It appears that after decades of turmoil, battered Detroit is rising from the ashes of crime, riots and automotive strife, licking it’s deep wounds and has begun the healing process.
The Motor City has been on my radar since 2000 when a friend of mine and her husband relocated to pursue a job in automotive manufacturing. From sunshine to snow these Floridians traded in their flip flops for snow boots and moved to Detroit. Nineteen years later, I’m happy to report, they’re still happy Detroiters. I’m sad to report, until now, for 19 years I never made it to Michigan to visit them. Year after year we decided to meet instead in tropical locations around the country to enjoy tiki drinks, sand and sun. It took procurement of tickets to my one of my favorite bands, TOOL, to give me the push necessary to finally buy the flight.
NIGHT ONE: A civilized dinner:
Chartreuse Kitchen and Cocktails in midtown came highly recommeded for dinner. The adorable, cozy space with a small bar, tightly placed tables and excellent lighting was very welcoming. Initially we reserved 3 seats at the bar through their online reservation system, but they suggested we sit in the lounge since it’s easier to talk with three people. We sat in a cozy corner table happy to escape the blistering cold (to a southern girl) 35 degree weather. The beverage list was creative and thoughtful with small producers and unique grape varietals. Don’t be intimidated beverage program, the staff was knowledgeable and capable of leading you in the right direction. We settled on a couple glasses of chardonnay/aligote sparkling and a glass of sherry to start.
The food was tasty and the portion sizes was hearty. Although none of us are bigger than a pickle (as my cousin always says), us ladies have an ambitious appetite. We split five items between the three of us and it was plenty to satisfy. We began with the house smoked trout dish and steak tartare (everyone’s favorite item of the night and a unique take on the familiar classic), then moved into the twice cooked egg over farm greens and brussel sprouts which was perfectly covered up healthy food and also one of the house specialties. Lastly we got the scallops in coconut curry broth and the mushrooms with summer peppers which was surprisingly one of my favorite dishes. All dishes were beautifully presented and not a dud in the bunch.
DAY TWO: Site seeing and PIZZA
Of course no trip to Detroit is complete without some Detroit style pie. With no time to waste, we went straight to the source – Buddy’s. This original pizza joint has been family operated and owned since 1946 and celebrated it’s 70th anniversary with a new mural out back. There are now 11 locations but of course we visited the true OG location at – 17125 Conant St, Detroit MI 48212. This unassuming, nearly windowless tavern in Hamtramck is the perfect place to feast on Detroit style rectangular pizza and a Greek salad. We got the “Detroiter” because well, isn’t it obvious? It was the perfect proportion of dough and toppings with a crunchy cheesy crusty edge. Oh and don’t forget a side of homemade ranch. This area of Detroit gave me a little insight into some abandon neighborhoods that plague the city. Adjacent side streets that surrounded the very busy pizza joint were nothing more than dilapidated, boarded up houses. Almost every home looked abandoned as if they entire neighborhood population had just disappeared. It was a sad sight to see and probably doesn’t even scratch the surface of what neighborhoods have been reduced to over the years.
We spent the remainder of the day site seeing around downtown. We grabbed a cup of coffee at The Siren Hotel. There is also a beautiful bar called Candy Bar that requires reservations in advance but is so cozy and charming with it’s giant chandelier and pink and white girlie decor. On the second floor is a diner style restaurant called Karl’s that was packed! This would be a charming place to stay and is a short 10-15 minute walk to the riverfront, the Fillmore or Little Caesars Arena (LCP for short) for a show.
We then walked over to the Detroit People Mover where for 75 cents we enjoyed a 2.94 mile loop ride around the downtown. Prepare to be underwhelmed by this people mover , it is certainly no technological wonder. It travels in only one direction and is very modest. We hopped off at downtown Detroit’s largest skyscraper the GM Renaissance Center/Marriott and then out to the Detroit riverfront for a peak at Canada. After all it’s just a short bridge drive away (bring your passports just in case you want to go gamble). From here it’s a brisk 5 minute walk to bump fists with the city’s most famous boxer at the Joe Louis Monument. We ended the downtown tour with a nice little walk down Woodward Avenue for some shopping.
On the way home we did three things. Belle Isle, Shwarma, the Eastern Market . The Eastern Market, just 1 mile outside of downtown, is a buzzing open air market with everything from local produce, flowers, jewelry and clothing. It’s comprised of three ‘sheds’ with even more merchants lining the walkways between the sheds. The market is the headstone for a community packed with industrial spaces and businesses painted with colorful murals and graffiti. Think butchers and ad agencies. There was no lack of construction in the works,repairing roads and adding new sidewalks. It’s got a trendy meat-packing district kinda vibe that could be on the cutting edge of development?
From here we jumped back in the car for a driving tour of Belle Isle. A small island joining the Detroit River with Lake St Clair, which local folks affectionately call the 6th great lake. It would be infinitely more enjoyable in the summer, but was a little challenging to explore much other than from our car window given the blistery conditions. Go for a jog or grab some Shwarma and head there for a water front picnic and some stunning views of downtown Detroit and Canada when the weather is nice! Speaking of Shwarma…
A surprising fact is that Detroit has the largest concentration of Arabs in our country, so naturally we hit up the Bucharest Grill on the way home for a to-go snack to eat before the show. I decided on the Chicken Shwarma, but you can get it Bucharest style with fries on it if you are so inclined. Make sure you have pickles on yours, they really made it pop! Carb conscious? Is your breath terrified of garlic? Get the Chicken Bites with Russian dressing.
NIGHT TWO: TOOL Army
Armed with our combat boots and garlic breath we finally head out to see TOOL at the Little Caesar’s Arena (LCA). Completed in 2017, the arena is sparkly new and the sound was loud, but good. It seemed more intimate than other arenas where I’ve seen shows. I mean it still holds 20,000 people but it felt more intimate to me for some reason? The show was fantastic, and I’m already looking for tickets to the Atlanta show when they play in January. I’ve been a fan of this band since Undertow (which sadly they played nothing from), but each album is jam packed with surprising sounds and I just can’t stop falling deeper in love with their music.
After the show, we waited for the traffic to calm down with a scotch and a beer at a cozy bar just a short walk from the LCA called Cornerstone Barrel House. It was the perfect way to end a great trip.
Don’t listen to what people tell you about the crime in Detroit. I’m sure there is plenty of danger to be had in Detroit, but there are just as many beautiful and interesting places worth exploring too. Yes, as with any city do your research and don’t get caught in a dangerous part of town wearing your shiny Apple watch and sporting your new Louis Vuitton bag. But don’t miss out on seeing because you’re scared. Explore and understand new places, living in our bubble does nothing to help educate open our eyes.