While the media seems to love discussing all that is wrong with Detroit – it is ignoring or oblivious or both – to all that is right. Looking for reasons to go to Detroit? Here are 16 to get you started:
1. A Park (Bigger than Central Park) on an Island in a River between Two Countries
In 2013, Belle Isle, a 982-acre island in the middle of the Detroit River between the U.S. and Canada, became a Michigan State Park. (It was previously managed by the City of Detroit). While the State of Michigan performs its anticipated updates, visitors can enjoy, among many things, the historic botanic gardens,the most stunningly architected aquarium, arguably in the world and a drive around the island which grants views of the U.S., Canada, wildlife, downtown Detroit and boat and ships from Michigan and around the globe.
2. Genuinely Fabulous Coffee Options
The cappuccino at Pinwheel Bakery in Ferndale not only qualifies as solidly good, but for those interested, it can come paired with any number of their baked goods that sit next to the cash register and call to you.
Located in Midtown on Woodward, Great Lakes Coffee is yet another sign that Detroit is making a big turnaround. Housed in a huge, contemporary space with brick walls, Great Lakes has fantastic coffee, a full bar and amazing food (I had some kind of quinoa, tomato sandwich).
In the world’s conversations about what was, is and will be Detroit – there is one area consistently mentioned – a little corner of Corktown, a neighborhood near the former Tigers Stadium. The cornerstone of this area is Slow’s BBQ started by Phil Cooley who moved from New York to Detroit (see movie recommendations below to learn more about him) to make a difference.
Slows’s (written up in every publication that cares about food on earth), Cooley and the area in the immediate vicinity, have done nothing but get bigger and better since. One such example is Astro, a coffee shop, a few doors down from Slow’s. The Sunday morning we arrived, it was standing room only, with the exception of some sort of bench type contraption my husband, sister and I crunched our asses on to enjoy the insanely good egg sandwich and cappuccino.
3. Rogue Urban Putt Putt
Where Detroit may lack in the leadership department it greatly makes up for itself in the creativity department. Located on the corner of 14th and Dalzelle (very close to Slow’s BBQ and the former train station) some clever folks screwed ping pong paddles to the end of scrap wood, gather up what appears to be urban leave behinds and made a clever as hell golf course – for free and open to the public.
4. Visit the Farmers Market that Out Does All Farmers Markets
Originally founded in 1891, the Detroit Eastern Market welcomes an estimated 45,000 (45,000!) people looking to purchase fruits, vegetables, spices, meat, candy, fish, seafood, gourmet condiments and specialty foods every Saturday.
The Eastern Market’s significance is not just the food it puts on the tables of homes and restaurants, or the diverse crowd who rely on it or the multi-generations of families (mine included) who make a day out of visiting the market and its surrounding specialty shops and restaurants – it was also where Ulysses S. Grant was headquartered, part of the underground railroad, an ancient American Indian burial ground and the filming site of many movies such as Presumed Innocent and a recent Drew Barrymore film.
5. Best Middle Eastern Food on Earth
Little known fact about Detroit? It has the second largest Middle Eastern population in the world – outside of the Middle East. You know what this means? Outstanding food – with Pita Café being my most favorite of all. I want to live in a world where I can swim in pools of their garlic sauce, have an endless supply of their fattoush salad and kegs of their freshly squeezed juices.
VERY CRITICAL NOTE: You must go to the Pita Café in Oak Park. I have tried other locations, and they just don’t have the magic touch of the Oak Park location.
6. Participate in the Ongoing Coney Dog Battle
Detroit might be home to the most unique rivalry around the globe – a coney island (a hot dog covered with chili, onions and mustard) restaurant rivalry.
Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island are immediately next door to each other and are owned by two different people – who happen to be brothers. Urban myth claims a family fall out caused one brother to pack up his coneys and move to the bigger (some might argue esthetically nicer) location next door – and open what is now American Coney Island.
Now, the ongoing battle of “which is better” is not only between two restaurants but between the entire metropolitan Detroit area. The answer to that question has divided families, broken up relationships and made people who don’t jive with your coney style – seriously question your IQ.
7. Best Bar Food that is Not At All Bar Food
Green Dot Stables: True to real Detroit style, you can find some amazing little places in some of the most seemingly random of locations. Green Dot Stables located on West Lafayette and 14th Street, appears from the outside as if could be your standard pub fare, but inside you find gourmet sliders, fries, soups and salads. After a week of eating Thanksgiving food, I opted for the mushroom broth with oysters, shitake and white button mushrooms and truffle salt, the quinoa salad with lemon and shallots and the quinoa burger. (Don’t let my veggie options fool you – they have loads of meat friendly options.)
8. Visit Detroit’s Disneyland
The “Disneylands” of Florida, California and Paris – are for rookies, posers and first-timers. The real Disneyland-ers go to behind 12087 Klinger St in Hamtramack, Michigan. Granted Detroit’s Disneyland fits within the confines of a backyard, is only accessible through the alley and does not contain sort of interactive entertainment – but it, like Mr. Disney’s project, speaks to one man’s determination, genius and perspective on the world.
9. Eat at the Southern Mexican and Italian Restaurant
Chef and owner Norberto Garita practiced fine Italian cuisine in New York, and then came to Detroit and combined these skills with his Mexican heritage to open El Barzon. El Barzon is a southwestern Detroit restaurant that offers a complete menu of Southern Mexican and Italian food with a genuinely happy wait staff serving it. (Prior to ordering, our waiter gave us an introduction of his love for the food, the restaurant, the spirit of the owner and how preparing the restaurant for opening each day is equivalent to, ¨a family preparing for a party.¨) I opted for the shrimp in garlic sauce while my family had meals ranging from ravioli to enchiladas.
10. Get a Free House
Write a House, a Detroit non-profit, in an effort to improve and re-build neighborhoods is offering selected writers a free house in exchange for living in and paying the taxes and insurance on it for two years. Writers who stay in the home for two years are then granted the deed to the dwelling. Learn more here.
My grandma, as a child, was furious when they decided to build on what was, at the time, her softball field. In an act of retaliation, she and her friends regularly re-positioned the stakes marking where construction was to take place.
Condolences to Grandma´s former softball field, but I do believe the current 658,000 square feet, 100+ art galleries and the 6th best art collection housed in what is now the Detroit Institute of Arts was well worth the loss of my Grandma’s ball field. (I am certain with time she came to the same conclusion.)
Located immediately behind the DIA is the Scarab Club, a club founded in 1907 as a place for artists to gather. The bottom floor is a rotating gallery with a charming garden and courtyard. A wooden staircase leads you to stunning room with enormous windows, a large fireplace and wooden beams that hold the signatures of prior visitors such as Norman Rockwell, Elmore Leonard (who spoke and read to a crowd of 20 when he visited), Diego Rivera and numerous others. The Scarab Club is open (for free) to the public Wednesday thru Sunday, 12 pm – 5 pm.
13. Take Home the Detroit Spirit
What most journalists and filmmakers are either refusing to address or completely oblivious to is the pride bursting out of the people in and around Detroit – about Detroit. This is easily recognizable in a few short conversations with the locals if it does not just smack you in the face with the Detroit paraphernalia worn and displayed in houses and on cars.
If you want to look like a local – grab some Detroit garb at The Rust Belt Market (an indoor market with numerous Detroit artists and their stands) with every Detroit item imaginable or the shop inside The Guardian building in downtown Detroit.
14. Take Mini-Road Trips
My husband, David, is from Catalonia, Spain. He finds U.S. cities without a “center” for shopping, eating and gathering – confounding. I took him to Plymouth, a suburb outside of the Detroit to please him.
Plymouth transcends the typical small town with its real shops, great selection of restaurants and multiple streets and blocks of retail space. It even, to David’s delight, has what he would consider a town square. Every visit to Plymouth always lands me at Sean O’Callaghans (it is obvious that is an Irish Pub, right?) for food and drink.
15. Be Blown the Hell Away by the Architecture
This is just a small sampling of the Guardian Building in downtown Detroit. You need to go. Plan to stay for a coffee in their atrium to soak it all in.
16. Learn Detroit Fact from Fiction
I lived in Detroit for 22 years. I share the frustration and befuddlement of outsiders and insiders alike on why a city, that was once so grand, has let itself fall so far – and so hard. Although I haven’t lived in Detroit in 13 years, I share the outrage of the insiders in regards to the one-sided, grossly sensational and completely exploitative reporting about on the city.
Yes, Detroit has a side of it that is in an incomprehensible state of decay, but it also has absolutely amazing corners, people, food, architecture, culture, art, music, diversity and all things that make great cities – great. If you would like what, I feel is, a fair and balanced account of Detroit I highly recommend the newly released, Detroit City is the Place to Be by Mark Binelli and the documentary Detroit Lives (it is free and available to watch online with a click of a button). Detroit City is the Place to Be is not only one of the best books I have read, but a fantastic account of Detroit’s past, present and outlook towards the future.