Mini City Guide

DETROIT

11 months ago by

DETROIT

Last year, I moved from New York City to my hometown of Detroit. (Grosse Pointe, actually, a waterfront town 10 minutes outside the city, which you might know from Grosse Pointe Blank or The Virgin Suicides.) The first thing everyone asked me was whether I was, well, bored. In New York, nothing is out of reach: sushi at midnight? Sure. Last-minute Broadway tickets? No prob. A random, Tuesday night at Bemelmans piano bar? Why not? “Showtime!” during the morning subway commute? Just kidding, I don’t miss that. But in Detroit, I discovered the city as though for the first time. I had spent lots of time there as a child. My mother grew up there, and her Lebanese parents grew up there. My grandmother lived on Heidelberg, a street now well-known as the site of the controversial Heidelberg Project.

I was regaled with stories of how Detroit used to be, when the auto industry was booming, and Motown was turning out hit after hit, long before the 1967 riots and the city’s period of decline throughout my childhood. My grandmother and her sisters would dress up for lunch and shopping at Hudson’s department store. They’d take the streetcar to have picnics on Belle Isle, the city’s Central Park. It was bustling, full of promise, culture, immigrants, and wealth; it was a city that was the living breathing definition of the American Dream.

Today, old, heartbreakingly beautiful, formerly abandoned buildings are being repurposed into new restaurants, hotels, bars, performance spaces. People like to say the city is having a renaissance. Don’t tell born-and-bred Detroiters that, though, because it’s always been cool to them. In fact, the real charm of the city lies within the people themselves: Detroiters are kind, and proud of their town, and many have been there, supporting one another through the city’s most tumultuous years. They created art spaces, community gardens, cleaned up parks, started mentorship programs. It’s true that the people really make Detroit what it is. But you’ll soon see that for yourself!

Stay

Book a room at the Detroit Foundation Hotel. It used to be the Detroit Fire Department headquarters in the 1920s, and the neoclassical building still has its fire engine red doors. (I have a soft spot for old buildings—I’m nostalgic, I’m all about ambiance—and the famous architecture in Detroit is a constant source of inspiration.) The rooms have super minimal interiors and they’re stashed with Le Labo toiletries. In the morning, head downstairs to The Apparatus Room for breakfast—it’s one of the best restaurants in the city. (Side note: If you come after December, the soon-to-be-opened Shinola Hotel might give the Foundation a run for its money. It’s supposed to have a beer garden, an Italian restaurant, and of course, an adjacent Shinola store.)

Eat

Detroit is becoming quite the foodie destination. I’m not a foodie—I’m so not picky when it comes to eating—but some restaurants offer such incredible combinations that they give you, like, a high. (Is that how food critics write? Haha.) But before I start name dropping the cool new places, you must know that the Detroit area is home to the largest Middle Eastern population in the United States, and naturally, the best Middle Eastern food in the United States. They’re inexpensive, little hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and they’re everywhere in the greater Detroit area: The Yemen Café, Cedar Garden, Cleopatra Mediterranean Grill, Lyla’s, Steve’s Back Room, Anita’s Kitchen. But, if you really want the best Lebanese food ever, just come over to my mom’s house.

What’s your ideal kind of pizza? Pie-Sci has it. I’m making an assumption, yes, but it’s true. They cater to dietary needs—dairy free, vegan, gluten free, vegetarian—and while you can easily BYOP (build your own pizza) they also have some pretty spectacular creations like Insane Cauliflower Pizza, Strawberry Cough, and Cashew Rules Everything Around Me. But, if you’re a classic margherita girl like me, they have that, too.

The first time I went to Selden Standard I was with my family. We were all ravenously hungry and the tapas-inspired menu made it easy to order basically everything. Think: (Charred octopus with mint and almonds, lamb chops, roasted carrots with brown butter and yogurt…). I haven’t been for brunch yet, but my sister has, several times, and she swears it’s amazing.

Or you could head to Parks & Rec, an old-school diner that serves brunch all day, but with unexpected combos like lamb bacon (trust, it’s delicious), and waffle donuts with jam, toasted pistachio, and powdered sugar.

Grey Ghost and Parc are pretty spectacular for dinner, too. Parc has American food with a French twist—I’m obsessed with their trout, it comes with butternut squash and pumpkin seeds—and Grey Ghost has the best burger ever. Oh! I can’t forget Chartreuse. I just went to that little French restaurant last weekend and their lamb meatballs were amazing.

Go Out

Cliff Bells is the oldest jazz bar in the city and, in my opinion, the height of romance, whether you’re by yourself, with friends, or a significant other. I went on a date there last fall when the weather was brisk. We ordered a bottle of red wine and a plate of fries and it was magical. You feel like you’re transported back to the 1930s. Another historic spot with lots of character is Ghostbar. Located at the top of an iconic, gorgeous Detroit mansion called The Whitney, it dates back to 1894 and is said to be haunted. Need I say more?

As for new bars, Kiesling has the best cocktails, and Two James is the first distillery in the city since Prohibition. It has wooded interiors and is light and airy inside, which makes it the perfect place to spend a Sunday afternoon, especially when they have live music.

And, if you want to get dressed up for an evening at the theatre, you’re in the right place: you have your pick of the Michigan Opera Theatre, Fisher Theatre, Fox Theatre, Masonic Temple, and Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Shop

My sister introduced me to the amazingness that is Detroit Clothing Circle—whenever I complimented her on a top/dress/skirt/pair of shoes it was always from DCC. They have the chicest edit of vintage clothes, and for incredible prices. I’ve never left there without buying something.

My mom used to take my siblings and I to John K. King Used and Rare Books when we were little—it’s been around for years and years. Getting lost among the labyrinth of one million plus books that fill four giant floors is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Shinola and City Bird are fun to browse around, too, whether you’re buying Detroit-made products for yourself or friends. When you’re at City Bird, look for Detroit Rose beauty products—they make great candles, face masks, and serums.

Explore

When I lived on the Upper West Side, I lived directly across the park from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I went often, and would immediately take the elevator up to the impressionist section. The massive Detroit Institute of Arts is my go-to museum now, and they also have a charming café that’s the perfect place to take a coffee break, or even bring your laptop and write, which I’ve seen people do a few times. (Plus: they have wine and live music every Friday night.)

The Fisher and Guardian buildings will give you some really gorgeous Instagram content—the grand arched doorways and the colorful murals that fill the interiors pretty much take your breath away. Why can’t buildings today be made with the same care and pride as they were back in the day?!

And, for some fresh air, take a walk on the Detroit Riverfront, where you can see Canada just across the river. You can get to the Dequindre Cut from there, too, which is an urban recreational path that used to be a railroad line. It’s lined with urban artwork and graffiti, and is pretty cool place for a bike ride. Also: take some bread and cheese and wine to Belle Isle Park and have a picnic. It’s an island in the Detroit River and is filled with lots of wildflowers and inland ponds. There, you feel like you’re truly outside of the city.

I cannot write a Detroit guide without mentioning historic Eastern Market, the biggest open-air market in the country. There are vendors with local produce, baked goods, jam, beauty products, vintage clothes, and much, much more. On a Saturday morning, grab a coffee and a beignet from one of the food trucks and start exploring.

Caffeinate

Because getting your caffeine fix is obviously a very important part of any vacation or weekend getaway, it deserves a section all to itself. I love Trinosophes, which is not only a coffee bar but a performance space that features live music and art exhibits. Ashe Coffee has great cold brew, but also an amazing selection of teas if you’re not a coffee person, and Avalon Bakery, which, as the name implies, also sells locally made bread and baked goods. Speaking of baked goods…Sister Pie is also perfect if you take your coffee with a sweet doughy treat like a slice of pie.

Written by Elizabeth Swanson

3 comments

Add yours
  • Detroit is one of my FAVOURITE cities! I went to grad school in Windsor and we do the drive from Toronto a few times a year to eat, drink, and explore. I’ll be adding this to my list for next time. Other favourites: Gold Cash Gold (share a cocktail bowl and then come back for brunch in the morning), Cafe D’Mongos for a few potent late-night drinks, and the wall outside of Checker Bar for a photo (every single time).

  • Loved this article! I’ve never been to Detroit, but as someone with flyover state origins it’s so nice to see the Midwest featured. And now I’m craving Lebanese food, so thanks for that ;)

  • Merci pour ce partage, cette ville est fascinante. Et ça me donne envie de revoir le film Sugarman !

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