here's a straightforward guide to our favorite city, so that you can be a detroiter too.
In our below guide I've made a few distinctions becuase old and new detroit are very different places, as is suburb detroit and detroit proper. You'll see that this guide leans toward the old, where I feel most other guides tend to fall short, which is why this was made. It's also worth noting that detroit is a sprawling city (think midwestern cousin of LA), with many of its gems falling outside of downtown city limits and reach into suburb territory, but are definitely worth the drive.
LOCATION | (d) are spots located in detroit proper, (s) are spots located in surrounding "suburb" areas
TIMELINE | (o) are older detroit classics with local culture (pre- 2000s), (n) are newer, hipper happenings representing rebirth culture (2000's - present)
worth it for: hole-in-the-wall 30+ year old greasy bites + newwave hip experimental plates
A&W DRIVE THRU | (s) (o) $2 - $5 per person. Eat in your car and order the XL rootbeer and curly fries to refuel after your Council Thrift experience.
AVALON BAKERY | (d) (o) $7 a loaf. A detroit classic that popped up in the 90's making sustainable, tasty bread using local ingredients.
KATOI | (d) (n) $30 - $40 per person. Originally a food truck, Katoi's food spoke for itself and catapulted the concept into a full blown restaurant. Katoi went thru a tragic arson incident in spring of 2017, but I'm keeping it here since they're on the mend and detroit's best new restaurant of 2017 serving up fusion thai with an exciting fresh approach.
LEO'S CONEY ISLAND | (d)(o) $5 - $10 per person. Go for a greasy lunch. Simple a detroit classic. You could compare it on paper to a NYC greek deli, but it really is far superior. Take our word on it. Ordering the original coney is a must, the sagnaki is a surprise to remember, and we've actually driven cross country for the greek salad.
MILLER's BAR | (s) (o) $10 - $15. Go for the ground round (burger) and a beer. This is arguably the best burger with the locals. No gentrification here, just good burgers and a pint since 1941.
SISTER PIE | (d) (n) $5 - $10 per person. Get a sweet treat any time of day.
THE ORIGINAL BUDDY'S PIZZA | (d)(o)$10 per person. Go for carbolicious dinner. Apparently detroit pizza is now a thing around the country, and buddy's pizzeria is responsible for this.
THE TOWNSEND HOTEL FOR TEA| (s) (o) $40 - $50 per person. Go for a classy high tea.
VERNORS | (d) (s) (o) $1 a can. Detroit's famous pop (whatever you do, do NOT call it soda or you will probably not be served). It's the drink your mom gives you when you're sick (who knows why) and it's what we used to call "vownows" well before we could say our "r's". Go into a grocery store or order it a diner. If you don't cough after your first sip you've been served an imposter.
ANTHOLOGY COFFEE | (d) (n) This beautifully simple spot is located around a parking lot of an industrial park makes this spot feel like a hidden gem. It's not really a secret at all for locals, and it's worth the hype.
ASTRO COFFEE | (d) (n) Delicious coffee in corktown also serving tasty cafe bites.
GREAT LAKES COFFEE ROASTING CO | (d) (n) You may feel like you're in williamsburg when you first walk in, but the locally sourced treats and really darn good coffee are surely special to Detroit.
TRINOSOPHES | (d) (n) cafe, gallery space, bar, place you want to check out and stay for a while. The last time we came here was for a live art noise performance featuring taxidermy, pantyhose, and a tape player. One of those SURPRISE! moments you don't find in big cities anymore. Designed with a good dose of that genius modular Floyd Detroit furniture.
ART + DESIGN
worth it for: hidden gem killer collections
CRANBROOK | (s) (o) I just recently found out that this is where Ray and Charles Eames met and fell in love while at art school. Makes sense. It's also where we had many a violin recital, soccer game, and museum field trip growing up. Cranbrook is a not so hidden gem in the suburb of Bloomingfield Hills.
LIBRARY STREET COLLECTIVE | (d) (n) Check out what the young art scene is up to at this experimentally well curated gallery.
THE DETROIT INSTITUTE OF ARTS| (d) (o) The DIA is an obvious but unmissable treat. It's permanent collection hosts greats from Diego Rivera, Frank Stella, Vincent Van Gogh... it's where we used to see santa around the holidays and get our prized "I Saw Santa at the DIA" buttons.
THE HEIDELBERG PROJECT | (d) (n) We won't spoil this one with any words at all. Just put it into your googlemaps and drive.
THE PEOPLEMOVER | (d) (o) One of the oddest attempts at public transportation, this stilted 13-stop transit system is really just a nice way to get a quick view of the city from above. Chances are you'll get a car to yourself.
MICHIGAN OPERA THEATER | (d) (o) Another Detroit gem that rivals international opera theaters featuring classics, including Rigoletto, Tosca and The Marriage of Figaro for the 2017/2018 season.
ORCHESTRA HALL | (d) (o) We went here monthly growing up to follow our violin heros like Joshua Bell and Midori Ito. Detroit almost secretly hosts one of the country's best symphony orchestras, the DSO. Orchestra Hall is an architectural treat in itself. During the summer you can also find the DSO performing outdoors across town at Meadowbrook Theater or at Ford House.
ST ANDREW'S HALL| (d) (o) So many memories here of head banging to Bassnectar, sneaking backstage to meet Moby, carrying on an endless dance attack at Built to Spill, and so, so many more.
THE FOX | (d) (o) Growing up this was the heart of Detroit for us as much for its incredible show line-up as for it's over-the-top gilded aesthetic. As kids we would count down months in advance for the opening night of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet, and as angsty teens it's where we saw acts like MGMT and Tiesto. You never know what you'll find here, but it's worth a peek.
TRINOSOPHE's | (d) (n) The most experimental stage in town. This hard to find authentic exploration of art is hard to find in big cities and is a representation of what makes Detroit so special.
worth it for: some of the best hidden record stores in the country and is worth the trip for the collections and prices alone. Best for jazz, soul, funk, electronic, middle eastern traditional.
HELLO RECORDS | (d) (n) Definitely worth the stop, the people that work here are some of the best vinyl curators in the states. They're also very knowledgeable about anything musical happening in the D.
EOPLE's RECORDS | (d) (s) (o) Endless *well priced* vintage vinyl, with two locations.
THIRD MAN RECORDS | (d) (n) Jack White's musical outpost, next door to the Shinola flagship.
CAMPUS MARTIUS | (d) (o) (n) The heart of the city, and where the headquarters of Hudson's used to sit. It's hard to believe grandma's old stories of the glam and luster of this area while she was working for Henry Ford downtown in the 40's all took place on this iconic block packed with new new newness.
MICHIGAN CENTRAL STATION | (d) (o) One of the city's most powerful abandoned visual architectural icons, located in Corktown. It's hard to believe our mom used to head here monthly growing up to catch a train to visit the cousins up state.
PRINCE CONCEPTS SPACE | (d) (n) Hut domes for rent to support pop-up culture and local community.
SCULPTURE GARDEN | (d) (n) An oasis of structural metal creations in side neighborhood outside the city center (below).
SPILLED PAINT MURAL | (d) (n) One of many beautiful murals throughout the city. It's a scavenger hunt worth taking.
WOODWARD AVENUE | (d) (s) (o) The drive from Bloomfield Hills (Cranbrook) to downton Detroit (the Fox Theater) on Woodward Avenue is a must. Hop in your car while you watch the scenery and demographic change before your eyes, peppered with an impressive number of well tuned old cars and many a dairy mat that are a must for a treat. You're in luck if you happen to be in town in August for the Woodward Dream Cruise.
worth it for: a plethora of hard to find vintage at prices that make you blink. Thank the influx of auto industry wealth from 1940 - 1990s, and its mass exodus in early 2000's for its relevance and abundance.
CHI-CHI AND THE GREEK | (s) (o) Worth the drive. Kelly, the shop's owner, is an artist in her own right and the most talented vintage curator I've ever seen. Lots of gemela 1.0 vintage came from some of Kelly's finds. My favorite score here is a pheasant feathered headband.
COUNCIL THRIFT | (s) (o) This is our secret best of the best that I was hesitant to add to this list out of selfishness. Got my favorite moschino belt here for $5 and the perfectly tailored french-made sunday single breasted coat for $8.
EASTERN MARKET | (d) (o) Detroit's oldest and most relevant open air market is always worth a trip to see what local farmers, chefs, and bakers have out on display.
LINDA DRESNER | (s) (o) This is one of the most avant garde designer fashion boutiques in the United States, and is hidden in Birmingham, Michigan (suburb where we went to high school). Linda curates a surprising collection of Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garcons, and Dries van Noten to name a few. If you're too intimidated to go in (like we were growing up) at least do drive by of her windows, they are truly art.
ROCKY PEANUT CO | (d) (o) Connected to Eastern Market, this is worth singling out for it's iconic and unending collection of traditional candies and nuts. The gummy section is the best.
SHINOLA FLAGSHIP | (d) (n) Sometimes I wonder if this company and its flagship have been the driving force in Detroit's wider resurgence, it's definitely up for discussion. The brand's global flagship is also a glass walled production facility where you can see their impeccable products being finished on the spot.
...at our mom's ? Sorry no personal recommendations here, but have heard airbnbs tend to have really friendly hosts, and there are also a couple of really interesting boutique hotels popping up.
BE AWARE | Detroit is a melting pot of cultures, races, and socioeconomic levels who all coexist in relatively close quarters (imagine one of our most opulent theaters shares a parking lot with abandoned crack house). Don't take safety for granted but don't freak out about it either.
BE INFORMED | There are many a detroit documentary and think piece on what's happening in this period of growth/change/rennaisance. Many are opinion pieces (not all fully informed - we won't name names) and the result of one person's experience. Be sure to reference a range of content before you go, and regardless of what you read/watch do go with an open mind. If you want to learn about the latest in art in design, we highly recommend picking up a Grand Circus.
BE NICE | Detroiters are nice, so go ahead and be nice right back. Don't be that guy/gal who came for the disaster tourism and is outwardly oohing and ahhing over abandoned buildings. Your city apartment could most likely be in better shape so imagine how you might feel if you looked out your window and found someone photographing your peeling paint and 1992 dangling AC window unit.
HAVE A CAR | Due to the economic complexities of being branded as the motor city, detroit has essentially zero public transportation, and is generally a sprawling kind of city. You will miss out big time if you don't have a car. So roadtrip here or rent one from DTW.