Tasting and Touring in Capitol Park

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This Capitol Park food tour lets you taste and sip your way through a revitalized Downtown.

Photos by David Duckworth

A Downtown Detroit tour with eating or eating with a Downtown Detroit tour? The first was more my impression when Linda Yellin, founder of Feet on the Street Tours, took a group of 18 to see everything happening in and around Capitol Park.

Her strolling brunch, “Come Hungry, Leave Happy,” offered on select dates through Dec. 8, takes its name from Yellin’s popular eating tour in Detroit’s Eastern Market. Her decision to create a new tour was sparked by the recent transformation of Capitol Park, once a city transit hub. The triangular-shaped public park on Griswold Street is loosely bounded by State Street, Washington Boulevard and Grand River. It’s a block west of Woodward.

Our morning started with handcrafted coffee at Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters Detroit, a large, informal hangout space in the renovated Albert Building, constructed in 1929 by architect Albert Kahn.

Most of the high-rise buildings here date from the 1900s-1920s. Their appearance today is a far cry from the not-so-distant past. During Detroit’s decline in population and abandonment of buildings, many homeless and mentally ill people congregated in Capitol Park.

“At one time, these buildings couldn’t sell, but with the city’s redevelopment, a bidding war broke out 10 years ago,” Yellin said. “Now this is one of the most expensive places to live in Detroit, and the prices just keep on going up.”

She noted monthly rents of $1,400 at the Albert and up to $5,000 at the Stott, the luxurious redo (2018) of the 1929-built David Stott art deco skyscraper.

Under auspices of Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert’s real-estate firm Bedrock Detroit, Sachse Construction is renovating most of the buildings on Woodward, turning them into offices and retail space. Downtown apartments and lofts, hotels, stores, bars and restaurants are being added at a fast clip.

“It’s exciting to see what’s happening here,” Yellin said.

It was a dry day for our 2½-hour exploration of Capitol Park and environs. A now-cleaned-up statue of Gov. Stephens T. Mason is a reminder that Capitol Park was the site of Michigan’s first state capitol, relocated to Lansing in 1847. A historic marker commemorates Finney Barn, a stop on the Underground Railroad for slaves fleeing to Canada.

Downtown Detroit Partnership provides maintenance, security and programming for Capitol Park and other spaces, including Campus Martius and Grand Circus Park. Capitol Park’s pleasant environment includes shade trees, benches, moveable red tables and chairs, and even a small dog run.

We noticed finishing touches being added to the coming outdoor Capitol Café. The owner is Eatori Market, an upscale specialty grocery store in the Malcomson Building. Coming in late summer will be Leila, a casual Lebanese restaurant in the long-vacant Farwell Building. Prime + Proper steakhouse, Griswold at State, is a notable restaurant in the Capitol Park Lofts building, built in 1912.

Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, a Conservative Jewish congregation since 1921, resides in the former Fintex men’s clothing store on Griswold at Clifford. Behind the building, IADS administrative assistant Elizabeth Kannon pointed out features of the fanciful, folk art mural that Bunnie Reiss completed in 2018. Just beyond was a glimpse of Charlie McGee’s 11-story abstract mural in black and white, on a side of the 28Grand building.

Lunch was at La Lanterna, founded in 1956. It left Detroit decades ago but returned in 2017 to the Albert Building. We shared delightful antipasto plates of cured meats, olives, tomatoes, arugula, sundried tomatoes, Parmesan and Provolone cheeses with toasted French bread. Then came tasty thin-crust Margarita pizza from their brick oven.

Passing by two eateries on Grand River, we learned that Iggy’s Eggies serves hot breakfasts weekdays at a walk-up window; lunchtime is next door at Lovers Only, a hamburger restaurant.

Crossing Woodward, Yellin spoke about the construction taking place on the site of the former Hudson’s department store. Bedrock is getting a five-story glass atrium with public access and a tower, standing taller than the Detroit Renaissance Center, for residences and businesses.

“The plan is to build a tower so iconic, people will say: ‘This is Detroit,’” Yellin said.

We entered Shinola, a boutique hotel on Woodward that includes Italian restaurant San Morello and Evening Bar. The comfortable lobby, called “The Living Room,” is open to the public for food, drinks and relaxing. Artist Nick Cave’s dramatic wall hanging is the room’s focal point.

A fun stop was The Belt, an art-filled alley by the Z parking deck on Library Street.
On Shinola’s Farmer Street side, we took note of the Brakeman beer hall, and a fried chicken carryout, Penny Red’s Buckets and Biscuits.

Intersecting Farmer on John R, the Element by Westin is a “green,” environmentally friendly hotel that opened in January. It required a $30-million renovation of the Metropolitan Building, a former jewelry emporium. At 40 years, the Metropolitan was the longest-vacant building in Detroit.

The hotel’s Monarch Club, a chill craft cocktail lounge with a small plates menu, opened recently. Strong, Prohibition-style cocktails are a signature. Executive Chef Jared Bobkin was a finalist on Hell’s Kitchen, while Mike Eisenberg, food and beverage director, came from Gray Ghost in Detroit.

 

The Monarch Club includes indoor and outdoor space, including three terraces, on the 13th floor. Only 150 may enter at a time to preserve intimacy.

Dining in Capitol Park, our moderately spicy chicken satay came from Go! Sy Thai on Griswold. We then watched an outdoor yoga class.

A spectacular finish to the day was sampling chocolate eclairs and soft-centered, almond croissants at Cannelle Coffee & Pastries on West Grand River. The French patisserie opened in February, and owner Matt Knio operates another in Birmingham.

Future Food Tours
“Come Hungry, Leave Happy” in Capitol Park will run 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays, Sept. 15 and 22; Oct. 13; Nov. 10 and Dec. 8, and Wednesday, Sept. 11. Tickets are $31, and tours continue rain or shine. For information about public and private tours, visit
enjoythed.com.

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