Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Forget All You Know About Downtown Flint

On Friday night, Ice Halo played a live set at the reception for an art exhibit of Flint rock flyers from the past quarter century. I am unable to give an objective account of how well or poorly we played, but we had fun and it was nice to see lots of familiar faces there.

We were paid for the performance, which was a nice surprise. The subject of payment had never come up so I had assumed we were making noise on a strictly volunteer basis. Apparently, though, someone somewhere harbors quaint 19th-century notions about paying musicians – or people like us who impersonate same.

So when the performance was over and the instruments packed away, I knew two things. First, I was hungry. VERY hungry. I hadn’t eaten since noon and it was now dark out. Second, I had money I wasn’t expecting. Conclusion: exchange said money for food.

I could feed you a long altruistic-sounding story about how I felt a burning desire to keep the local money flowing by patronizing local eateries and helping the Flint economy and blahblahblah… but it would be highly refined bullshit. The truth was more like: I’m really freakin’ hungry and downtown Flint is close by. Let’s go!

The first stop was the old standby for Flintoids: the Torch. But the Torch was more crowded than a Tokyo subway at rush-hour, so that was out.

My brother Paul suggested we try one of the newer local eateries nearby. We wound up at the Club 501 Bar & Grill, famed for serving Tapas. This, however, frightened me. I am definitely not a “foodie”. My idea of ideal cuisine is a greasy Torchburger and my only previous experience with this strange new (to me) cuisine was from a chance encounter with a Tapas cookbook by a chef obviously not squeamish about exotic ingredients. I found the picture on the cover horrifying. It looked as though someone had dredged the seafloor and shoved the resultant dregs through a wood-chipper; culminating in a nightmarish congealate of clamshells, squid ink and tentacles.

Fortunately, it appeared that the 501 Bar & Grill was less… uh… “adventurous” with their food and it appeared not only fit for human consumption, but seemed downright appetizing. Some of the specialty pizzas coming out of the oven looked and smelled fantastic. Unfortunately for me, many others were thinking the same thing and the wait was longer than my famished stomach could bear. But I hope to be back at some point in the future.

We wound up at Wiseguy’s Pizza, conveniently located next door to the 501. I ordered the combo. I don’t recall going to a pizza place before where you could order a combo of pizza and soup, but there it was. The pizza was very good and the clam chowder was a perfect and delicious denouement to a cold, drizzly, busy day.

On a warmer, dryer and more relaxed day earlier this month, I finally had a chance to eat at Hoffman’s Deli, also in Flint. I got a very tasty sandwich at a very reasonable price and got to eat it while enjoying Hoffman’s very nice atmosphere.

I should state at this point that if there’s one thing that nauseates me it’s mindless chirping boosterism. We had more than our share of that during the 1980’s with AutoWorld and Water Street Pavilion. It smelled more of slick public relations than of genuine civic pride. I do think, on the other hand, that if there are actual positive developments in one’s community one should make them known. Consider this my contribution. There are a number of cool new eateries in downtown Flint and I highly recommend that those who are able should check them out.

As much as I think the government can play a very positive role in – as the preamble to the Constitution says – promoting the general welfare, I think the return of Flint will have to take place from the ground up. One sandwich and one pizza at a time, so to speak. There will be setbacks and there will be failures. But I am shameless in my optimism that the windblown candle that is downtown Flint will not only somehow survive this bitter economic storm but will one day bloom into a warm, glowing and steady flame.

I remember downtown Flint from the days of Montgomery Ward, Hat’s Pub and the Rusty Nail. But I can say with complete honesty that I have at no time been as optimistic about the long-term prospects for downtown Flint as I am now. And unlike the empty sloganeering of the 1980’s, this mini-renaissance just might become the REAL spark that surprises us.

So go downtown. Eat. The money you spend will help our economy. Heck, if you’re so inclined, bring a friend and buy TWO meals. I noticed the 501 serves scallops. I LOVE scallops.

Just thought I’d mention that…


  1. And don't forget that new Mexican restaurant Soyla's over by Channel 5 plus Blackstones. While Blackstones is pricey, the food is really good.

  2. Steve: Good suggestions. I've heard plenty of great things about Soyla's from others who have been there, so I should mosey on down there. I haven't been to Blackstones yet either but if you say the food is good I'll take your word for it. You've never steered me wrong food-wise yet!

  3. Other than frozen meals I've bought at Meijer, I've never had bad Mexican food. So maybe I'm not the right person to judge Soyla's. And I also think that La Familia over on Garland is much better. Golden tacos... mmmm.... Soyla's is nice because it's in walking distance.

    Yeah, Blackstones is great food. But like I said, it's very expensive. I wouldn't go there unless someone else was paying or my family came along.

  4. I was reminded of this post while hanging out on Saginaw St. last night. It is so refreshing to see real good things happening for Flint after decades of nothing but bad. When you can get scores of relatively well-heeled over 30-somethings walking the streets of downtown at night, something's definitely going very right for Flint.

    -Aaron Stengel

  5. IF you are concerned about the prices at Blackstones, show up between 3 and 5 during the week (Por anytime with a student I.D.) and you can get your choice of any number of delicious items from their happy hour food menu for 3.99 My favorite is the 1/2 pound burger, fries and is usually more than I can eat, and really yummy too!