Mar 23, 2019

Old City Hall is charming, polished and professional

Doc’s report:

A few observations on the importance of old halls:

  • When tourists returning home highlight their trips, it’s surprising how often, in my experience, their touchstones are halls: Preservation Hall in the French Quarter, Carnegie Hall, Faneuil Hall, the Royal Albert Hall, the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, and the like.
  • My own college experience was punctuated by the building of Wickes Hall at SVSU in 1969 and my first class in Angell Hall at U of M in 1971.
  • The Vikings’ version of heaven is Valhalla, literally “the hall of the slain” warriors.
  • I don’t have a bucket list; but, if I did, #1 would be a certain hall in Cooperstown, N.Y., my version of heaven.
  • And I’ve been to my share of halls of both the pool and the dance varieties.

Our city by the bay has nothing to apologize for in terms of architecture, especially given its size. From St. Stanislaus Church to the Sage Library, the Masonic Temple to the State Theatre to the Pere Marquette Depot -- and, of course, the majestic homes in the Center Avenue historic district -- it makes an impressive driving tour if you’re hosting first-time visitors.

Among these architectural points of interest, the building that achieves iconic status and can be seen etched into our street signs is, of course, our City Hall. Especially since its
Behind the bar at Old City Hall
restoration following the 2010 fire, the hall’s terra cotta roof punctuates the skyline and beckons travelers crossing the river and its atrium skylight bathes the visitor in a welcoming light.

Right next door, you can get the full story at the Bay County Historical Museum, which is well worth a visit.

For all the visitors I’ve welcomed here, it’s never occurred to me that the next stop on our orientation should be the Old City Hall restaurant. The locale invites discussion of the city’s founding and development, and it’s impossible to tell a boring story about Hell’s Half Mile.

It’s a simply charming place, as polished and professional as possible without becoming pretentious. It was a perfect setting for a recent visit with Harry and the G-man, as our humble blog marks its 50th post and some 106,000 visits to our site.

In that 50-blog experience, I’ve discovered that the bartender is key. In our visit to Old City
Ginger at OCH
Hall, Mark and Ginger were as friendly, amusing and competent as any we’ve met. Both were well-traveled and, as a result, interesting conversationalists. I love the all-black uniforms.

The food and drink are high end, and a good value. Right up there with the Public House, Real Seafood Company and Tavern 101. But another observation I’d make from our bloggery is that Bay City is marvelously diverse, with a bar and budget for every taste.

But I’d like to close as I began, with a note on the role of architectural halls in civic life. It wasn’t until 1981
Mark at OCH
when I moved to Chicago, the home of American architecture, that I began to see how the design and function of a city’s buildings play a vital role in the life of the citizenry.

Caesar Augustus said: “I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.” Even without my training, I recognize a symbol when I see one. Augustus came to power in a hard, rough society and left it polished.

In our Rome, Old City Hall presents a welcoming, dark, warm, civil place, attractively constructed from the perdurable bricks and wood of its founders’ industry. It’s long and narrow, with a textured tin ceiling, a polished wood bar nearly the length of the room, a glass front so you can see who’s inside, and an elegant logo.

When you visit, notice the original brick walls and wooden floors. A focus of city life and a symbol of civic virtue, Old City Hall was built to last and it has lasted and adapted -- and prospered in a new era.

So has our historic city by the bay.

See the hairy guy’s report on Old City Hall: A katsu sando (?), imported cherries and more wines than beers. (Nope, this isn't a dive bar)

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