In praise of good urban design: Detroit’s new Townhouse restaurant

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Detroit doesn’t always feel like the big city it is — or at least was. Whether that’s because it essentially grew up accommodating the space-intensive needs of industry and automobiles, or due to its long economic slide, Detroit simply doesn’t feel like most other cities of its size.

But more and more, new developments are springing up that remind you of what people who live in other, so-called “real” cities have that we’ve gone so long without here in Detroit. They make you wonder why no one ever thought to do something like it in that spot earlier.

The view from the patio.
The view from the patio.

The latest example is Townhouse, the new 314-seat bistro and whiskey bar with a four-season outdoor greenhouse patio that had its official opening this week. (No, I haven’t eaten there yet.)

I’ve always had a fascination with downtowns, and Townhouse is located on Woodward Avenue and Congress Street, one of my favorite corners in Detroit. I sometimes wait for the bus there after work and peer across the street at the Albert Kahn-designed Chase Tower (now regrettably renamed The Qube), now humming with life, and I think about the handsome scale of the building, its latticed white marble façade, all the people scurrying about its 14 floors. I am reminded of those buildings I regarded in awe when I visited Chicago as a child or imagined while watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show. (I have no idea why I make that particular association, but I do. Perhaps it has something to do with the old-fashioned charm of taking the bus?)

It’s one of too few spots where you can feel the energy of this city, hemmed in by skyscrapers like the gorgeous Art Deco Guardian Building, and plenty of street-level pedestrian activity. It’s good urban design in a city with too little of it.

Now add to that a greenhouse patio with retractable glass roof and walls on a broad expanse of bricked sidewalk, a place to eat and drink and soak in the city and people-watch. More of this, please.

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