Coming to the end of metro Detroit's favorite holiday season, Halloween, leaves many a southeastern Michigander fiending for yet another reason to celebrate the macabre and morbid. Fortunately, for those who find the departed far more fascinating than the living, there's a brand-new party coming to Ferndale set to celebrate just that.
With the help of some paper mache skulls handmade and decorated by local artists as well as their truly delicious California-style Mexican cuisine, Imperial's holding their first ever Dia de los Muertos celebration with proceeds from which benefitting Roosevelt Primary School in Ferndale as well as the Eagles Pledge Scholarship Fund.
The celebration is centered around those aforementioned skulls – which went for auction via eBay on 10/29 – and the folks behind Ferndale's newest and hippest Mexican joint are hoping that omnipresent popularity of sugar skulls coupled with the cool factor of some of Detroit's hottest artists will be enough to make the holiday a yearly celebration in metro Detroit.
"We love the idea of a community celebration celebrating Dia de los Muertos," says Imperial's manager Sagen Isham of the party. "We hope the event grows bigger and bigger each year."
For those not in the know (not all of us can be Mexican, it's a shame, I know), the Day of the Dead is the celebration of all dearly departed souls. The grandiose glorification of loved ones who've passed on has been somewhat lost in our suburban culture, however, even despite the thriving community known as Mexicantown in Southwest Detroit.
The skulls that will be starring at Imperial's Day of the Dead celebration have a similar story of degradation in American culture. Bastardized by the ubiquity of similar art used to adorn Halloween partygoers and tattooed punks alike, sugar skulls have much deeper artistic roots than most are probably familiar with.
Used in the decoration of altars honoring the dead, sugar skulls are usually decorated and edible. However, we don't advise you imbibe the paper mache versions that will be auctioned off in accordance with Imperial's celebration – there will be plenty more palatable offerings than paper at this particular fete – but we do suggest you check out the amazing list of local artists who've contributed their newsprint-covered craniums.
Infamous greats like Niagara, Glenn Barr, Jerry Vile, Johnny Bee and Mark Arminski have contributed skulls as well as staple Detroit artists like Kill Taupe, SLAW, Mark Heggie, Audrey Pongracz, Mark Dancey and Jeremy E. Hansen have all contributed their time to creating pieces that will bring money to local scholastic art programs.
Ranging from pink and striped to dark and demonesque, the skulls are head-shaped representations of the artist's respective bodies of work. While some are bright and colorful and others are abstract and odd, all the works in this extremely limited edition compilation are pieces collectors are going to go nuts over.
"I'm getting the Niagara piece," says Imperial's co-owner Amir Daiza. "I don't care how much anyone bids, I'm bidding higher. That one is mine." (That sounds like a challenge to us, folks.)
Sixteen mini sugar skulls have also been decorated and donated for auction by artists from several highly reputable local tattoo shops including Signature Tattoo, Lance Keller Studios, Big Top, Iron Clad and Wholeshot.
For both the folks behind Imperial as well as the artists, Daiza calls the altruistic event a "no-brainer."
"We really wanted to bring in the element of local arts," says Daiza. "And then the money will go to benefit students' enrichment programs."
The brainchild of Imperial co-owner Sharon Lavoinse, the event has been coined as a Dedication to Education and Arts Day (D.E.A.D., get it?), there will be two events running back-to-back on 11/1 and 11/2. Imperial's Dia de los Muertos will consist of a reception for the artists of the paper mache skulls on Thursday night while Friday's festivities will commence at 6 p.m.
Though 11/2 will be the culmination of the eBay skull auction, there will be plenty more going on at Imperial as well. With a special menu prepared by Imperial's Chef Brenan Calnin, partygoers will have the opportunity to munch on short rib tacos served with traditional mole, pickled red onion and cilantro, vanilla-chili butter poached lobster served with a corn/red pepper relish and cilantro and plantain and bean tacos served with salsa verde and, of course, cilantro. A special cocktail menu of just-released fall specials will be on the board as well, consisting of both Mexican hot chocolate and Mexican punch. Special tequila tasting flights will also be available and are set to come served in, keeping with day's theme, miniature sugar skulls.
The food won't be the only thing making this party both authentic and worthwhile, either. The restaurant will be completely outfitted for the event and so will the lovely ladies that work there.
"We're having some of the girls come in from Capelli's salon and they'll be doing full sugar skull make up on the girls here," says Isham. "They'll also be wearing super authentic dresses and marigold headbands."
With those make-up artists staying on for the day of celebrations, partygoers will also have a chance to be decorated in the likeness of a sugar skull, and for those looking to commemorate the occasion all year long, t-shirts bearing the Mark Dancey-designed version of La Katrina will be for sale at the event as well.
A special playlist is being designed for the event by co-owner Perry Lavoisne and silent Rodriguez films will be playing on TVs through Imperial also.
With great food, killer art and amazing music coming together to celebrate loved ones long gone as well as local arts programs, we can't think of a single reason you'd want to miss the first ever Imperial Dia de los Muertos celebration. | RDW
Imperial Day of the Dead Celebration • Artist's Reception: 11/1, 8-11 p.m.; Festive Celebration: 11/2, 6 p.m.-2 a.m. • 22828 Woodward Ave., Ferndale • 248.850.8060