Detroit’s Grand Circus Park is Lively Again

In Sunday’s New York Times Travel section, I write about Detroit’s Grand Circus Park. You can see some wonderful photos by Detroit-based photographer Fabrizio Costantini here.

Grand Circus Park is a good example of the revival that’s taking place in downtown Detroit, and stories we are telling at Changing Gears.

It has taken a few years for the area to come back to life, and there are still some empty storefronts, vacant lots and office buildings. But if you visit Detroit on a weekend when the Lions are playing at Ford Field, or on a night when the Red Wings have a game at Joe Louis Arena, the district around Grand Circus Park bubbles with activity.

While researching the story this summer, I got to visit a number of places that have come back to life. The most prominent is the Book Cadillac Hotel, a few blocks south of the park, which is now run by the Westin organization. For most of my adult life, the Book Cadillac stood vacant, though I have some very dim memories of going there with my parents when I was young.

The renovation, which was finished in November 2008, is stunning. All the beautiful historic features in the 86 year old have been restored, and the rooms are as modern as you would want a hotel to be, with marble trim in the bathrooms, leather furniture and those big puffy Westin beds. Here’s a tour of the hotel conducted when it reopened by WWJ Radio.

The Book Cadillac has become a place for film stars and crews to stay during movie shoots in Detroit. Demi Moore, Miley Cyrus and Sigourney Weaver stayed there this summer. Members of the Detroit Lions stay there before games, and members of Jay-Z’s entourage were there Labor Day weekend when he performed with Eminem at Comerica Park. The Book Cadillac also has luxury condos which have become home to many of the new executives now running General Motors.

The Book Cadillac houses Roast, which I call Detroit’s most talked-about restaurant in my Times story. Roast is the first restaurant outside Cleveland for Michael Symon, who appears on Iron Chef on the Food Network. (I’ve eaten at both his Cleveland restaurants, Lola and Lolita.)

It’s likely you’ll need to book a month ahead for a weekend reservation at Roast, and that the bar is often four deep with customers by 5 pm on a week night. The menu is heavy on meat, as you might expect, and it’s also pricey for a city that’s been hit by the recession. But there are specials, like the “beast of the day.” Roast is open only for dinner.

If you prefer casual dining, you might want to check out a brand-new restaurant, Rub BBQ. Many people in Detroit are partisans for Slows on Michigan Avenue, just west of downtown. (It was recently featured in the Times’ Dining section). But Rub, which faces Grand Circus Park, is leveraging its location and a menu that’s a little more mainstream than Slows. You can get sandwiches, ribs, appetizers and desserts, and the ball parks are just a few blocks away.

Do you have memories of the Book Cadillac? Where else are you eating these days in Detroit? Let us know.