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Lester Graham

Reporter/Host of Stateside

Lester Graham splits his time between hosting Stateside (Fridays) and reporting for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative (DJC). He was formerly the Senior Editor of The Environment Report, the environmental news service based at Michigan Radio, starting with the service in 1998.

He has been a journalist since 1985. Graham has served as a board member of the Public Radio News Directors Inc., and also served as President of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association. He is a member of the Radio-Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), Society of Professional Journalists and other professional groups.

Lester has received more than 100 awards at the state, regional, national and international levels for journalistic excellence, including four RTDNA Edward R. Murrow awards, two of them at the network level.

Twitter: @MichiganWatch

Facebook link

email:  llgraham@umich.edu

Ways to Connect

Courtesy: Friends of the Alger Theater

Across Detroit, neighborhoods are trying to figure out what they can do to remake their community. One neighborhood is pinning hopes on something it still has that most of Detroit’s other neighborhoods lost years ago.

There used to be dozens of movie theaters scattered across Detroit’s neighborhoods. Nearly all of them have been closed and demolished. There are a handful left. One of them is the Alger Theater  in the MorningSide neighborhood on Detroit’s east side.

Paul Phillips is a board member of the MorningSide Community Organization. He says the Alger was once central to the area, a gathering place that helped keep the business district along East Warren Avenue buzzing.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Cheers! team visited the Grove restaurant in Grand Rapids to learn about an old cocktail the restaurant is taking one step farther..

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Kate Lewis is adding to a big plastic bag of clay balls before she begins work at her pottery wheel.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

One of the big issues in Detroit is blight. People walking away from their properties or foreclosures are the base of the problem. After that, it’s people stealing things out of the empty house.

Some neighborhoods have been devastated by abandoned homes and the scrappers who strip them. The MorningSide neighborhood on Detroit’s east side hasn’t hit the level of devastation, but it’s been hit pretty hard.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit still has a reputation for being a high-crime city. However, like the rest of the nation, Detroit’s violent crime rate has been steadily declining since the late 1980s.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit’s reputation as a high crime city has not gone away, but its crime rate is down substantially. It’s been falling since the 1980s. But there are areas of the city that are not as safe as others.

Detroit Neighborhood Police Officer (NPO) DeAndre Gaines at the Department’s Fifth Precinct picked me up for a ride-along in his patrol car. We headed to the MorningSide neighborhood on the city’s east side.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This week, Cheers! is out of the studio and on the road. We visited Reserve Wine & Food to learn about a new addition to its cocktail menu.

Rob Hanks named it the “Lovers’ Quarrel” because he and fellow bartender Megan Knapp had a spat about whether to add a vodka cocktail. Some bartenders are not fond of vodka because it brings no flavor to the drink, just alcohol.

“(I) fought her tooth and nail,” Hanks said, adding, “Then I got bored one night, started using some stuff left over in the kitchen and here we are.”

Dennis Potter holding up a fish, standing in the Au Sable River
Courtesy: Dennis Potter

  

Dennis Potter is still doing what he discovered he loved in 1977. He ties flies for fly fishing. He says he still remembers tying his first one.

“To take that fly that I tied – I can show you within six inches on a log where I caught my first trout on the Au Sable River almost 40 years ago,” Potter said.

Dennis Potter was hooked.

He took a fly-tying class, but he says his real education came from being fortunate enough to know a lot of good fly tyers.

He studied their patterns and techniques. He also studied the insects fish prey upon.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Four years ago Imbibe Magazine and the makers of the liqueur, Campari, started Negroni Week. This year it runs from June 5-11. Many cocktail bars will offer a Negroni (Campari, gin, vermouth; recipe here) and give part of the proceeds to a charity.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Update: 5/24/2017 The business, Hammer Time True Value Hardware, closed shortly after the interview with owner Bill Kamman. That leaves another substantial gap in the business district on E. Warren Avenue in the MorningSide neighborhood.

There are small business districts throughout Detroit that are barely hanging on. They were once thriving. But population loss and the loss of wealth in the neighborhoods have created hard times for neighborhood businesses. The question is: what to do with them now?

charles mcgee
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Painter Charles McGee is a Detroit icon whose art can be seen everywhere from the Detroit Institute of Art to the People Mover's Broadway station. 

His latest work is a mural called “Unity” that is being painted on a new redevelopment by Bedrock, one of Dan Gilbert’s companies.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Bullshot just might be the most popular drink to ever come out of Detroit. In the 1950s, it was even more popular than the Last Word from the Detroit Athletic Club or the Hummer from the Bayview Yacht Club.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This week, Artisans of Michigan stops in southwest Detroit, at the Diseños Ornamental Iron company.

In the shop, people are welding fences, bending, hammering orange hot – you know, even hotter than red hot – lengths of steel into ornamental scrolls. Others are grinding down welds, smoothing it out to make it look good, and prepping the sculpted steel for powder coating.

A mint julep sitting on a red napkin with a bottle of bourbon in the background
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Saturday is the Kentucky Derby. There’s a traditional drink for the “run for the roses.” It’s the mint julep. But finding a well-made mint julep is difficult. So, you should make it yourself.

“The mint julep is all about technique,” said Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings, adding, “You really want to pay attention while you’re making this drink.”

Even at the Derby, it's hard to find a really good mint julep.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit might be one of the largest socio-economic laboratories in the world. Billionaires are rehabbing iconic downtown buildings. The federal government is funding demolition of tens of thousands of abandoned houses. And private foundations are testing out all kinds of projects to see what might spark neighborhood revival.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The next stop in our Artisans of Michigan series is on a residential street in Highland Park, a city that’s within the City of Detroit.

Celeste Smith is using a small hammer to tack down fabric that’s been soaked in a stiffening agent. She’s making a hat. A fancy one for ladies planning to attend a big hat-wearing event.

“I’m getting ready for the Derby,” she says. Smith has been up all night to keep up with demand. “They’re having the Detroit Derby Day here and I also have some clients going to Louisville,” she said. Big fancy hats are a tradition at the Kentucky Derby.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

  

Constantly in search of new Michigan products for cocktails, Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings found a liquor that was new to her. It’s actually been out for a couple of years. It’s Coppercraft Distillery’s Applejack. Coppercraft is in Holland and has been around since 2012.

The cocktail she decided to mix is the Jack Rose. It’s a classic cocktail which was really popular in the 1920s and 30s. “While other cocktails from that period such as the Martini or the Manhattan have come roaring back, the Jack Rose is still a little bit of an underdog,” Coxen said.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Scott Smith Pipe Organs in Lansing repairs, restores, installs, and builds pipe organs. However, Scott Smith says his profession causes confusion for some people, such as a guy he was talking to at a party.

A bottle of sweet vermouth, half a lime, and a cocktail.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Cheers! crew is always looking for new Michigan products for cocktails and other drinks. Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings hunts high and low.

“This is one of the most unique products I’ve come across recently,” she said. “It’s a Michigan-made sweet vermouth,” she explained, holding up the Brengman Brothers Piccolo Dito Vermouth. Brengman Brothers is based at the Crain Hill Vineyard near Traverse City.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

For several months now, we’ve been traveling around the state, talking to people who make useful things with their hands. We’re calling the series Artisans of Michigan.

This time, we found ourselves in Tecumseh, in Mike Thomsen’s garage. Some people call him “Canoe Mike” because, among other things, he makes wood canoes.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Many Detroit neighborhoods need help. A lot of blocks are little more than a couple of occupied homes, a few abandoned houses, some burned out structures, and overgrown vacant lots.

Between 1970 and 2010 Detroit lost more than 228 thousand occupied housing units according to a recent report by the Urban Institute. 

nico7martin / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

I was sad to hear about Chuck Berry’s death last weekend.

When I worked in St. Louis two decades ago, getting an interview with Berry was a challenge for every reporter in town. He hadn’t given an interview in more than two years when I decided to give it a shot. The owner of a venue where Berry played every couple of months suggested I come to the 40th anniversary of Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode. The idea was the club owner would help me get an interview before the show.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Since it’s National Cocktail Day, Cheers! is mixing up a cocktail.

“I don’t know who comes up with these days, but I’m kind of glad to have an occasion to celebrate,” Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings said.

The Cheers! staff is up for a celebratory cocktail just about any day, but it would seem to be necessary today since it's a national holiday.

Alex Porbe / Incite Design

There are people in Michigan who are quietly making pieces of art with a purpose beyond art. 

One of them works in Detroit at a nondescript shop on Mack Avenue. Alex Porbe is with Incite Design, a  fabrication and custom design firm.

Porbe works with architects and project managers, working up designs to complement existing architecture or making a design statement.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It's nearly spring, and the sap is running. Maple syrup makes a good choice for a sweetener in our pick for a cocktail.

“This is just a little whiskey sour variation,” Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings explained.

“When I was a kid we would go every year as part of a school trip and I remember loving to see the maple syrup boiling down,” Coxen said, adding, “It’s a really great memory for me and I love maple syrup because of it.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Fritz Swanson is a writer. But he says even when he was little, writing alone just wasn’t the end of it. It had to be printed. It had to be a book.

“Writing the story and then making the way that it’s communicated seemed essential to me, seemed all to be part of the same game,” he explained.

When his dad took him along to help a friend fix a tractor, he found something that changed his life.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Downtown Detroit is in a revival, but neighborhoods across the city are still declining. One of the reasons is the onslaught of tax foreclosures.  Those foreclosure mean more vacant houses. Soon the homes are stripped by scrappers, and the destruction can affect the whole block.

Ulysses Jones drove me around his neighborhood, MorningSide, on Detroit’s east side. He’s with a community organization also called MorningSide.

Courtesy: Valentine Distilling

Detroit is known worldwide for its cars, for its music, and now for its vodka.

The top prize for vodka at the World Drinks Awards in London last year did not go to a Russian vodka. It went to a Detroit vodka.

This cheeky promotional video suggests it was a sad day for Russia.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We headed to the city of Monroe in the southeast corner of the state for our latest Artisans of Michigan. We visited Michigan Musical Instrument Service. Kevin Powers has been repairing instruments there since 1987.

“I do most of the work for the Detroit symphony, all the brass players, the Toledo symphony, some of the guys from Cleveland. Those would be my occasional clients. My everyday ones are the school kids that come in with a dent in the trumpet. That’s who my normal customers are,” Powers

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

In honor of Black History Month, we visited with Amas Muhammad at Selden Standard in Detroit. He has a drink recipe for us below, but we wanted to know more about the role of people of color in developing the craft cocktail industry.

Muhammad says for a craft that’s obsessed with the history of drinks and the bartenders who invented them, his colleagues miss a huge swath of contributors.

“People of color have been instrumental since the beginning of spirits in America,” Muhammad said.

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