You'll be hard pressed to find a cooler, more attractive location in Detroit than the Cass Cafe . While many have unfortunately never heard of this catch, those who have will nod knowingly. Located a stone's throw from Wayne's campus on Cass street (as the name implies) the Cass Cafe rests midway between Twingos and University Towers — Wayne's big apartment building with the two glowing green W's. Let's just first make it clear — if you don't go and check out the Cass Cafe as soon as your schedule allows you are making a serious mistake…
(All pictures by Jason Mick and Detroit Chic, courtesy of the Cass Cafe)
The Cass Cafe is a fun place in so many ways. First, when you come in the door, you will instantly be drawn in by the dimmed lighting. Whereas some Detroit locales such as the Bronx eschew light even further, going for a candle lit look, the Cass Cafe draws a fine balance, dimming the lights enough so the place feels warm and intimate, but not dimming them enough so you feel like you're in a small bar.
Once you appreciate the lighting, your eyes will likely soon wonder over the many pieces of modern art that cover the walls of the cafe, forming a rich artistic atmosphere wherever you sit. Every work is a bit unique. They range from the large and imposing free standing sculputure of a pointing giant to smaller canvas paintings.
The architecture of the Cafe is another big draw. The Cafe features large open spaces and packs a lot of room into a small space. High ceilings accomodate two stories. Theres a number of seats both in the front atrium and in the back atrium sections of the bottom floor. In between, beneath the second store ceiling rests the cozily situated bar and, on the opposite side, the checkout. The bar is well stocked, and reasonably priced. The ceiling above the bar is high enough to avoid claustrophobia, and the bar is quite long, so you'll able to squeeze in all your friends.
Pictured: An aerial view from the staircase leading to the upstairs balcony showcases the Cass Cafe's front atrium dining area, the spacious ceilings, and some of the artwork bedecking the walls.
Pictured: An view showcasing the front atrium, the bar, and the upstairs dining area, gives a feel for the Cafe's rich lighting
If you're in the mood for a more intimate setting, simply travel up the stairs to the upstairs floor, which overlooks the front and back atrium areas below. The railings of this upper story are decorated with cheeful christmas lights, giving it a kitsch and playful appeal. Comfortable cushioned chairs give you a tempting alternative to the standard wood-chair.
Pictured: The upstairs features a couple of comfy chairs and a more intimate atmosphere overlooking the lower level.
The atmosphere of the Cafe on the whole just feels very sophisticated, but does not come off as too pretentious. The Cafe really shows through as a classy art establishment, where other art-centric establishments fall into sleeze, either going too much for shocking pieces or being too reek with drugs and drunkness. The Cass Cafe avoids these trends and really delivers a great atmosphere.
A big part of it is the patrons. The place is typically packed. Even on a Sunday night, when Detroit Chic came to the cafe almost all the tables were full, and the bar was filled up as well. The crowd for the most part is composed of intellectuals and artistic types, so you're sure to meet some fun people and feel a level of comraderie in your adventure to the Cafe.
Pictured: The giant sculpture on the wall near the front is one of a number of imaginative pieces decorating the Cass Cafe.
The air of sophistication also makes it an ideal location to take your next date. Want to impress? Well the Cass Cafe would make a perfect start to an evening of fun in the city. It would also be an ideal "chill date" for those couples at that "past the first few dates" stage, as you could simply relax and enjoy the evening at the cafe talking.
One surprise that the Cafe packs is a great selection of food (for a full menu refer here (PDF)). The Cafe's reasonably priced entrees meet or surpass the quality of culinary experience found at many other more expensive Detroit locales. This is one more reason to go to the Cafe, whether it be for a date or with a group of friends. To give a direct comparison, Detroit Chic was at the Majestic and Cass Cafe within a few days from each other. Both locations featured similar tortellini dishes, with mushrooms and artichokes. At the Cafe, the dish was as large or larger than the Majestic dishes and it came hotter. The ingredients used tasted fresher as well. This is not meant as an afront to the Majestic, which also provides an enjoyable dining experience — it simply is another measure of how great the Cass Cafe is. The real kicker in the previous comparison is the price. The Majestic dish ran the diner about $15, while the Cafe dish was a mere $9.50.
Even if you could afford the higher prices at other restaurants, why would you want to, when Cass Cafe delivers fresher and tastier meals? Variety is a good thing, but if you don't patron the Cass Cafe, and you go out to eat regularly, you might as well be throwing your money away. An additional note is that the Cass Cafe is very health centric and vegetarian friendly in their cuisine. As a number of Detroit Chic staffers are vegetarians, we found this especially desirable. The aforementioned "Wild Mushroom Cheese Tortellini" and the "Cafe Vegetarian Lasagna" were both very good. And for the meat eaters in the crowd, they do offer such richer foods as Sirloin and Black Angus Stew, as well as healthier fish selections.
Desert is a definite must. Detroit Chic recommends the "Berry White Cheesecake". This rich and decadent desert is simply amazing, and will even win over non-cheesecake lovers (like this writer). Be sure to order the perfect ending to your meal, you won't regret it!
In addition to the great atmosphere, the fun crowd, and the great food, one more reason to go to the Cass Cafe (as if you needed one) is that they offer live music and poetry. The Cafe regularly hosts music nights in which local, and occasionally out-of-town artists come to perform . Local live acts like Tovio, and Sneaky and the Rat are among the regulars to the Cass Cafe's scene. Bands perform in the back atrium, and typically draw the entire population of the building by midpoint in the show. Its easy to watch the show either from this atrium or comfortably from the bar. The general music tends towards the indie/folk side of things, which is a sound enjoyed my many of us at Detroit Chic. Also enjoyable are the considerably talented poets who perform readings during interludes in these shows.
Pictured: The back atrium offers additional dining spaces as well as space for a stage, where you can watch talented local musicians perform in a casual and comfortable setting.
It's really wonderful to have someplace as fun as the Cass Cafe here in Detroit and so close to Wayne State University. The place feels like the kind of place you would have seen a young Bob Dylan frequenting, the kind of place that beatniks would frequent, the kind of place that Kerouac would have sat at and scribbled poetry. Its a place where you can have that perfect date, or just spend a relaxed evening safe in the comfort of an enjoyable atmosphere. It won't break your wallet, but it will fill you up. And if you're lucky you might even get to hear some of Detroit's considerable local music and literary talent. Having read this, you probably are about ready to pack up and go to the Cafe at your next free night, to which I say "hope to see you there!"