The looming Victorian-style Northern Michigan Asylum, which was erected in Traverse City in 1885, was closed in the late 1980’s. For more than a decade, the hospital’s sprawling campus (just west of Division Street) existed only as a ghost town, full of hulking, vacant buildings with peeling paint, graffitied facades and smashed window panes. But today it is home to The Village at Grand Traverse Commons (thevillagetc.com), a multimillion dollar urban renewal project that’s become the country’s largest historic renovation. The space breathes with new life: condos and apartments, wineries, restaurants, galleries, cafes and specialty shops, which offer everything from yoga classes to equestrian gear. All are within walking distance of one another, housed in the buildings that once comprised the hospital.
You could easily spend an entire day wandering the shops and grounds here. Come with your palate prepared to sample some incredible tastes—the merchants who are taking up residence in this mini-village are turning out some of Traverse City’s best eats.
At Pleasanton Brick Oven Bakery (231-941-1964, pleasantonbakery.com), plump loaves of Parmesan olive herb, cinnamon raisin, cherry chocolate and other breads are baked fresh daily in a steamy, wood-fired brick oven. Nearby, the staff at Underground Cheesecake Co. (231-929-4418, undergroundcheesecake.com) churns out wildly delicious cheesecakes, as well as cookies, brownies, white-chocolate popcorn and the shop’s infamous chocolate-covered cheesecake-on-a-stick, featured on Food Network. Swing into Silver Tree Deli (231-947-3566, thesilvertreedeli.com) for a rotating menu of soup specials and quiche of the day, then indulge in a feel-good cup of joe at Higher Grounds (877-825-2262, highergroundstrading.com), an organic, fair-trade coffee house that makes its own all-natural flavored syrups—i.e., no high-fructose corn syrup in your vanilla latte or chai tea—and grinds its beans on the premises. (You can watch them do it while you sip.)
Behind the cottage shops, a network of forest trails laces through the campus and climbs skyward for a panoramic view of the city. The trails are marked and easily navigable for a midday stroll. Afterward, head down to the cool underground Mercato to peruse modern art pieces at Gallery 50 (231-932-0775, galleryfifty.com). Enjoy a wine tasting specially paired with small plates of artisan bites at Black Star Farms’ new bistro-style tasting room, Tastes (231-944-1349, blackstarfarms.com). Try a Leelanau peppercorn fromage blanc and raclette cheeses paired with Pleasanton Oven’s golden wheat bread and the house Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Sweet tooths shouldn’t miss the flourless chocolate brownie paired with two cherry dessert wines. Check out gorgeous designer clothing at Jeanette Veeder Designs (231-933-5226) and shop equestrian goods and cute boots at Red Hare Tack & Togs (231-922-9301) before strolling down to Trattoria Stella (231-929-8989, stellatc.com). The menu here is created daily based on the fresh ingredients that owner Paul Danielson and executive chef Miles Anton purchase each morning from local farmers and fruit stands. Cap off dinner by sampling a glass of Riesling at Left Foot Charley (231-995-0500, leftfootcharley.com). The cool, spacious, urban warehouse setting is where winemaker Bryan Ulbrich ferments and distills grapes from vineyards across the Traverse area.
Access the Village’s hiking trails from Parking Lot K on the northwest side of the campus. The original brickwork of the former hospital has been preserved on the interior and exterior of many of the spaces. At eco-minded Higher Grounds, you won’t find disposable take-out cups—all coffee is served in reusable mugs.