Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Epic Comic Showcase Comes To Royal Oak

By John Horn

The fourth annual Garden Fresh Laugh Detroit Comedy Festival is coming to Royal Oak, and is bringing with it some big-time comedic names in the form of David Alan Grier, Bob Saget and Lynne Koplitz, as well as showcasing a crop of rising stand-up talent.

Stretched out over four days, Laugh Detroit kicks off Sunday, 3/27 with a live performance by Detroit native and comedy legend, David Alan Grier. The Cass Tech High and U-M graduate became a household name on the ground-breaking TV comedy In Living Color, and has never looked back.

His show will start Laugh Detroit 3/27 at the Royal Oak Music Theater. After that, the festival shifts to Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle, where national and local comedians will be showcased all week long. Koplitz co-headlines with performances 3/31 through 4/2. Laugh Detroit concludes 4/2 at the Royal Oak Music Theater with a live performance by Bob Saget.

Grier’s career has taken him from the staggeringly hilarious characters he created on In Living Color to feature films, programs on Comedy Central and his book, “Barack Like Me,” released in 2009. He grew up in Detroit and still has family ties in the area, where he makes his way back a couple of times a year.

Grier wastes no time in painting a picture of what visitors to Laugh Detroit can expect.

“They are going to come out changed. We are going to save lives,” he says, chuckling. “No, we are going to bring it strong. The best compliment I get from fans around the country is when they say ‘I came here, I laughed, I cried, I had a wonderful time.’ It’s going to be a really great evening of comedy.

“There is nothing worse than boredom, being distracted during a show, when someone in the audience is asking ‘Why am I here?'”

Why will you be there? You’ll be there to not only drink in Grier’s distinct wit and uncanny ability to be funny, but to check out some of the most promising stand-up talent not only in our region, but nationwide.

Beginning Monday, 3/28, the Comedy Castle will host three nights of performances, each one hosted by nationally known comedians, including Auggie Smith, the duo of Brian McKim and Traci Skene, and Karen Rontkowski. Each night through Wednesday, 10 different comics will be featured live on stage. The showcase wraps up Thursday, 3/31 with Koplitz.

Saget closes out Laugh Detroit completely with his 4/2 show at the Royal Oak           Music Theater.

Thirty-plus comics in a four-day span, including some serious up-and-comers, makes for quite the showcase. For Grier, it’s an opportunity not only for the comics to make an impression and a name for themselves, but for the industry to get some new blood.

“These showcases are very important,” Grier says. “For 10-12 years, the same people were headlining every club I went to. You have to nurture new talent, or you’re going to get me and Carrot Top until we are 100 years old. There has been a shift of young comedians coming up. The industry has to grow that next generation.”

And the industry, at least on Royal Oak’s end of things, is working tirelessly to cultivate a growing generation of comedians. Mark Ridley has owned the Comedy Castle since 1979, with guys like Tim Allen and Dave Coulier getting their starts on the open mic nights there. Ridley’s operation has evolved into the household name in metro Detroit that is synonymous with quality, live, stand-up.

Laugh Detroit is now in its fourth year and for Ridley, his designs on the festival and showcase seem to have no limits. The event, for him, sends a clear message.

“It shows we are serious about comedy,” Ridley says. “Last year, it was Lewis Black and Kathleen Madigan. If we can continue to draw big names, it will help us grow, especially working with local businesses and charities. Down the road, we would like to make it a stand-up comedy and comedy film festival.”

Ridley points to cities like Montreal (its comedy festival is now in its 25th year) and Boston as models he hopes Laugh Detroit emulates.

“Being that Detroit is a fairly new festival, we hope to push it to more prominence,” he says.

For the New York-based Koplitz (she’s moving back to L.A. after her show, Joan Knows Best, with Joan and Melissa Rivers, was picked up for a second season by WE tv), festivals like Laugh Detroit are critical opportunities for rising comics to establish themselves. Like any career endeavor, especially in entertainment, gaining experience and paying your dues is essential to survival.

“It just adds to your credibility in the business,” Koplitz says. “Festivals, doing the road, it’s part of the dues you pay to earn your stripes. Industry people are around at these festivals and they tend to take a look at it. Any time you can be included in something like it is good.”

Koplitz has been performing in Detroit and Michigan consistently for the last couple of years and absolutely gushed at the amount of comedic talent in metro Detroit. Like the region in general, she pointed out that the rest of the country hasn’t yet caught up with the talent pool in metro Detroit. To hear her tell it, it probably won’t be long before they do.

“I know a lot of comedy comes out of places like Chicago and Boston, but there are a lot of funny people in Michigan. I don’t know why people don’t look at Michigan and Detroit more, but there are a lot of funny guys in Michigan.

“What I think is cool about Michigan is that, no offense, Detroit got hit pretty hard with the depression. But the funniest shit comes out of people when they are going through hard times. That’s why Michigan comics have been so hilarious over the last couple of years. I do love you guys. The people are kind, the area is beautiful and you’re all straight shooters. I don’t think anyone understands the Midwest but you guys.”

Published originally by Real Detroit Weekly Magazine






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Motown Winter Blast 2011

Heating up downtown Detroit


By John Q. Horn

The Motown Winter Blast started as a downtown backdrop to Super Bowl XL in 2006. In the last 5 years, it has taken on a life of its own, gradually evolving into a seasonally iconic weekend that has become emblematic of downtown’s versatility and growth.

From 2/11-2/13, Campus Martius and the surrounding area become an epicenter of winter-based, outdoor fun,  irrespective of your demographic. For three days, metro Detroiters converge on downtown Detroit for the huge snow slide, great live music, wonderful food from area restaurants and a general sense of winter mirth that helps warm these cold days and nights.

Families live it up during the day and early evening with free ice skating at the Campus Martius rink, ice sculptures and a kids stage; adults young and old have plenty of options during the night, including three live music stages, after parties, bar crawls and more.

It is a something-for-everyone environment. A huge caveat for Winter Blast 2011 is the 11th-hour sponsorship that came in from officials with the Ambassador Bridge, who this year have sponsored the 200-foot-long, 32-foot-high natural snow slide that has been a big draw at past events. But for organizers, the reality is that Winter Blast 2011 will bring tens of thousands of visitors to downtown Detroit, and what attendees do while they’re there could have a positive effect on the city.

“The slide gives us such a lift but what’s interesting is that it’s not just having the slide,” says Jonathan Witz, executive producer. “It’s a great contribution to us, because it is expected to lift attendance. The more people we have downtown, the more money that is being spent on local businesses.”

Witz illustrated a ripple effect of what happens when people visit Winter Blast. They come for the activities and the fun, but they hopefully use it as a gateway to experience nightlife, dining and other activities in the city, outside of Winter Blast.

“There is a lot of adult-oriented entertainment with the music lineup, the after-party at the Greektown Casino, the Bar Blast, DJs from Movement; we have really put together an evening of entertainment,” Witz says. “We have set up the downtown so that our events go until 11 p.m. We have really opened the door for people to visit other Detroit spots after Winter Blast.”

Three music stages — sponsored by the Michigan Lottery, Flagstar Bank and Meijer, respectively — will showcase a variety of genres ranging from rock, funk and soul, to blues, pop, acoustic and more. Expected to play throughout the weekend are The Muggs, Black Irish, DJs from Movement, The Reefermen, Jill Jack and Stewart Francke, among many others.

Winter Blast 2011 offers a lot more than just great live music, though. Events throughout the weekend range from navigating the giant snow slide, to ice skating and snow-shoeing demonstrations, to dog-sledding, marshmallow roasting and so much more. For Witz, it’s not about how much activity organizers can pack into a weekend; rather, the real payback for him is the view while it’s all going on.

“The support of the snow slide has allowed us to have snow-makers to make snow for snowshoeing and to bring back dog sledding for the first time in three years,” he says. “With the backdrop of the city, you get to watch people putting on snowshoes like they’re at a resort about to hit the trails. This is what Michigan winter is like. There is a little bit of tourism promoted as well.

“It really is a neat mix,” he added. “The great thing about Winter Blast is watching people flow through it all. People are roasting marshmallows or going to catch a live band. It’s a pace that is both fast and slow.”

All of that activity will assuredly work up an appetite. The General Motors Foundation Taste of Detroit will feature 15 participants from all points on Detroit’s culinary landscape.

Restaurants in Taste of Detroit include the rich, European-inspired fare from Cuisine in Greektown; unrivaled barbecue goodness from Lockhart’s in Royal Oak; fresh fish, steaks and chops from Detroit Seafood Market; authentic Middle Eastern dishes from La Marsa; Greek fare from Greektown Taverna; Polish food from Kola’s Food Factory in Riverview; and many more.

Comfort Zones will be established throughout Campus Martius, with heated tents and warming stations no more than 150 feet apart. Visitors to Motown Winter Blast can pop in to warm up, while at the same time enjoying live music or any of the many other acitivities going on throughout the weekend. It’s cold. Go warm up outside.

Published originally in Real Detroit Weekly Magazine

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Haunted In The House

Detroit Opera House artfully showcases the spooky

By John Horn

The Detroit Opera House isn’t exactly a scary place; quite the contrary, actually. But come 10/30, the landscape inside all of that regal architecture gets decidedly spooky for one of the most distinct parties of the season.

The lights change, the cobwebs appear, the smoke filters in and patrons, dressed to their Halloween nines, will thrill to what organizers hope is an epic Halloween bash amid the stunning and captivating backdrop that is the Opera House.

Haunted in The House at the DOH takes the Halloween-themed party to slightly classier heights but does so without being pretentious. The venue itself is breathtaking. Why? Because it’s an opera house, that’s why. The architecture and detail in this Detroit gem create a visage that can render visitors —  those of both the first- and long-time variety — agape at the mouth, rubbery at the neck and silent in the voice.

Take that foundation, dress it up for Halloween, pack it with costumed revelers, and you have the trappings of an event that defies what we’ve come to expect in the season’s parties.

“The main reason why we made this is because we looked around and saw that there really wasn’t a cool, high-end event that was out there,” says co-organizer Sean Harrington. “There were a couple of events, but they didn’t have the cache of, say, the Opera House.”

Readying for Haunted in The House is quite the transformation, Harrington says. The big chandelier comes down and is draped with material. Smoke machines, spider webs, creepy lighting and lasers also add spooky elements to the revered venue.

“When you get in there and see what we do, it’s really kind of cool,” Harrington says. “It’s straight out of Scooby-Doo.”

What’s also very cool is that proceeds from Haunted in The House benefit the funding-strapped Opera House. Thus, your enjoyment is two-fold. Dress up hard and throw down in arguably one of the finest architectural gems in the city and, at the same time, help sustain that very building and the cultural greatness generated between its walls.

“You can do something good and support culture in Detroit,” Harrington says. “I’m not sure how many people appreciate the Opera House. Whether you are into operas or not into operas, it is a chance to experience this cultural icon.

“While we do not have a million-person population and the state itself is on hard times, we actually have an opera house,” says Harrington, “which is mind-blowing when you look at other cities.”

The first event was held in 2009 and came about as a way for the community to become part of the Opera House. Last year’s success led to a repeat engagement.

“After the astounding success of our first year, we’ve decided to bring it back and make it even bigger,” says Michigan Opera Theater Director of Development, Mary Parkhill.

Also blowing minds will be the lineup for the evening. Forget for a moment that you are throwing much-needed support to the Opera House, or that you are basically trick-or-treating with cocktails and snacks in a historic former movie palace built in 1922. Party people can enjoy two floors of costumed festivities while enjoying the work of Detroit Circus. DJ Tom T will spin. Specialty drinks at the cash bar will be plentiful, as will candy treats. Midnight snacks come courtesy of Sander’s Fine Chocolatiers, Tubby’s Southgate and Zumba Mexican Grille.

Cash prizes will be awarded for best costumes, with judging and awards at midnight. Harrington adds that the witching hour will hold a special, secret surprise, but he remains tight-lipped on specifics.

The Opera House’s stage and main seating area are closed off for the party, leaving people to mingle throughout the rest of the house, namely the main and upper floor spaces between Broadway and Madison. Harrington says this lends itself to a more inviting party dynamic.

“It compacts and keeps everyone together,” he says. “You can stand by the railings and check out the costumes. This way it really does keep everyone jammed together, being out in a true social event.”



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The restaurant bar as charming as its food

By John Horn

It has earned a stellar reputation as a foodie’s paradise, with a menu devoted to upscale yet unpretentious comfort food. But the bar inside of Town Tavern in downtown Royal Oak is as charming and relaxing as the dining experience on the other side of the room.

Centered with a long, marble slate bar and slightly isolated from the rest of the dining room, Town Tavern’s bar is a testimony to proper drinking. However, if you’re looking for multiple taps and draft beer, you’ll notice something different here.

When the Italian restaurant Lepanto closed and Town Tavern opened in its space, owner Bill Roberts said they discovered something unusual.

“There was no draft beer system in there,” he says. “We felt wine was going to be our thing and because we have all bottled beer, it enables us to have a neat assortment of Michigan microbrews.”

Trust us, you’re not going to miss the kegs. Not when you have your pick of nearly 50 domestic, import and Michigan beers. The Michigan microbrew lineup is outstanding, with a strong representation of some of the best breweries in the state.  From Short’s to Michigan Brewing Company to Dragonmead, Founders, Bell’s, Axl, Arbor Brewing Co. and more, your whistle shall remain properly whetted at the Town Tavern.

Settle in for a cold Keewanaw Widow Maker Black Ale from the Upper Peninsula or maybe a Dark Horse Amber Ale from the fine folks over in Marshall, Mich. You win, and you support state business as well.

“We have a good dozen or so by the bottle,” Roberts says. “That’s an area that is growing, in the city and in the state. It’s great. It keeps the money local.”

Not in the mood for beer? How about any number of their custom martinis, or perhaps a Tavern Lemonade, made with Effen Black Cherry vodka, cranberry and Rose’s Lime? The single-malt Scotch menu will make you do a quiet flip. That lineup includes everything from Johnnie Walker Blue to MacCallan 12-year to the Glenlivet, both 12- and 21-year.

Town Tavern’s wine list offers more than 50 varieties, and includes everything from fresh, summer-y white wines to rich malbecs and pinot noirs.

A special bar menu also puts some excellent small plates in front of you, including jumbo lump crab cakes, short rib tacos, parmesan truffle fries and Buffalo shrimp, to name a few.

It is a classic, understated bar with a very relaxed crowd amid a couple of well-placed plasma TVs. Some bar patrons are waiting for a table; others are there simply for the rich drinking experience. Either way, you’ll never leave disappointed.

116 W. Fourth Street, Royal Oak



This article previously ran in Real Detroit Weekly Magazine

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This article previously ran in Real Detroit Weekly Magazine

Your comfort zone just got wider

By John Horn

Ever walk in to a bar and get the stink eye from its patrons? Or maybe an unpleasant response (if any) from the bartender? Yeah, that’s not going to happen at the Belmont Bar in Hamtramck. Far from it, actually.

Rest assured that after a few minutes, you’re going to be as comfortable in that bar as if it were your own living room.

Co-owner Darren Grow said that entire phenomenon is by design. If the Belmont is anything, it’s comfortable and unpretentious.

“It starts with myself, my partner and the staff in that we are sociable and that we like to make people comfortable,” Grow says. “You can come in and it seems that regardless of what’s going on, after five minutes, you’re going to be pretty comfortable.”

And why wouldn’t you? It’s a neighborhood bar filled with regulars but isn’t exactly clique-y. Grow, co-owner Mark Hausner, and bartenders Chris Tait, Laura Gregory and Heatherley Howard make sure there’s no funny vibe in the Belmont. Instead, they focus on behaving like real people in a real bar, and not pull some fake bullshit trip on you.

Weekends at the Belmont showcase live music on Fridays and Saturdays, with a consistency of mainly rock and punk, in that order. Grow adds that they also see a little metal, a limited amount of hip-hop, folk, funk and even a bit of jazz. For the most part, though, expect a steady diet of rock, garage rock and other iterations of that timeless genre.

If the steady diet of amplified goodness isn’t enough for you, plenty of bar diversions abound at the Belmont, including displays of artwork for sale by local creatives, a pool table, video bowling machine and the always-exalted Mega-Touch.

Drink-wise, the Belmont is assuredly a shot-and-beer type of bar, emblematic of most blue-collar neighborhoods. Grow said that while they sell a lot of PBR and shots of Jameson and Jagermeister, arguably their signature drink is the very icon of most Hamtramck bars: blackberry brandy.

“It’s a staple,” Grow says. “If you walk into a Hamtramck bar and they don’t have that chilled and ready to go, something is wrong.”

You know what’s entirely right? Sunday nights at the Belmont, that’s what. Got the Sunday blues, do you? Dreading that Monday morning? Come, take your mind off all of it on Sunday nights as Tait rolls out his signature Bacon Bloody Marys. Yes, you read that correctly. Bacon.

Grow wouldn’t divulge the entire recipe, but he did mention that the bacon is fried up and blended in with certain seasonings.

“That has become a very big hit,” Grow says.


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This article previously ran in Real Detroit Weekly Magazine

Forefathers of the Detroit St. Patrick’s Day Party

By John Horn

When the St. Patrick’s Day Parade (3/13) and St. Patrick’s Day itself (3/17) rolls around, if you’re not immersed in the reverie along Michigan Avenue, you better have plans to hit one the biggest, most legendary St. Patty’s Day parties around.

Arguably one of the most recognizable Irish bars in the Detroit, the Old Shillelagh set the bar — or, in this case, the short, heavy wooden club — years ago and continues to be one of the true gems on St. Patrick’s Day. And now, for the first time, that same epic party vibe that is the epicenter of every 3/17, can now be experienced on Parade Day as well.

“We are opening our tents this year for the first time on parade Sunday,” says manager Shellie Lewis. “We will be running our shuttle bus to the parade route, before and after the parade, all day and all night. ”

Party people are going to have their hands full (we’re pretty confident you can handle it) with the bevy of St. Pat’s Day/Parade day-related activity the Old Shillelagh is providing. First, the Saturday prior to 3/17 (that would be 3/12, the day before the parade on Michigan Ave.), the Old Shillelagh hosts a warmup party called St. Practice Day. You won’t sound like Allen Iverson eschewing this type of practice. No, you’ll be throwing down some Guinness in Greektown.

They roll out the tents and live entertainment starts upstairs at 2 p.m. on St. Practice Day. The tents open at 8 p.m., with live Irish music and DJs all night.

Hit reset the next for the 53rd annual Detroit St. Patrick’s Day Parade, where you can party in the Shillelagh’s tent all Sunday.

And after that, four days later, the biggest Irish holiday of them all gets down on 3/17. The Shillelagh’s St. Pat’s party leaves guests wanting for nothing. And Shellie sets everything clear right up front about this legendary party.

“There is no green beer,” she says. “Guinness, car bombs, Smithwyck’s, Harp and lots of Jameson,” she says, reeling off the official breakfast of party people everywhere.

And speaking of breakfast, the Old Shillelagh serves it all morning on 3/17. Keep yourself nourished throughout the rest of the day (oh, there’s really no reason to leave) with their authentic corned beef sandwiches and juicy cheeseburgers.

They open at 7 a.m. and get full pretty quickly. The tents open at 8 a.m. And you should probably know something about those tents. The Old Shillelagh was the first Detroit bar to implement the outdoor tent for St. Patrick’s Day, doing so 20 years ago. They did it for five years before anyone else followed suit.

And from within those tents, you’ll hear the fantastic Irish music of Billy Dixon, as well as other traditional music and some top 40 stuff mixed in.

Approximately 5,000-6,000 people come through the Old Shillelagh’s door on 3/17, and you can expect a hearty, fun crowd on the days leading up to St. Patrick’s Day as well, including parade day.

That’s a lot of great party-hosting. For Shellie, though her take on it all is rooted in such sublime simplicity, it’s nearly poetic.

“We just throw parties,” she says. “That’s what we do; huge parties in our bar.”

And for that, you should thank them.


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This article previously ran in Real Detroit Weekly Magazine

The definitive neighborhood bar

By John Horn

If you like snotty, clique-y, unfriendly bar crowds and the pretentious nonsense that comes with them, then you’ll probably hate the Corktown Tavern.

Now that we’ve established that you’re (somewhat) well-adjusted and prefer your bar crowds to be composed of real, like-minded individuals with the same agenda (catch a buzz; have a good time), then you probably already know about Corktown Tavern. And if you don’t, you’re going to want to familiarize yourself with one of the true Detroit neighborhood bars in the city.

“It’s a loose, fun atmosphere,” says Owner Tony Maisano. “Good music, good drinks and good people.” Corktown operates, literally, on two levels. Downstairs, you have the long bar and a smattering of TVs with people hanging out, drinking, comiserating and generally enjoying bar-inspired mirth. The upper level is home to live music, generally Thursdays through Saturdays, and showcases everyone from local bands to national acts. Pick one level or the other; or do both.

“The neat thing about our place is that it has two floors,” Maisano says. “Even if you want to come and have a drink, there is no cover, ever. You pay the cover upstairs. It’s almost a private thing up there.”

That private thing upstairs will usually run you no more than $5 and will afford to you the opportunity to see anyone from Eddie Spaghetti and/or Hugh Cornwell of the Supersuckers to Panama, a Cleveland-based Van Halen tribute band.

“One of the other benefits is that we keep it fair with the bands in that they keep 100 percent of the door,” Maisano says. “We never take out for sound guys and other BS like that. My motto is: ‘You’re the music, you brought the people, you make that money. I’m in the business of selling booze, I keep that money.'”

It must be working, because Corktown Tavern has to it a no-nonsense, relaxed environment. Ownership encourages — and patrons oblige — a fun, upbeat atmosphere. A happy hour typically runs from 8 p.m.- 9 p.m., before bands start to play. There is always some sort of $2 domestic beer special, as well as a shot/drink special, which is usually the call of the bartender working that night.

In addition to live music upstairs toward the end of the week and into the weekend, Scotty from the Amino Acids DJs every Monday night.

Want to support something local? Throw a couple of bucks and couple of hours into helping sustain the unpretentious fun at Corktown Tavern.



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