I’ve been cheerleading Detroit for more than a year now, since my first visit last June on assignment. On that trip a small spark ignited with the thought, “we should buy a house here.” One year later, my husband and I did just that, and we’ve spent this summer trying to get our new 95-year-old house ready for a big birthday bash. Friends are coming in from out of town, all intrigued by my exuberant descriptions of this utterly unique city. We’re having a house party that starts on a Friday night and runs through brunch on Sunday. As much as I’d like to play tour guide, we have work to do on the house, so I’m turning my friends loose to discover the D on their own (but with suggestions I’ve gleaned from a year of exploring). Here’s what I’m giving them:
Welcome to Detroit! It’s not any one thing that tipped me into love with the city, but a vibe, an energy, a feeling that’s like nowhere else. It’s confronting, it’s crazy, and it keeps beckoning me to see what’s down that next street. I hope you’ll discover your own Detroit treasures, but here are a few suggestions to get you started. (Feel free to ignore all these and go out exploring — just tell me about the places you find!)
I know you probably want to check out the ruin porn, but first, why not go see a farmer’s market to end all farmer’s markets? Head to Eastern Market and check out the glory that is the Michigan harvest. You’ll find food trucks for sustenance (if you’re lucky the mac and cheese truck might be there) and fuel for your adventures at Germack Coffee Roasting. You’ll also want to check out some of the cool shops ringing the market (I like Salt & Cedar letterpress a lot but there are a slew of others). You could easily spend all morning wandering the market and environs. If your mental images of Detroit include the post-apocalyptic views you see on the news, this market will blow away those perceptions.
Though the DIA is definitely worth a visit (and you can see why it’s so important their art be preserved — instead of auctioned off — with one spin around the collection) I’d encourage you explore some of the outdoor only-in-Detroit art. The Heidelberg Project gets a lot of attention, for good reason. It’s near Eastern Market, so be sure to swing by to see what happens when a very creative Detroiter decides to do something about his neighborhood rotting away (I wish you could have seen the house covered in record albums but some arsehole burned it down last fall).
Anyway, once you check that off your list, head to the MBAD for a walk through the grassy field where salvaged materials from around the city are used in “Iron Teaching Rocks How to Rust” installations. Even on the sunniest days they give me chills. You can find interesting outdoor art all over the city, but a couple more places worth visiting are the Lincoln Street Art Park and, oh my goodness, don’t miss Hamtramck Disneyland. Trust me on that one – where else can you find a back alley structure created over a couple decades by a Ukrainian immigrant?
Ok, it’s time for your obligatory visit to the train station – that hulking, haunting building that seems well on its way to standing as icon to Detroit. Once you’ve snapped the photos (nobody’s judging – everybody does it), turn around and check out Corktown. Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, it’s in the midst of transformation now, home to Astro, the fantastic coffee shop straight outta Brooklyn, the locally legendary Slows Barbecue, and Detroit’s first distillery since Prohibition. You know I’m sending you there. Two James makes a mighty fine bourbon you can taste at their bar, and some fine cocktails to boot. (If you’re really in a cocktail mood, head to Sugar House for a near-Portlandia craft cocktail scene, and a serious whiskey list).
While you’re in the area, stop in John K. King Used & Rare Books, a former glove factory now housing an immense collection of glorious old books. Acres of old shelves line the creaking floors, dusty old books just waiting for you to discover them. It’s easy to lose track of time, so make your way out before they close at 5:30, or you’ll be spending the night!
You’re hopefully heading to Baker’s Keyboard Lounge up on 8 Mile and Livernois Saturday night (a serious step back in time), and while you can dig into some soul food with your saxophone there, why not pre-fuel with some Detroit pizza? Yes, that is a thing, and my favorite square pizza is at Buddy’s (the Conant St. location).
This is only a taste of the D. There’s so much more to cover – see you next time!