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walker

Visiting the re-opened Pontchartrain Hotel

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I've noted in other posts that I once lived in Detroit a long time ago.  I moved away just over thirty-two years ago.  Back then one of the most premier hotels in town was the Pontchartrain.  It was built on the sight of the original settlement in Detroit, Fort Pontchartrain.  The Ponch was known for its distinctive modern design, its great views from its angular windows, for the Pjazz series out on its deck, and for the upscale Top of the Ponch restaurant on the 25th floor.  I never stayed there of course because I had my own bed in Detroit to sleep in back then.

 

Like many things in Detroit since that time it fell on hard times.  It went through several owners and even was involved in the savings and loan scandal back in the eighties.  It closed in 2009 after a massive failure of the air conditioning system during a big convention.

 

The hotel has been remodeled, the air conditioning has been fixed, and it has been reopened with a descriptive yet cumbersome new name, Crowne Plaza Detroit Downtown Convention Center Hotel.  While not hiding that this was once the Pontchartrain, the new owners, apparent leery of its reputation in the most recent past, didn't want to include Pontchartrain in the new name.

 

Three things kind of converged a couple of weeks ago that got me and my wife to visit Detroit and this hotel.  First, we've been meaning to spend a day at The Detroit Institute of Arts before the bankruptcy judge sells the collections; second, the Ponch reopened; and third one of my credit cards offers me a once a year certificate for a free room of any value at any Inter-Continental Hotel and I had to use the certificate soon because it would expire in September, and it happens that Crowne Plaza is an Inter-Continental brand.

 

We had a great time.  After spending the day visiting old haunts (at least the ones that still exist thirty-two years later) we checked in about five pm. We were expecting to use the valet parking but we were informed that their parking ramp was full and we were directed to a self-park ramp not contracted to the hotel, a couple of blocks away.  That was fine with me, the valet parking would have been $25 plus tips and I would have had the inconvenience of having to wait for the car, while the self-park ramp was only $10, had an attendant all night so it was safe, and I didn't have to wait to get the car or leave a tip.

 

Check-in went smooth and the front desk staff was efficient and friendly.  The lobby was nicely done, with a bar and a restaurant off to the side.  We didn't use either since we were visiting some of our old favorites.  Apparently it is planned for the Top of the Ponch restaurant to re-open in the future but for now the 25th floor is closed.  We were given a suite on the east side of the 24th floor, the concierge floor.  I imagine there is one angular window per standard room.  Our suite I’m guessing was twice the size of a standard room and so had two windows.  The hallway door opened to a living room with a desk, chairs, and a converta sofa.  It also included a small potential kitchen area with an in-room coffee maker.  I've seen popup ads on urban planet tailored I suppose to my browsing history that advertise a wet bar.  There was no wet bar in our room.  I don’t think they've got the remodeling complete yet.  No wet bar was fine with me; I’m not one to spend time in a hotel room drinking over-priced liquor.  The second room of the suite was the bedroom, adjoining was a very small bathroom, in fact it had no bath, just a shower.  Again, no problem for us.  It was just a surprise in a hotel relatively new (1965) and not in Manhattan.  I’m not sure if shower only is standard or just a quirk with this suite.  In general it looks like the individual rooms are deep but slightly narrow.

 

The big thing about the suite and I’m sure any of the rooms was the view.  Because of the design of the windows all rooms have a view of the river.  The windows give about a 150 degree view.  We were on the east side.  From each of our windows we had a view of the river, Hart Plaza, Renaissance Center, the skyline of Windsor, all to the south, then to  the north the powerful skyscrapers, the Penobscot Building, the Buhl Building, the magnificent Guardian Building, and many others whose names I don’t remember or maybe never knew.  We went down to the concierge suite, a corner suite.  It was open but no one was there.  The views there were even wider, you could see everything you could see from our room plus all the way down the river past the Ambassador Bridge.    

 

After we'd unpacked, we went out walking to Jacoby’s for dinner about a half a mile away.  This is an old German bar and restaurant over on Brush Street at the edge of Greektown.  Jacoby’s has changed in many ways, which is to be expected since it has gone through a fire and a change in owners.  But it still had enough of the old atmosphere to rule the dinner a success.

 

It turned out downtown was crowded, there was ballgame that night and the Detroit Jazz Festival was going on along Woodward and down on Hart Plaza.  Coming back we went to Hart Plaza and listened to the jazz, but more we just people watched.  There were a few Latinos and a few Asians.  The rest of the crowd was about evenly split between whites and blacks.  It was an amazing mellow crowd with everyone enjoying themselves.  Most amazing, I didn't see a single obnoxious teen as you usually find at any big free event.  In fact there were no obnoxious people of any age as far as I could see.  It was as if everyone was an NPR listener, young and old, rich and poor alike.  It was sort of like the world you’d like to live in.

 

Back in the room getting ready for bed we heard loud explosions outside.  Turns out the jazz festival was putting on a large fireworks display, as big as any I've ever seen, over the Detroit River.  I can’t promise there will be a fireworks display during your stay at the Ponch but it was a great unexpected way to end the day.   Next day we checked out and spent a fine day at the Detroit Institute of Arts.  For a couple of days at least, there was no better place to be than Detroit.                                   

Edited by walker
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