DOUGH FOR DOLLARS
The Motor City (aka Wonder Bread) Casino had its coming out last week, first for a media preview on Wednesday morning and then for a glitzy, black-tie free-for-all.
The second debutante in our troika of gambling belles, the Ilitch-affiliated Vegas-by-way-of-Mandalay red brick palace of chance was bedecked in search lights on Saturday night, luring well-heeled attendees like proverbial neophyte gambling moths to a neon flame.
The invite-only affair was for the casino's 115 local investors, plus another 400 or so provincial dignitaries and Vegas hoi polloi. Curiously enough, my original invite stated that media were allowed in from only 7:30-9:30 p.m., and would then supposedly asked to politely take a hike. In addition, signs posted all over the place ominously warned partygoers that "media were in attendance." This may have been code for, like, keep your clothes on until we get those reporters outta here.
Heeding such paranoid perceptions, I made a mental note to invest in a miniature camera. But no one escorted me out as the clock chimed 9:30, and the party stayed pretty much the same after that, except for people looking fatter from all the food being ingested, and more inebriated from all the top-shelf booze being swilled.
Sorry to say, I didn't see any freeloading journalists getting the heave-ho, and I myself stayed until the cheesy live entertainment on the various "stage bars" became too much. (Was that guy actually playing a keyboard guitar?)
The only thing missing was gambling, as the casino doesn't have its license yet (that's expected on December 14). Thus, the shiny, blinking machines and green-felt expanses served merely as expensive drink coasters and spaces in which to sip champagne and munch on the bountiful harvest of food which was spread out on all four levels.
From the fez-wearing gang serving quail and kabobs at La Shish (Sam Breiche, covertly photographed with Tari Frank); to what appeared to be a 500-pound cheesecake courtesy of Matt Prentice's Unique Deli in the second floor's "Restaurant Pavilion;" to the crab claws, soft-shell crabs, lobster mounds and other assorted delicacies in the Classics Buffet area; there was no shortage of food in the facility's four floors of fun.
A favorite mental snapshot I have is of people in black tie and furs sitting in the Deli munching on delicacies such as lobster Reubens (yummy), truffles and figs and drinking from giant-sized cups of Pepsi (the closest bar was a bit of a hike back into the main building).
The top floor of the casino, a cramped and crowded "high rollers" lounge (not to be confused with the late '70s game show of the same name), had a sumptuous caviar-and-vodka bar, the prefect closer for a swanky evening. Of course, there were also cigars and cognac on the first floor ... and chocolates and cordials on the second ... all perfect closers for a swanky evening.
Investor and spokesperson Jack Barthwell is proud of the Detroit-centric feel of the place, with gears and pulleys on slot machine signs. In a bizarre and perverse co-opting of a Detroit landmark, an adaptation of Diego Rivera's DIA frescoes are used on some of the slots.
The $160 million spent here seems to have gone a lot further than the $220 million spent at the MGM, as this place seems far swankier and roomier.
They also have the customary scantily clad women (and one man) serving cocktails. At MGM they call them the "Grandettes." I suggested to Barthwell, in keeping with the Motor City theme, that perhaps they call them "Chevettes." Undeterred, he said they're called "servers."
From Wonder Bread to wonder bar, we headed over to the often desolate but now congested corner of Woodward and John R, at the former Schwankosky Temple of Music, to check out the Pure Bar Room. The club, which has a "debut" slated for December 11, has actually been open on weekends for several weeks now, doing what they call "soft openings."
It's a glittering four-chandeliered spectacle, with beautiful mirrors and mahogany, as well as exclusive "members only" balconies to keep out the general riffraff. I was somehow able to sneak into the exclusive balcony area, which provided a perfect perch from which to observe the ritualistic social dynamics of the dance floor.
Be forewarned: This place is not large, and it fills up quickly, so expect to see lines. As an added bonus, the dance floor has two elevated platforms at either end, where "professional" dancers gyrate in supposedly trendy fashion. The sound system is loud yet not impenetrable, and they also have a fog machine that works on overdrive much of the night, thereby ruining many of my photos, save that of balcony neighbors Cary Burgess and the singularly named Nancy.
Although I had previously heard some disparaging rumors about the crowd, it was not the gold-chain wearing, testo-fueled machismo barrage to which some had alluded. Although I spied a few obvious gold chains around beefy black-T-shirt-clad necks, the crowd was fairly mixed, and no more pretentious than any other club in town.
For my money, though, whatever it costs to sit upstairs, it's worth it.