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Review: Downtown Louie’s gets some upgrades

Molly Abraham
The Detroit News

With trendy new spots opening in the city at a record pace, downtown’s existing restaurants need to stay alert. In order to keep up with the increasing competition, some tweaks are in order, even for well-established places.

And at Downtown Louie’s Lounge, that’s exactly what’s happening.

The restaurant in a two-story building that was handsomely restored three years ago has made some major moves, starting with its new executive chef, Dan Rutkowski, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who moved over from the roof-top Iridescence at the Motor City Casino, and seems to be relishing the new post.

The Balkan, or lamb burger, is served on a rustic old world bun with Hungarian peppers, garlic yogurt and a side Albanian salad.

He has already upgraded some of the raw materials, bringing in Wagyu beef and fresh oysters, for instance, and writing an updated menu that will be unveiled at the end of this month.

Not that he is trying to change what is already working well. Louie’s is a comfortable spot offering familiar American dishes in an attractive yet unpretentious balconied setting with a friendly staff. It is run efficiently by Adrian Gjocaj and his family. Many of its crowd-pleasing dishes, including burgers and hefty sandwiches like the deli-style sandwiches will still be available on the upcoming menu, which, by the way, won’t be encased in a heavy cover as before — the menu cover was one of the few false notes here — but will be a simple sheet of paper.

Server Jeremiah Upshaw, right, brings lunch to Quicken Loans facilities director Dan Sims, left, as he has lunch with his employees.

Diners have gotten a preview of some of the new dishes the past couple of weeks when they were offered as specials. Among them are a fun take on the Coney Island, known as the Coney Island Chip, housemade chips topped with chili, braised pork, onion, and cheddar cheese, as well as lobster corn dogs and steak frites with bone marrow butter, garlic and rosemary fries.

East Coast oysters are served with mignonette sauce, the much subtler accompaniment to the delicate mollusks than the familiar red cocktail sauce. And those deliciously briny oysters are $1 apiece during happy hour. Other newcomers include miso glazed salmon on a sake-soaked cedar plank, with quinoa and broccolini. Louie’s is offering some of the new dishes this week and next after 4 p.m.

Downtown Louie’s took three years to transform into the handsome restaurant that’s also seeing menu changes.

Seating options include booths and tables on the main floor, and for parties or large groups, tables on the balcony. The underlit onyx bar offers another dozen or so perches.

Before-and-after photos of the building (on Louie’s website) show just what a transformation has taken place. Prior to the rebuild, the ramshackle structure was used for gritty scenes in major movies, notably “Eight Mile” and “Transformers 3.”

It took two years to bring it to its handsome current state. And happily, the food measures up. This is a friendly neighborhood bar that just happens to have downtown as its neighborhood.


Downtown Louie’s Lounge

30 Clifford, Detroit

Call: (313) 961-1600



Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-midnight Fri., 4-midnight Sat. Closed Sun.

Prices: Appetizers $9-$15, salads $9-$14, burgers and sandwiches $9-$14, entrees $13-$24, sides $3-$6.

Credit cards: All major

Liquor: Full bar

Noise level: Moderate

Parking: Nearby lots and street

Wheelchair access: No barriers

What the ratings mean

★ — routine ★★ — good

★★1/2 — very good ★★★ — excellent

★★★★ — outstanding