Thursday, October 9, 2014

Homage to Detroit

I just returned from a successful two week trip to the Detroit area to speak about my novel Zug Island and wrap up some final interviews for my current writing project The Rainy Day Murders (RDM). Since I began work on RDM in June of 2011, I have flown into the Detroit area nine times to do archival and field research with the help of my friend and project manager Ryan M. Place. Every trip has been enlightening, informative, and productive regarding the Washtenaw County murders (1967-1969) and John Norman Collins' role in them. Now, that project is winding down.

Unlike previous trips to the Motor City, this recent trip was a mixture of business and vacation. What characterized this trip for me was a personal feeling of accomplishment and a sense that Detroit may actually be on the comeback trail. While I was there, my wife and I got to share the excitement of the Tigers run for the playoffs and the disappointment of the Orioles sweep in three. As transplanted San Diego Padres fans, it was nice for us to have something to cheer about, even for a little while. Comerica Park is a real gem and a great place to see a ball game in the center of Downtown.

Another notable hot spot in Downtown Detroit is Cafe D'Mongo's Speakeasy on Griswold St. I was able to meet and speak with Larry Mongo in his club one afternoon to discuss the past and his view of present day Detroit. We talked about the "67" riots and recent city history. Mr. Mongo is truly the Griot of Griswold Street. His night spot is full of Detroit memorabilia, old time family photos, and noteworthy art work. This vintage Detroit bar has a long and fascinating history contained within its walls.

I went there last Saturday night and the place was standing room only, with a vibrant mix of the new face of Detroit, energetic, young, upwardly mobile, and optimistic. Cafe D'Mongo's Speakeasy is open only on Fridays from 5:00 PM until 1:30 AM and Saturday nights from 8:30 PM until closing. Next time I'm in town, I'll be back for some of that soul food and local Detroit flavor.

I usually travel to Detroit alone, but this trip was business and pleasure, so my wife was surprised to discover that my Allen Park High School Facebook friends were real and not my imaginary friends. Happily, I was able to meet with several of them one evening at the Wheat & Rye on Allen Rd.

Allen Park High School - Class of 1966 members.

Once upon a time in the 1960s, my parents owned that bar under the guise of The Cork & Bottle. A high school friend of mine owns it now and has improved the business. It is the home of Downriver's legendary giant pastrami sandwich which rivals the sandwiches at the famous Carnegie Deli in New York City.

Though I don't normally post about food or restaurants, there has never been a shortage of great places to eat in and around Detroit. The Polish Village Cafe in Hamtramck is always a must stop for me when I'm in town, and the Polish Art Center gift shop on Joseph Campau Ave. is a must see. Hamtramck reminds me of growing up in Detroit back in the 1950s.

The Rhapsody on Northline Road in Southgate specializes in authentic Hungarian food and was a great new find. This restaurant has a comfortable dining room and great service. Its walls are festooned with craft displays. As for the food? It was the best I had on my trip.

And when I'm in Ypsilanti doing serious research, I always like to have breakfast at The Bomber on Michigan Avenue, lunch at Aubrey's in Depot Town, and dinner at The Sidetrack across the street. I also indulged my passion for White Castle sliders a couple of times when I was on the run.

No trip to Michigan in the autumn is complete without a trip to an apple cider mill and ours was no different. We spent the day at Franklin Cider Mill with an Eastern Michigan University friend of mine who flew into Detroit from Albuquerque to hear my talk. As it so happened, she had her wedding reception at Pasquale's in Royal Oak many years ago. Small world!

Author Claudia Whitsitt and me at Pasquale's.
In closing, I want to personally thank the Book Club of Detroit and the Detroit Drunken History Society for sponsoring my Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel book talk at Pasquale's Italian Restaurant in Royal Oak, Michigan last week. One-hundred and nine people attended. An extensive buffet dinner was available and the food was fantastic. I look forward to returning here to discuss my true crime book RDM after it is published. My reception here was memorable and appreciated.

Thomas Wolfe once wrote "You Can't Go Home Again." Well, I did, and how sweet it was! Thanks, Detroit!

For more about Claudia Whitsitt and her books, visit her website at

To find out more about my novel Zug Island, check out