Best Of 2009

Public Square - Reader Picks


Metro Times' Hamtramck Blowout
You came, you partied, we conquered. In the dead of winter in (the supposed dead of) Detroit, and in the shadow of South by Southwest, Blowout for the first time this year got some love beyond our corner of the Mitten, including nice airtime on National Public Radio's Day to Day and some ink in The New York Times. But winning the Best of Detroit — now that's affirmation.


Uptown Palladium 12
250 N. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-723-6240;

Offering shape-shifting seats that contour to every bone and bump in your body always puts a movie theater ahead of the herd. Add in the classy dinner-and-a-movie package — which puts you in oversized leather lounging seats, gazing up at a pristine screen while waves of sound move through you with every bang and burst — and you're really on to something. When there's a blockbuster release, metro Detroiters flock to the Birmingham Palladium; where else can you get Starbucks coffee and Little Caesars pizza? And is there another local cinema that delivers the shock and awe that today's high-tech movies require? Every generation worships celluloid in its own manner. This is the megachurch for today.


Main Art Theatre
118 N. Main St., Royal Oak, 248-263-2111;

Where we go for many of the biggest alt-Hollywood releases in the midst of that funky vibe of repertory houses that (mostly) no longer exist. And as downtown Royal Oak has evolved around it, the Main has remained. It's not a relic frozen in the past, but, thankfully, it has a sense of memory. Which is conducive to the small cinematic "eye" flicks that it specializes in.


Ann Arbor Film Festival
The Ann Arbor Film Fest has seen its peaks and valleys, but show us an institution that's approaching the half-century mark — 2009's fest was the 47th — that hasn't faced the task of reinvention. Thanks to its new director, Christen McArdle, responsible for the latest revitalization, we love it again. This past festival notably included Brett Gaylor's RiP: A Remix Manifesto, which was just that, inviting an assault on copyright and intellectual property as the corporations know it, and pointing to a new kind of creatively mashed-up culture for the rest of us. The fest built on that idea with additional guests and activities. Which is to say, this year's festival may have tapped into the zeitgeist. If the programmers didn't point to the future of the culture, they at least got us excited about the future of the fest.


Performance Network Theatre
120 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor; 734-663-0681;
For more than 27 years now, Ann Arbor-based Performance Network Theatre has been a haven for theater in Michigan. Responsible for fine-tuning a slew of talented actors, playwrights and stage-crafters in our region — and presenting both established works and challenging new material — PerfNet has maintained an impressive professional consistency. Like many a cultural institution in the area right now, the company is going through financial woes, but this is another one we just can't stand to lose. August Wilson's classic Fences runs through May 24, an example of what PNT is all about.


Pinball Pete's
1214 S. University Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-213-2502

The first time many of you first encountered Guitar Hero — before we were Eddie Van Halen-ing off the couch, sliding across the wood floors while shredding behind our heads — was at Pinball Pete's. The same could be true about DDR, BA Jam, Street Fighter or just about any video game phenomenon of the past couple decades. But a good part of what makes Pete's so particularly sweet is the array of vintage arcade games. And though the actual pinball machines could use a bit of a tune-up, we still keep coming back to Pete's gaming basement for more.


Scott Fountain
After $5.5 million was spent on the restoration of Belle Isle's marvelous Scott Fountain, thieves caused nearly $100,000 in damage last year when they stole copper and other metals from the landmark's base, putting it temporarily out of commission. But repairs were soon made, and, after being mothballed for the winter, this white marble gem is ready to start spouting again as soon as the weather warms. Somewhere, James Scott — described as a "gambler" and "rascal" who left his fortune to the city along with the demand a fountain be built in his honor — must be smiling.


Metro Beach
31300 Metropolitan Parkway, Harrison Twp.; 586-463-4581

With a mile of shoreline and more than a quarter-mile of boardwalk on Lake St. Clair, it's a recreational magnet. In addition to the beach proper, the park boasts a swimming pool, spray park, marinas, nature center, a par-3 golf course, adventure golf, picnic areas and two miles of paved trail connecting to the path along Metro Parkway. The beach is a haven for people — a dazzling cross-section of humanity — and therefore a magnet for people-watching. As for the nature, we note that it's a top state site for birders, and, if you're into frogs, an evening frog walk leaves from the nature center at 8 p.m. this Friday, April 24; $2 fee; pre-register at 586-463-4332.


Kensington Metro Park
2240 W. Buno Rd., Milford; 248-685-1561

Picnic areas are spread throughout the 4,500-acre recreational facility, and there are 15 reservable picnic shelters, playgrounds and ball diamonds for that group outing the committee picked you to organize. And if you'd rather not arrange the potluck, there's catering available on the site. Other attractions in the hilly area around Kent Lake include 18 holes of golf, disc golf, beaches, hiking trails and an extensive paved hike-bike trail.


R. Hirt Jr.
2468 Market St., Detroit; 313-567-1173

Like many of the longtime establishments in Eastern Market, R. Hirt Jr. — not R.J. Hirt as so many are prone to rendering the name — has evolved with a rather odd bundle of offerings, which is part of what makes it an interesting place to browse. Cheeses, cheeses and cheese are the anchor, with more than 300 varieties; a big draw for us are four or so discount specials that change every week, from run-of-the-mill varieties to more exotic offerings. In addition, Hirt has extensive to at-least-interesting selections in prepared meats, coffees, teas, cooking utensils, Michigan goods, cooking oils, crackers, chocolates, etc., and that's just the first floor. The second and third floors offer knickknacks, an enormous room of wicker baskets, wind chimes (up to $300), gift cards and even an oddball selection of toys. For that last-minute gift, this place can be a godsend.


Royal Oak Farmers' Market
316 E. 11 Mile Rd., Royal Oak; 248-246-3276

If you're not grabbin' your grocery goods in Eastern Market, there's a pretty good chance we could find you near the corner of 11 Mile Road and Troy Street in Royal Oak for their weekly Saturday morning farmer's market. For all you locovores, the locally grown fare comes by the bushel, and you can rest assured that you'll leave with more than you bargained for. What makes Royal Oak's farmers' market even more convenient is that Superior Seafood is situated just across the street.


Oakland Hills Country Club
3951 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-433-0671

Last year's PGA championship brought worldwide attention again to the club's South Course, a staging ground for the U.S. Open and other high-profile events back into the 1920s. The PGA championship was the third at the club, which also hosted a Ryder Cup competition in 2004. The architect of Oakland, Scotsman Donald Ross, was a Johnny Appleseed golf designer, responsible for more than 400 U.S. courses. The area's Rackham, Rogell and Warren Valley also bear Ross' trademarks of small, undulating greens plus mounds and sand traps that are well-placed for bad shots.


Ann Delisi's Essential Music
WDET-FM (101.9), Saturday and Sunday, noon-4 p.m.

We'll note that Ann Delisi's Essential Music had been on the air for all of two weeks when the voting opened for this year's Best of Detroit competition. How to explain the quick ascension? Pent-up demand theory No. 1: Remember how upset listeners were when WDET began slashing its music programming in 2005? Remember protest meetings and talk of a class-action suit? Four years on, there's still an audience for the kind of music variety programs that were once the station's bedrock. Pent-up demand theory No. 2: But the ebullient and musically savvy Delisi herself has been off the air for some time, and her last on-air shift, at WRCJ, was as a classical music host, not the pop-oriented format that she's built her career on (starting back at WDET from 1983 to 1995). Counter-homogenization theory: As commercial stations lean to more syndicated programming, WDET looks doubly good by hyping both a local host and the prominent role for local music in her show.


Mojo in the Morning
WKQI-FM (95.5), Monday-Friday, 5 a.m.-10:30 a.m.

Here's a tip: When you buy your 2010 calendar, immediately put a big red-alert circle around the entire month of February. That's when Tom "Mojo" Caraballo marks his tenth anniversary on Detroit airwaves. The exact date of his anniversary at 95.5, Feb. 21, falls on a Sunday, so maybe we'll be safe on that day from the Monday-Friday morning man who's made his mark by yanking the chains of unsuspecting folks with high profiles, low profiles and no profiles. But as a precaution, we're extending an alert to the entire month. In last year's Best of Detroit, we hailed him and his crew for guerrilla theater during the final hours of the Kilpatrick administration: sending that moving van to the Manoogian and conning the local press corps. What else does Mojo have going? How about regular helpings of gossip, the newest tracks from hot artists and features like "War of the Roses," wherein the host who can't tell us enough about himself as a family man (on the station website) entraps two-timers with nothing more than a "free" bouquet. Sort of like Cheaters on the cheap.


WWJ-AM (950)
More important than ever as daily local news becomes increasingly hard to find, America's oldest newsradio station will have every opportunity to shine in 2009. Joe Donovan, he of the glib segue and cavernous voice, and delightful morning partner Roberta Jasina have been together longer than most marriages you know. Vickie Thomas is an outstanding City Hall reporter, Jeff Gilbert is the nation's source authority on the auto industry, and Murray Feldman's FOX2 business reports translate seamlessly from sight to sound. Besides, any station that can maintain Sonny Eliot and Tim Skubick in the same stable has got to be extraordinary.


WDIV, Channel 4
Who says geography doesn't matter? As the only Detroit station actually located in Detroit, Channel 4 seems to capture the grit and spirit of the Motor Town consistently better than its chief rivals. It boasts some of the city's most recognizable media faces (Harlan, Walker, Scillian, Gaidica, Tutman, Smilovitz, "Ruth to the Rescue"), that Night Cam is still eerily cool, the market's sharpest media mind (Marla Drutz) is now running the joint, and for every major event from the Freedom Festival Fireworks to the Thanksgiving Day Parade, really now, who do you expect to see there covering the action?


Steve Wilson
WXYZ, Channel 7

When we put out the "activist" question we were thinking more of a citizen or politico in the trenches. But the result shouldn't be a surprise. Every Detroit TV news operation worth its ratings boasts a stalwart investigative unit, but no reporter throws his weight around as dramatically at Channel 7 chief snoop Steve Wilson. Brazen, bombastic and perpetually in somebody's face, Wilson became the Clark Kent for suburban viewers after being bounced around like a Nerf ball by security thugs for Kwame Kilpatrick while trying to expose the former mayor's misdeeds. Remember him defiantly shaking a vehicle sales slip into the camera while standing next to a copy of the infamous red Navigator? Wilson has uncovered corporate corruption, questionable childhood vaccines and military mismanagement during his eight years here, but it's his one-man siege against a Detroit political fortress that will forever cement his local renown.


Ken Cockrel Jr.
At the time of our last Best of Detroit balloting, Kwame Kilpatrick was only recently out of office, and Dave Bing was poised as the Knight in a Pistons Jersey to rescue the city, slam-dunking his victory. Or at least he seemed like the guy from the burbs in a three-piece suit ready to bring a businessman's savvy to the 13th Floor of City Hall. That's what our 2008 poll told us. This time around, the victory went decisively to the acting Mayor Ken Cockrel Jr., though not nearly by the margin of Bing's previous trouncing of Cockrel and others back before the campaigning had begun in earnest for the remainder of Kilpatrick's term.


Dennis Archer
Apparently readers didn't get the memo last November announcing that, after flirting with the notion, the former Detroit mayor had decided against this. When we asked Archer whether he'd reconsider in light of our Best of Detroit poll, he responded with a one-word e-mail: "Smile."


L. Brooks Patterson
One of the things we'll miss in L. Brooks Patterson's absence from the gubernatorial contest is his ability to put tongue in cheek. At news of this victory, he quipped: "I appreciate the vote of confidence, but I've recovered from the temporary effects of that blow to the head I suffered when I fell, and have taken myself out of contention in the 2010 governor's race." Turning serious, he added: "It was a tough decision, but I hope people will understand I have a full plate back in Oakland County."


Suggestions from A-Z (Except for Q and X)
Here's a sampling: aquarium, blow it up, City Council hat museum, demolition derby, expo center, film studio, greenhouse, homeless shelter, indoor theme park, jail for all crooked city pols, KISS reunion, landfill, mall, new home for City Council, outlet stores, paintball park, roller derby rink, Synagro sludge tank, tourist trap, urban exploration, vacant lot, water park, youth center, zoo.


Curtis Granderson
With his unshakable poise, kind demeanor and mad skills, center fielder Granderson is an exceptional representative of a team, a sport and a city. His infectious likability even landed him an invite as part of an MLB goodwill mission to China. (We can just see Chinese kids swarming the affable Granderson and coming away with huge smiles and big wads of chewing gum stuffed into their cheeks.) A left-handed batter and a right-handed thrower, his most memorable moment (so far) would have to be in 2007, when he became the third player in the history of baseball to have 20 or more doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases in one season. Although a fourth player joined that exclusive club within the month, it's just one of his entries in the record book.


Pavel Datsyuk
Yah, his English ain't so good, but this Russian Red Wing center has carved out a spot in ice hockey history with his now-famous, goalie-humbling "Datsyuk move." From humble beginnings and a very late draft pick (171st overall), Datsyuk powered past the naysayers and is now one of the greatest Red Wings of all time. Like elite Wings of yore Ted Lindsay, Gordie Howe and Steve Yzerman, he's led his team in scoring in three consecutive seasons.


Rip Hamilton
Rip refers to his trademark mask as his "Superman cape," and since donning the plastic prosthesis he has saved the Pistons' world on many an occasion. Sidelined after the acquisition of Allen Iverson, the masked avenger scored 38 off-the-bench points in one night, a franchise record.


Variations on "none of them"
Kicker Jason Hanson and wide receiver Calvin Johnson did well in the polling, but collectively most votes went to mystery players. We've been searching Lion and NFL rosters in general trying to understand the results. Is there a lineman out there named They Suck who perhaps has a brother named Theyall Suck? Could there be a quarterback named Are You Kidding? A tight end who goes by Fucktha Lions? A safety named Ha Ha?


Cheryl Ford
With the departure of Swin Cash, she became the face of the Shock, the team captain and the MVP. And that was before becoming part of the biggest thing (unfortunate, but big) to happen to the attention-hungry WBNA: the Detroit Shock-Los Angeles Sparks brawl last July that's amassed 500,000 views threshold at YouTube. The brawl left Ford with a torn ACL for her efforts to subdue an enraged teammate. But she was on the side of ending the mahem, not advancing it. Classy. And even with her sidelined, the team won its third WNBA title.

We're afraid that anything we write is going to be taken as an attack or criticism; they even took offense when we tried to help publicize one of their recent events and when no offense was intended. The bag-headed Jasper and backward-baseball-cap-wearing JRC combined their respective and sites into one blog last year. ETC also regularly promotes local music shows, featuring the bands they write about on the site, and recently launched a vanity record label, Five Three Dial Tone Records, with the first release a single by local, um, band of the future, Deastro. They also have the "power to make or break a show" at the Majestic Theatre Complex. The reason we know that is because they told us so on the site. ...

You really don't have to be super or gay to enjoy this site; you only have to have an appreciation for humor, all things Detroit and popular culture. The proprietor of the site posts a lot of autobiographical detail but always with a non-smarmy attitude and a great sense of humor. It also helps if you appreciate "queen" humor ... which we, of course, do. Not only that, but like several other blogs/sites in the city, Supergay also promotes its own seasonal (it ends with the beginning of Tigers baseball) weekly event, "Tuesday Nights Doggy Style," at the Park Bar. We also realize that the dude campaigned for Best of Detroit votes on his site. That doesn't mean that Supergaydetroit's celebration of Detroit shouldn't have won or didn't deserve to win. In fact, it's always a super-fun read.

Apparently our redesign works. And we're packing it with more unique content and features all the time, including the Best of Detroit winners displayed on an interactive map. Your suggestions and comments are always welcome at [email protected].


University of Michigan/University of Michigan-Dearborn
A Grizzly, a Titan, a Spartan, a Warrior and a Wolverine walk into a bar. We started the joke for you. There's a pair of tickets to our Best Of party to the best punch line mailed to [email protected] by Thursday at 5 p.m. Write "local college punch line" in the subject field. Oh, yeah. About your punch line: The Wolverine has to win.


Near Michigan Avenue between 14th and 16th streets; no phone
The City Council's move to tear down Michigan Central Station and bill kazillionaire owner Matty Moroun may have been more about posturing than advancing public policy, but it did get us to thinking: What would life be like without that 13-story hulk looming over Detroit? It's stood there since 1913, vacant since 1988. Frankly, without "the depot," Detroit would be without an internationally recognized icon of urban decay. Who wouldn't like to see it returned to productive use. But even after two decades of failed revival efforts, we're sure that any serious moves to bring it down will trigger a "Save Our Eyesore" movement claiming for its unique urban beauty, our answer to the Acropolis. The filmmaking teams behind The Island and Transformers both saw the potential for the site and our voters seem to think its possibilities are far from exhausted. On the other hand, from downtown Royal Oak to the Ann Arbor Law Quad to Belle Isle to the Russell Industrial Complex, readers have lots of other places where they can envision setting a film. (And maybe making the depot a "limited time offer" would spur a rush for filmmakers to use it before it's leveled.)


Madonna and Kid Rock
We asked, you told us. What more can we say? What more need we say?