Prom night in Motown

Jan 17, 2001 at 12:00 am


Friday night on Jefferson Avenue saw the limo lines snake all the way from Cobo Hall to Tom’s Oyster Bar, as the glitzy and perennially overhyped North American International Auto Show charity preview cranked up the klieg lights. The cheap champagne and plastic flutes were ubiquitous, as the bubbly-guzzling, formally attired car worshipers streamed into Cobo Hall to get their first look at the latest in gas-guzzling SUV’s, super-cool Mini Coopers and preposterous concept cars that look like something the police would be driving in a straight-to-video version of Robocop IX. Rumors of a Julia Roberts appearance were unfounded, as any “celebrities” at this party were of the more parochial variety (local news-babblers, professional athletes, boring auto execs, a smattering of bony-elbowed socialites).

Speaking of local news types, I did spy Channel 7 anchor-chap Guy Gordon standing in the queue at Pizza Queen out in the lobby a few hours before the show opened. A veteran of past shows, Gordon most assuredly was aware of the scant offerings of nourishment available once the doors open. Indeed, one only had to witness the absurdly long grub line at the Lexus display to realize that, unless your form of sustenance is Piper Sonomo Brut, you won’t be finding much of anything at the show. I found myself gravitating toward the neon Mini display, where German import DJ Chameleon and British import DJ Roundeye provided a hip sonic and video backdrop for the Mini display.

As the hunger pangs became too much to overcome, however, we beat a hasty retreat to the Rattlesnake Club, where the automotive royalty annually congregates for Jimmy Schmidt’s palate-pleasing cuisine. As we settled into our table, a quick check around the room revealed a few notable faces: nasal-voiced, preternaturally tan, breakdancing eyeglass huckster Richard Golden; and, lo and behold, at the table next to us was metro Detroit’s most famous entry in reality TV since Andre of Noir Leather joined the cast of “Real World.”

That’s right, dining with companion Katrin Koivu was local chef Keith Famie, whose face will soon be plastered all over the papers and on local TV as he begins his latest quest for fame and fortune on “Survivor: The Australian Outback.” I’ll just get the requisite photo out of the way now (wake me when it’s over). In any event, I was too busy devouring the delectable spread of warm and cold seafood appetizers spread out on the table in front of me to look around further. Unfortunately, the delicious Epicurean repast and subsequent food coma put a crimp in my plans to head over to the annual Anti-Auto Show charity preview at detroit contemporary.

Speaking of gala festivities, don’t miss the Fanclub Foundation’s Swingtime party at the awe-inspiring Fisher Building this Saturday night. With a big band in the main hall, live jazz and rockabilly in the theater lobby, and a dazzling array of fine food and art, this event promises to break you out of your midwinter depression faster than a falling ice dam on a 40-degree day. Even better, yours truly is acting as an MC and DJ for the evening.


Speaking of glitz and anti-glitz, Punk magazine threw its 25th anniversary party at CBGB’s in New York last Wednesday, and our local scene was indeed well represented. Apparitional artist/chanteuse Niagara made a histrionic and headlining appearance at the stroke of midnight, being dramatically brought out on a stretcher, only to rise from the dead after receiving a shot of adrenaline (à la Pulp Fiction) for a blistering performance of old Destroy All Monsters tunes and Stooges covers. Also in the club was former St. Clair Shores housewife/punk priestess Patti Smith and band mate Lenny Kaye, Tanya from Highway Press, famed punk scene photographer Bob Gruen, Deborah Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie, Richard Hell, assorted Ramones and many others from the scene’s illustrious past. While Niagara apparently had success in selling three paintings at the party (there was a gallery set up at the adjacent CBGB 313 Gallery), she ruffled the feathers of Patti Smith with a comment about Smith’s previously vocal support of Ralph Nader. Punk politics at its best.


There used to be a bar just across Grand River from the now-imploded downtown Hudson’s called The Shopper’s Lounge. In Hudson’s heyday, one could just envision the weary shoppers, or perhaps (in a stereotypical and dramatized Eisenhower-era version), the bedraggled and henpecked husband (we’ll call him Sheldrake), ducking out the Grand River exit, trotting across to the Lounge, and ordering a round of martinis with Darin Stevens and Larry Tate until the shopping was done. The Shopper’s Lounge eventually ended up as a gay bar and is now a Russian puppet theater (no time to decode the hidden message in that evolution). Sadly enough, we have no more lounge-style bars in what is oxymoronically referred to as the central business district. (And here’s my point:) Instead we get nightclubs ... nightclubs and more nightclubs. Pure, Bleu, Space, Times Square, and more on the way. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out, in a Darwinist sort of way. How many more ersatz South Beach brushed chrome-neon-giant video Copacabanas can this town support? There is just not an enormous club-going population, and chances are you’ll see a lot of the same people, which means that they’re not at that club you saw them at last week, which means that some club is closing its doors (bye bye, Karma, hello, Bleu).

What downtown truly needs more of are decent hip watering holes. Not a bunch of David LaChapelle-aping pansexual techno-booming playgrounds, but a long narrow space, bar on one side, booths on the other ... it doesn’t have to be a dive, but you don’t need Burst audio, $20 cover and a megawatt neon charge either. The Town Pump and State Bar did it right, and no one’s followed. Small’s did it too, but they’re in Hamtown. Hopefully, some entrepreneur will recognize the deficiency here and fill the void. Bring back Trader Vic’s!

Casey Coston writes about development in Detroit. E-mail him at [email protected]