Rolling on the Riverfront
Determined to not spend another evening eating frozen pizzas and
watching the latest B-list celebrity match-up on TV, my fiancé and I –
two 20-somethings cohabiting in a condo on Detroit’s ever-changing East
Riverfront – throw our predictable nightly routines to the wind and go
looking for some midweek decompression, Rivertown-style.
Our Wednesday night out begins with a drive down Jefferson – the East
Riverfront’s Woodward Avenue, per se. We pass a 24-hour CVS at Walker,
a place we frequent often for odds
and ends, then Rivertown Bagel and Deli,
a favorite morning coffee stop of ours located just east of McDougall.
Signs of redevelopment abound in the Rivertown neighborhood,
sometimes referred to as the warehouse district. A Staples store will
soon occupy the long-abandoned field at the southeast corner of Joseph
Campau and Jefferson where we make a left turn, and ex-Piston Dave Bing
and hometown hero Jerome Bettis are set to begin work on two separate
mixed-use projects near Chene Park. And, at year’s end, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy
expects that 75 percent of the eastern portion of the RiverWalk will be completed, along with two of the pathway’s plazas.
exciting to think about the riverfront’s potential, but don't overlook
what’s still there — a collection of great bars and restaurants still
line streets like Atwater and Jos. Campau — places that still hum, even
on a weeknight.Brews at Atwater
Our first stop: Atwater Block Brewery
No Rivertown evening would be complete without a moment at this mammoth
restaurant/pub, known for its in-house beers and casual atmosphere.
We’re both dressed in workday-wear – suits – but nobody seems to care.
It’s a Wednesday night so the place isn’t packed, but it’s hardly
empty: two separate groups of a half-dozen or so each sit crowded
around the restaurant’s light-wood tables, and a couple sipping
half-full glasses of dark-colored brews are cozied-up at a four-top a
few feet away. There’s some open space about 15 feet away from three
loners perched at the bar, so we pull up two stools there.
spontaneous tonight, we abandon our normal drinks of choice – wine for
me and either a dirty martini or Manhattan for him – and aim to expand
our knowledge and taste of all things beer. When we can’t decide on
one, we choose them all – which in Atwater-country is the sampler. In
minutes, bartender Hailie assembles nine shot glasses in front of us
and we’re guzzling them down, worries melting away. In our typical
opposite fashion, I prefer the Atwater Pilsner, the lightest of the
bunch, while my companion’s numero uno is the Winterbock.
“Just be careful of that one,” Hailie says in reference to the
Winterbock, a full-bodied lager with 7 percent alcohol by volume.
“Sometimes people don’t realize just how strong it is.”
noted, we grab a menu and peruse the appetizer section for a little
something to tide us over. Personally, I’m for more normal
beer-drinking accompaniments like chips and salsa or beer-battered
chicken strips but my fiancé, always the more daring of this duo, eyes
the Mussels from Hell – mollusks soaked in beer and infused with
Habernero peppers – and the Brewer’s Platter, a hearty pre-meal dish of
lager-marinated, grilled sausage and sauerkraut. We compromise and
order a soft-baked pretzel with two dipping sauces: spicy mustard for
him and marinara for me.
Finishing off our beer sampler
and bits of freshly-baked dough, Hailie mentions that Atwater’s
management has changed; she’s happy the venue abandoned the Stoney
Creek moniker in favor of its original name. When she mentions Atwater
has live music on Friday and Saturday nights, I make a mental note and
plan for us to have dinner here sometime in the next few weeks. My
other half suggests making it a Monday since mugs are a $1.50 all day,
and I agree. We pay our check and head out, stomachs rumbling, for the
next leg of our East Riverfront evening. Dinner and a song
in the Franklin Street building in Rivertown, Magnolia could easily
double as part of the set of “Moulin Rouge.” The entrance, a
tiled-marble fountain with a beautiful cascading silk curtain overhead,
is a sight unto itself, and the reason we’re here tonight. We noticed
it last week when we drove by. As we enter and are shown to a spacious
leather booth near the restaurant’s eastern wall, we discover the New
Orleans-style ambiance permeates its entirety. A collection of fabrics,
textures and jewel-toned colors – purples, greens and gold – soon have
me humming “Lady Marmalade” in my head.
I choose the
salmon, fried okra and rice. For him, it’s the pork chops – one
grilled, one fried – and sides of mashed potatoes and green beans.
Other menu items at this moderately-priced supper club, $10 - $25
entrees with two sides, include entrées such as buttermilk-battered
catfish, Chicken Voodoo and meatloaf and sides like Cajun fries,
collard greens and macaroni and cheese. Everything is spectacular,
including the cornbread and homemade preserves served before the meal;
we enjoyed the fried okra so much that we ordered another helping.
The cigar lounge upstairs is only open Thursday through
Sunday, so we take a peak around the rest of the second floor, a large
banquet-style room used primarily for private parties and open poetry
nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Heading back down to our table, we
shrug off an after-dinner drink since we both have to work tomorrow and
set out for the third leg of our evening. Dessert fit for royalty
by the ambiance and delicious food at Magnolia, we mosey back down
bumpy-old Atwater Street toward bar-laden Joseph Campau, hang a right,
and then another into the parking lot across from 300 Riverplace, part
of the 25-acre mixed use Stroh River Place
In the dark cold night we jog from the parking lot to the lighted entrance of the Rattlesnake Club
a short journey highlighted by the sound of the howling wind and a
nearby flag methodically slapping against a pole. During the late
spring and summer months, the outside terrace is alive and vibrant –
chatter about the day’s happenings and clinking wine glasses intermix
with seagull squawks and the humming of speed boats zipping by. This is
especially true from Thursday through Saturday, when the restaurant
hosts its famed weekend wine dinners – five-course meals paired with
the Rattlesnake’s award-winning wines.
Schmidt’s fine-dining masterpiece on the Detroit River, we’re treated
like royalty – or what we expect royalty is treated like. Our heavy
wool overcoats are guided off our tired shoulders and whisked off as we
follow the maitre d’ to our table, a cozy spot near a window-laden
The décor, contemporary without too much flair,
fits the upscale nature of the Rattlesnake Club to a tee. Sitting near
a bunch of windows in January, we start our final leg of tonight’s meal
with a pot of coffee – Cadillac, a brand that’s been around the Detroit
area since 1888 – and dunk the airy, melt-in-your-mouth ginger meringue
cookies into it like a couple of school kids.
enjoying our cookies and premium Joe, our desserts arrive: two distinct
mouthwatering creations that are both well-worth their $9 prices. The
Many Berry Martini, a concoction of juicy strawberries and raspberries
atop a scoop of homemade white chocolate ice cream and garnished with
chocolate ravioli is sinfully good, as is our other choice, a
fist-sized helping of stacked Granny Smith apple slices topped with a
boatload of caramelized brown sugar.
We summon our waiter
for another helping of dessert – we would be fools to pass up a bowl of
sorbet, which head waiter Jeff tells us is imported from The Amazon –
when our plan is cut short; it’s late and the restaurant is closing.
Reluctantly, we scrape our dishes clean, find our coats and make our
way to the door. Looks like we’ll have to try that sorbet some other
Jamie Halaas also writes for her blog, Girl In The D
Magnolia Cafe BarChene Park from a now leveled cement siloAtwater BreweryRattlesnake Club's outside deck
All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger