The engines are revving once again in D-Town. This time around, however, the roar is coming not from automobiles, but from a renewed spirit manifesting itself in the form of art, culture, food and civic pride. Detroit is slowly but surely springing back to life and now is as good a time as any to pay it a visit. Looking for a Motor City primer? Here’s how spend 24 perfect hours in Detroit.
Check in at Trumbull & Porter, a fun and funky boutique hotel that recently underwent a major facelift and is perfectly located a stone’s throw from both Downtown and happening Corktown. Think simple and tasteful modern guestrooms, an outdoor courtyard and beer garden featuring occasional live music, American fare at restaurant Red Dunn and an on-site bodega.
You’re probably hungry, so get yourself to Downtown (consider renting a vintage-style bicycle from the hotel!) and join the queues at either Lafayette Coney Island or American Coney Island, two Detroit fixtures that sit right next to each other and constantly vie for the top spot of best Coney dog, a meaty frank topped with meat sauce, mustard and onions. Eminem, Kid Rock and Drew Barrymore are allegedly all fans.
Perfectly full-bellied after lunch, spend the afternoon navigating the QLINE ($1.50 for 3 hours; $3 for a day pass), a streetcar which opened to the public in spring of 2017 and runs along historic Woodward Avenue. As it whizzes past local icons like the Fox Theatre, the Fillmore Detroit, Comerica Park (home to the Detroit Tigers) and the Museum of Contemporary Art, consider hopping off at the stellar Detroit Institute of Art. Built in 1927, the beautiful Beaux-Arts building houses more than 65,000 pieces of art (including works by Picasso, Degas and Van Gogh, among others). The collection was on the chopping block when the city faced bankruptcy a half decade ago.
From the DIA, it’s a short ride share (or jump on the 016 bus for $1.50) to the Motown Museum (aka Hitsville U.S.A.). The first headquarters of record company Motown, it pioneered the Motown Sound and produced hit makers like the Supremes, the Jackson 5, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye and many others. Learn about how founder Barry Gordy started Motown Records with an $800 loan, step into Studio A and sing a few bars of your favorite Motown tune and check out the extensive collection of outfits and artifacts from its most celebrated performers. Guided tours are popular and do often sell out on weekends.
Return to the hotel for a quick nap.
Many grand buildings in Detroit now sit abandoned, but have taken on a second life for photographers, historians, architects and the curious. Some of the abandoned buildings worth checking out (you’ll need a car) include the Packard Automotive Plant, the former manufacturing factory for the Packard Motor Car Company which has sat vacant since the late ‘90s, but was purchased in 2013 and is now in the midst of revitalization. Another relic of the auto industry is the Fisher Body Plant 21 near Wayne State University, made famous by a 1937 sit-down strike that gave rise to the United Auto Workers Union. But the most famous icon of them all is surely Michigan Central Station, a lavish Beaux-Arts Classic structure that served as the city’s main rail station, but has sat abandoned since 1988. All of these buildings are to be admired from the outside only and many are in fact fenced or gated off.
It’s almost a shame to recommend one restaurant over the city’s vast and varied culinary scene, but it goes without saying that nobody should leave Motor City without paying the requisite visit to Slow’s Bar Bq in Corktown (and just a short walk from Michigan Central Station) which dared to open on a mostly abandoned city block in 2005, but has since grown into an icon of great food and commitment to community. You will almost certainly endure a wait during peak times, but it’s worth it for a sample of tasty menu items like a brisket enchilada, smoked meatloaf, its famous Yardbird sandwich and St. Louis spare ribs, all served in a room packed with friendly locals and visitors.
Next door to Slows is Sugar House, a craft cocktail lounge featuring both classic and innovative libations in a retro, saloon-like environment. To counter any notion that D-Town is down and out, consider heading over to the Capitol Park Historic District and settling in at Bad Luck, a cocktail lounge from the same team behind Sugar House that dropped into the city in late 2016 with a menu featuring drink items topping out at $90. Don’t worry, most cost a lot less, but the liquor quality and drink presentation at Bad Luck is high so expect to spend a pretty penny. Detroit is also home to a ton of great dive bars; Nancy’s Whiskey Pub, Jumbo’s Bar and Temple Bar are all classics.
Retire to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. In addition to Trumbull & Porter, other radar-worthy D-Town accommodations include the Aloft Hotel at the David Whitney housed inside a historic downtown skyscraper; the MGM Grand Detroit, one of three hotel and casinos bringing a slice of Vegas to Detroit’s inner core; and the Westin Book Cadillac, a luxury skyscraper hotel located inside a historic building with a storied past.
Rise, shine and eat! North of Ford Field (home of the Detroit Lions) and on the other side of the Fisher Freeway sits Eastern Market, a historic commercial district and home to retailers, restaurants, bars and most famously, the Saturday Market where thousands gather weekly to pick up fresh meat, produce, baked goods and more.
You’ve crammed a lot in, but before heading out of town, do check out the Heidelberg Project, an outdoor art installation created by artist and Detroiter Tyree Guyton in 1986 that aimed to transform a derelict inner-city neighborhood into a work of art. Think houses painted in polka dots or numbers, stuffed animals pouring out of first and second-floor windows, decorative found objects, painted sidewalks and more.
Not located within city limits, but a must nevertheless is The Henry Ford in suburban Dearborn. An indoor-outdoor museum and complex that’s also a National Historic Landmark, The Henry Ford celebrates Americana, American history, innovation and the auto industry via interactive exhibits and artifacts like JFK’s presidential limo, Abraham Lincoln’s chair from the Ford Theatre, the Rosa Parks bus, automobiles from throughout history, vintage signs and much more.
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