Paczki mayhem begins with wintry run through Hamtramck

Paczki Day -- which falls on March 4 this year; yep, that's next Tuesday -- is one more baccanalian holiday that we are so good at celebrating here in Detroit.

Known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras most elsewhere, it’s the last day before Lent -- for Catholics, a period of restraint leading up to Easter -- which means it might be someone’s last chance to party for 40 days and 40 nights. Which means Catholics tend to eat and drink a lot on that day, and apparently, the habit’s rubbed off on many of the non-devout.

Let’s get the definition out of the way. Technically speaking, a paczek is just a jelly-filled donut but, to aficionados, it’s a 400-calorie doughy dream. They’ve been a Polish tradition since the Middle Ages, where the goal was to use up all the butter, lard and eggs in the home prior to the start of Lent. There’s a wide range of fillings available, including custard, apricot and raspberry, but traditionalists will recommend prune, plum or rose hip jam. The trick to the fluffiness of a paczek is the grain alcohol added just before deep frying the dough, which evaporates while cooking.

Well over 100 years back, Hamtramck’s Polish immigrants seized on the tradition and grew it into a town signature, where nowadays lines form out the doors of the best bakeries. Which ones are those, you ask? While they each have their proponents, you can’t go wrong at New Palace and New Martha Washington, where lines out-the-door and curling around the block are to be expected.

Now that you’ve done the whole waiting-in-line thing, you’ve earned the right to a few drinks. Plenty of people take the day off of work a la opening day and prepare to dig in for the day-drinking long haul. Please don’t forget to arrange for a sober driver. Seriously, it gets pretty sloppy out there.

Pretty much every bar in Hamtramck gets in on the action, but Model D’s sussed out a handful of spots for you to visit during your entrenchment.

Whiskey in the Jar: Live music, a heated tent, authentic Polish food, Jello shots and the world-famous shot-ski will make your favorite Hamtramck hole-in-the-wall a serious hot spot for the day.

Small’s: Real Detroit has named this the Best Bar on Paczki Day two years running. It opens at 10 a.m. with music starting at 4 p.m. Word to the wise: the incredible Paczki bombs might be all gone by then.

PLAV Post #10: Never checked out this place? Maybe today’s the day to bring you through the friendly doors. There will be a DJ downstairs and live music upstairs with food and drink specials all day. Don’t miss the Paczki eating contest at noon.

For the second year in a row, the Tour de Troit is holding a PaczKi Run the Saturday prior to the big day. It’s a chance to run the town and check out your favorite bakery or bar before all the Tuesday mayhem. Last year's race was an amazing, icy, mid-winter spectacle (last year, Lent began in early February), and featured hundreds upon hundreds of runners, walkers and curious locals watching from snow covered residential and commercial streets.

When the race was over the party began in tents set up at the corner of Jos, Campau and Holbrook. Drinks started pouring, the band started playing and the polka-rockers hit the dance floor. Look for race day, Saturday March 1, to be even bigger this year.    

The run starts at 10 a.m. and afterwards, there will be shopping and food and drink specials all over town for anyone wearing their run bib. Cafe 1923, 7 Brothers, Polish Village Cafe, the Polish Art Center, Detroit Threads and Chiipss are all in on the action, so plan to make a day of it!

And to cap off the week, the first ever Hamtramck Music Festival blasts off Thursday, March 6 and runs through Saturday March 8. It's sub-titled "All Tomorrow's Paczki," a play off of these London-based event promoters and producers. We'll get into the nitty-gritty of that beautiful thing next week in Model D.

Keep running wild, Hamtramck. Don’t never change.

Kelli Kavanaugh is a Detroit-based freelance writer and bicycle entrepreneur at Wheelhouse Detroit.

Paczki Run 2013 photos by Walter Wasacz
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