Detroit was once a city on the cusp but today it’s rebuilding its image thanks to a rich music heritage and some American ingenuity.
Almost given up for dead after decades of urban decay and economic decline, Detroit has emerged as a vibrant “comeback city”, with a recent influx of artists and techies, combined with ambitious real estate development transforming down-and-out neighbourhoods into energised hubs, still gritty around the edges but complete with hip new hotels, public art installations and a dynamic restaurant and bar scene, discovers Susan R Pollack.
Make your way downtown from Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) to the Detroit Foundation Hotel, the city’s hottest new digs. The boutique hotel, with 100 industrial-chic rooms, is the former Detroit Fire Department headquarters – designers even kept the red arched firehouse doors. Stop by the circular bar with dazzling cascading glass lights – it’s the centrepiece of the Apparatus Room, the ground-floor restaurant, forged from a space that once housed firetrucks and hoses. Consider returning later for regionally-inspired New American fare by Thomas Lents, a two Michelin-star chef who left Chicago to join Detroit’s exploding culinary scene.
Stroll to the Guardian Building, an Art Deco skyscraper with a three-story vaulted lobby featuring stunning tilework in Native American and Aztec motifs. Pop into Pure Detroit for a Motor City souvenir; stylish luggage and satchels woven from seatbelts are a favourite. A few blocks west, you’ll find downtown’s focal point, Campus Martius, a people-watching park with a manmade sandy beach. Grab a food-truck snack or a boozy milkshake at The Fountain Detroit, an umbrella-studded restaurant nestled inside a
Hop aboard the Q Line, Detroit’s long-awaited streetcar system, which launched in May. Running 5.3-kilometres along Woodward Avenue, it links downtown with the newly-bustling Midtown and New Center areas, each filled with eateries and attractions to explore. You’ll pass through The District Detroit, a super-sized entertainment, sports, and residential development still under construction. Concerts and sporting events start in September at the new Little Caesars Arena.
Exit at Midtown’s Ferry Station and savour lunch at Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails, the Detroit Free Press’ 2016 Restaurant of the Year. Amid walls painted in the vibrant signature colour, choose from an array of chartreuse concoctions and a changing menu of creative plates, including the popular twice-cooked egg and addictive dessert waffle with chartreuse ganache, creme Anglaise and blackberries foster. Also in the Park Shelton building, browse the fashions and accessories in two fun boutiques, Frida and the Peacock Room.
The Detroit Institute of Arts, with its world-class collection, including Diego Rivera’s famous “Detroit Industry” murals, is across the street – on Fridays, the museum offers evening concerts and tours. Alternatively, at the Motown Museum, also known as Hitsville U.S.A., the modest home-turned studio where Berry Gordy launched the legendary Motown sound in 1959, you’ll hear Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and The Temptations during an hour-long tour. Your soul-loving spine may tingle in Studio A where it all began; the centrepiece is an 1877 Steinway piano Paul McCartney had restored a few years ago. Reserve a ticket in advance.
Squeeze in a stop at Shinola in Midtown for some luxury shopping, including hand-assembled Shinola watches, leather goods, and bicycles. A few doors down, watch workers press vinyl at Jack White’s new Third Man Records.
You’ve earned yourself a drink so check out the buzzing scene at Wright & Company, downtown. It’s on Woodward, just above John Varvatos, a designer boutique open until 7 p.m. Order a craft cocktail – highlights include the Fantastic Disguises, Elyx vodka with Dolin dry vermouth, capers, orange bitters, gold leaf, and house-made Amaro Nonnio candy – and fresh, hot potato chips smothered in cheese, bacon, and scallions.
Sate your appetite at Grey Ghost Detroit, a hipster favourite with contemporary takes on meat and seafood. Schmooze with some of Detroit’s friendliest bartenders, all masters of infused cocktails, and feast on the likes of bison tartare, yellowfin tuna with sesame and lime, and beet tabbouleh with feta-yogurt, naan, and pepperoncini.
Detroit’s hottest ticket is the Bad Luck Bar, an intimate, 35-seat hideaway reached via a dark alley. Reminiscent of a Roaring ‘20s speakeasy, it offers a pricey menu of imaginative, Tarot card-themed cocktails with eclectic, sometimes rare ingredients served in unusual glasses.
Alternatively, return to your hotel and the Apparatus Room, which serves a mean Brush St Barrel Aged Negroni.
Start your morning at Detroit’s beloved, organic Avalon Café and Bakery in its new downtown location near Campus Martius. You can’t go wrong with lemon ricotta pancakes or avocado toast to shake off the cobwebs.
Head to the Detroit Riverwalk, a revitalised five-kilometre strip that winds past Hart Plaza and the gleaming Renaissance Center towers, headquarters of General Motors; that’s Windsor, Canada, just across the river. From the riverfront make your way to Detroit’s historic Eastern Market and join Saturday throngs buying fresh produce and flowers. Admire murals by international artists and load up on cheese, nuts, and other provisions at shops (open daily) around the market perimeter.
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