A city of motors – and yeah – we saw the greatest number plate upon arrival on one of the new Corvette’s MY RUBY.
Detroit – having had boom years through the automotive industry felt the economical strains 2 years prior to the overall US recession. There was clear signs the vast area of Detroit had been abandoned in various areas. Old and gorgeous art-deco architecture sprawled out – encountered with graffiti-ed windows and broken glass.
Even as an outsider it was itching my fingers to get my hands on one of these gorgeously large and architecturally attractive houses to do up into major loft conversions. In any other State or city these houses would have been made up and developed during the previous house booms – which gave major development possibilities for Detroit. It must not have been the most happening place over the past 5 years.
I had it explained that the area of Detroit could take the whole of Manhattan, San Francisco and Boston within it, and the view over the city used to be even more impressive than Manhattan itself. What went so horribly wrong – with a previous population of over 3mn to have gone down to a number closer to 1mn there was no wonder the streets of Detroit felt pretty empty. Traffic was in comparison to Chicago extremely light and although you saw people rushing around – nothing like busy. I would add some of the areas we drove through were not really where I would want to park the camper overnight.
Our first port of call was with the recently opened Wright and Company and meeting up with Noel – the female in the bunch. The venue is hosted in an attractive – yet pretty derelict – area where again the houses boasted abandoned – while it seemed the loft conversions were creeping up and being developed.
Wright was situated on the second floor – and after a maze of stairs and corridors we entered into a crazy tall ceiling height and a delightful dining area with a long bar stretching most of the room. Several bartenders were shaking and the background adorned by a large painting.
We had noticed most of the cooler places we had visited throughout the USA had gone back to the era of hanging the hunting trophies on the walls – Wright was sporting a gigantic moose head just above the service area. The chandelier made up for the elegance and the rustic flooring with an art deco ceiling welcomed us to Wright.
Firstly we met with Andrea who had been part of the wedding party at Sutton Bay and she showed us in. Not wanting to sit in front of the camera she asked if Noel could take the interview. Noel who had just gotten back from the gym – gave the honours instead to Joe – another of the talented bartender pool at Wright and Company.
He mixed up a fantastically well balanced grapefruit, gin and lemon juice with Rhuby. He called it window seat – and I certainly had nothing against hanging by the Victorian bay window ordering this at the venue.
The team at Wright and Company could not have been friendlier and we headed off towards Sugar House to meet another crowd – but also the head bartender at Oakland – which unfortunately was closed –while Kaytee would meet us at Sugar House. As in most cities the craft cocktail bartenders know one another and work to support one Another.
We entered into Sugar House – which again had a myriad of hunting trophies on the walls with a dark and slightly boudoir feel to the décor. Of course the darkness could have something to do with the absolute storm of a weather pouring down outside of the venue. Just the week prior certain parts of Detroit had been seen under water and the current storm was all but light.
The bartender on shift was Yani – with his muscular and tattooed arms shook us up the Rhuby Heart containing white rum and Campari which gave both sweetness and bitterness.
We spoke to both Kaytee and Yani about their perspective of women in the industry and gained a lot of fantastic commentary.
While Pepi was interviewing I was at the bar talking through some of the history of Detroit and trying to understand how and what kept the city alive. After the car crash – the IT and quick finance had become major investor in Detroit – and the car industry had re-allocated from outside the city to drive their main HQs in actual Detroit. Apparently the economy was picking up and some of the rougher areas in the city was seeing some entrepreneurship taking place. The location Sugar House was a clear demonstration as the immediate neighbours were not the most up-scale. It did not seem to matter too much as the clientele at the Sugar House had most likely made the trip to have a great cocktail anyhow.
I asked about the older building and why they were still empty and had it told to me that unfortunately many of them were looted to – meaning electric cables down to sewage pipes. It was not much left of them but simply the shell so the investment required to do them up was considerable – and people were cautious unless in property development. He did say that it may be one of these days he would take the plunge as he sure agreed the architecture and the facades were simply gorgeous.
Next stop was to Two James – a distillery with what they call having a tasting room – most likely one of the very few (if there are any others). With the strict alcohol laws in yet another control State I gathered why they called the tasting room a tasting room. Most other people would have probably called it a bar.
The name derived as an honour to the founders two fathers who had both passed away – while were named James. The location was pretty much across the street from Sugar House and yet again a sign of young talent driving the town forward.
A small craft distillery it did most things from gin, vodka, bourbon to rye and looking into other categories to explore. The bar sported majority of their own labels and pride themselves on organic produce and simplicity. The staff was enthusiastic and seemed very well versed in how the distilling side worked – taken many of them conducted tours to the general public as well.
We met with Laura Finlay who had been with them since the beginning. She liked the place very much and spoke with passion how the owners allowed the bartenders to come up with their own juices, modifier and looking at developing a range of bitters. It was a similar set-up to that of which we saw in Duluth with Vikre and how they wanted to evolve their tasting room into more of a bar potential. A great way to manage cash-flow and get another source of income. In addition it seemed the Two James’s could sell their products straight to consumers in addition to a rather large range of merchandise containing everything from T-shirts to hoodies and mugs. I can only wish them well as they have done an amazing job up until now.
I read through their notes of distilling and they had made the process for each of the product categories they served simple and easy to understand – making it a popular venue to simply go and learn and later enjoy the drinks at large by the circular bar in what was known as the Tasting Room.
Outside the rain poured and simply getting to the RV outside we had to change cloths to set off again. We were delighted having agreed to move forward with Great Lake Spirit and Wine and having had great endorsement for RHUBY – but importantly engaged with many female talents wanting to partake and compete.
I could see myself coming back to Detroit at the beginning of next year when the painstakingly slow processes of registrations and government approvals would hopefully be done. Prior to that – many venues with craft cocktails simply brought with them the spirits they needed from travel. Many of the smaller brands who did have a challenge to sign one of the larger distributors had a beyond challenging task you get on shelf. These craft venues looking for the higher quality and better products coming out from frequently smaller family owned business + the potential of social media was often the only reason they survived.
From what we gathered the likes of Binny’s out of Illinois must be doing great to get some of the craft cocktail spirits into the heavily controlled States – as they would otherwise be challenged to be able to complement the standard selections taken the rigid rules to get the product into the State.
Luckily we see some change within the rules hang-up from prohibition and legal systems being challenged by the crafty entrepreneurs behind the new and innovative brands coming out to form part of the new spirit selection in the craft spirit venues.