she said, because many tend to be do-it-yourself in terms of catering, seating and other necessities. She loved that Planterra handled everything.
Planterra has exclusive vendors who are familiar with the facility and know how to put on a spectacular party, she said. For Jewish weddings, they can provide a flower-bedecked trellis for use as a chuppah.
Although the caterer is not kosher, Planterra was happy to bring in a strictly kosher meal for Wolock’s Orthodox sister.
“Our wedding started while it was daylight and then continued as it became dark, and because the walls and roof are all glass, the same decor looked totally different,” Wolock said. (248) 661-1515; planterra.com.
Tollgate Farm, Novi, and The Eastern (at Eastern Market), Detroit. Lynne Golodner and her husband, Dan, wanted “unique and out-of-the-box” bar and bat mitzvah celebrations that fit her children’s personalities and interests.
The children each had two bar/bat mitzvahs, one with their Orthodox father and one with the Golodners, who belong to Adat Shalom Synagogue (Conservative) but identify as “just Jewish.”
Older son Asher Schreiber’s bar mitzvah in May 2015 was led by the Adventure Rabbi’s director of education, Rabbi Evon Yakar. Adventure Rabbi is an alternative Jewish education program based in Boulder, Colo. Yakar brought a backpack Torah to read in a tent on the grounds of Michigan State University’s Tollgate Farm in Novi.
A party followed in the barn, where 125 guests enjoyed pizza, salad and Dairy Queen Blizzards made on site.
Golodner’s daughter, Eliana Schreiber, is 18 months younger than her brother. Because Orthodox bat mitzvahs are usually celebrated at age 12, the Golodners decided to do her non-Orthodox bat mitzvah at the same time, so it took place only five months after Asher’s.
After a private evening service in the chapel at Adat Shalom, the Golodners, who live in Huntington Woods, provided a bus to take guests to The Eastern, a former Detroit Fire Department firehouse just north of Eastern Market. Built in 1888 as Hook and Ladder House No. 5, it is the second-oldest standing firehouse in Detroit.
At Eliana’s request, the party had a “graffiti” theme.
“We were very low-key and budget-conscious throughout both, especially having two in one year,” said Golodner, who runs Your People LLC, a public relations company. They had a caterer for the food but it was “typical kid stuff” like soup and salad. They also had a donut bar.
The venue can hold 300 seated, 600 standing, and features handmade tables and benches, a full bar and bartender services, a security camera system and on-site parking.
MSU Tollgate Farm and Education Center, Novi, (248) 347-3860; tollgate.msu.edu. The Eastern, Detroit, (313) 914-1104; theeasterndetroit.com.
The Players, Detroit. Aaron Schwartz and his bride-to-be, Rachel Zerwekh, were checking out potential wedding venues on Belle Isle when they spotted the Players, a handsome brick-faced building nearby on East Jefferson in Detroit. The building belongs to the Players Club of Detroit, founded in 1910 by a group of prominent Detroit businessmen as a nonprofit men’s theater club.
Schwartz mentioned it to a colleague at work and learned that another employee was a member of the club.
“He sponsored me for membership and we were able to have our wedding there,” said Schwartz of Oak Park, who now works at Ghafari Associates. “It was actually cheaper to join and pay the member rental rate instead of paying the non-member rental rate.”
Designed by Player member and architect William Kapp, the historic Players’ playhouse was constructed of cinder blocks, which were revolutionary building materials in 1925. The building is both a federal and State of Michigan historic site.
The Schwartzes wed on May 3, 2010, under a chuppah knitted by Aaron’s mother, Jolene. The ceremony took place in the club’s board room after a “pre-glow” in the lobby. The party, for 150 guests, was in the main auditorium, with the stage serving as the dance floor.
“They aren’t tied to a caterer, so we actually did a lot of the food ourselves and with friends,” Schwartz said. They also brought in Good Girls Go to Paris, a now-closed restaurant, to run a crepe station.
“Their kitchen is all stainless steel, so it would be easy to kasher if someone wanted to use a kosher-certified caterer there,” Schwartz said. “It’s unique and historic; the setting feels like a castle, all cement block and tapestries and a circular staircase going up to the board room where the ceremony was held,” he added. “It’s close to Downtown and has free secured parking.” (313) 259-3385; playersdetroit.org.
The Jam Handy, Detroit. Henry Jamison “Jam” Handy (1886-1983) was an Olympic breaststroke swimmer who opened an industrial film production company in Detroit. He produced more than 7,000 films for the U.S. Army during World War II as well as thousands for local companies, including General Motors, working from a building on East Grand Boulevard, not far from GM headquarters.
Simeon Heyer, a Jam Handy fan, and his brother, Nat, bought the building in the Wayne County tax auction in 2010 without even looking inside. They spent years working on it before opening it to the public.
The space is “very raw but also quite amenable to being decorated and furnished in a wide variety of ways to give events the right mixture of industrial austerity and elegance,” said Heyer.
When Blair Nosan and Henry Frederick Wischusen III — better known as Phreddy — decided to get married last year, they knew the Jam Handy would be the perfect venue. Nosan grew up in the Detroit suburbs; Wischusen, a Georgia native, lived here for 12 years. The couple now live in New York where Nosan is studying for ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
“The Jam Handy is one of my favorite places in Detroit,” Wischusen said. He’s been to theater performances there and attended numerous communal dinners staged by Detroit Soup. He and Nosan put on a Purim spiel there last year.
About 250 guests attended the Dec. 29 ceremony and dinner, and more came for dancing later.
The couple wanted to have their chuppah outdoors despite the winter date. Mother-of-the-bride Jo-Anne Nosan arranged to bring in portable heaters, which they placed around the chuppah made from tallitot belonging to the bride and groom.
“It felt like we were walking in the desert surrounded by pillars of flame,” Wischusen said.
The building has many rooms of various sizes, so the bride and groom were each able to have a separate tisch (reception) before the chuppah. Dinner, catered by Chef Cari Kosher Catering, was in one room and the dancing was in another.
Info@thejamhandy.com; the jamhandy.com.
By Barbara Lewis, Contributing Writer