Ask Christos Moisides about what the Greektown neighborhood means to Detroit, and he’s quick to respond:
“It’s been one of the heartbeats of Detroit for many, many decades,” said Moisides, whose family has owned businesses in the district on the city’s near Northeast side for years. “It means a lot to continue the tradition of what Greektown was and then be a part of transition it into what Greektown will continue to be.”
That’s the same assessment offered up by Tasso Teftsis, the owner of the legendary Astoria Bakery.
“(Greektown) is special to Detroit because it’s the last ethnic neighborhood that is still living and vibrant,” he said. “It’s special to Greeks around here, they feel ownership of Greektown, and we have a responsibility to keep it going.”
Greektown was established in the 1880s as a residential district where immigrants could hold on to their culture as they adapted to a new way of life. It morphed to a commercial streetscape led by family-owned businesses and marked by historic properties and Victorian era architecture.
The area’s cultural legacy was on full display this summer during the second annual Greektown Heritage Festival, which drew thousands of people to explore Monroe Avenue between Brush and St. Antoine streets on July 27.
The event served as a reminder of the Hellenic influence in the neighborhood, but it was also an introduction to one of the city’s prime entertainment district and diverse shopping experiences.
Residents and visitors strolled through the neighborhood watching lamb being traditionally roasted on a spit over open flames, Greek entertainers singing and dancing and a children’s area with balloon artists and inflatable playhouses.
The day-long festival is led by the Greektown Preservation Society with sponsorship by the Greektown Casino-Hotel, which opened in 2007 and has helped the area evolve while staying true to its roots.
“Greektown Casino-Hotel are awesome neighbors,” Teftsis said. “They are a big part of the festival, but they’re also a big part of the community, a part of our Greektown neighborhood partnership…it’s really an exciting time for Greektown.”
While Greektown’s history is evident in its name, the district has also served as a melting pot of cultures, one of which is shown through mutual support to and from The Old Shillelagh, an iconic Irish bar at the corner of Brush and Monroe streets. Owner Shellie Lewis said the festival is a chance to learn more about neighbors who share the goals of keeping Greektown strong.
“There’s a lot of new businesses coming in, and it is making this an even better place to be,” Lewis said. “If it wasn’t for Greektown Casino and Hotel, we wouldn’t be able to pull off the event. They are pillars of the community.”
Moisides, meanwhile, said as other areas of Detroit attract attention for their rebirth, it’s important to remember that Greektown never went away. It’s part of the pulse of Detroit, Moisides said.
“For the longest time, Greektown was everything,” Moisides said. “It’s still such a vital part of the community, where you have vibrant businesses and a great pulse of the area. It’s a place where everyone’s coming to see what’s happening and (wants to be) a part of the community.
“It’s still a safe family environment during the daytime and turns into a great entertaining, kind of nightlife hospitality enhanced area in the evenings.”