Detroiters are damn proud of their city. Others think of Detroit as a waste zone, but they don’t buy it. You’ll see the Detroit Tiger’s Old English style “D” everywhere. They buy local products, from beer to trucks. It is home, and they love it despite its faults.
I am a Michigander, but I almost never visited Detroit as a kid. Further I may never have visited had my sister not moved nearby. It would have been a loss. Detroit is America’s city. It flourished and fell the hardest with America’s ups and downs. You should know that there is far more to Detroit than what you have heard on the news. I’ve compiled my list of things that you shouldn’t miss in Detroit.
I really hope that you know this already…. but it’s such a huge source of pride for Detroit, I had to include it. Sing in the exact studio where Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Diana Ross and the Supremes and many others made their hits. How did black kids from the projects turn into international superstars?
If you only had one dollar left, would you buy a sandwich or this single?
It wasn’t released until everyone answered with the single.
The museum has a 50-million dollar expansion planned, though a finishing date has not been announced. Make sure to make a reservation, spots fill up and you will be turned away (from personal experience!)
2. Detroit Institute of Arts
Much-discussed during Detroit’s bankruptcy proceedings , the museum was on the chopping block. In a bold statement supporting arts, these masterpieces were not sold to the highest bidder to settle the city’s debts. Now a nonprofit owns the collection independent from the city.
See: Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals. You cannot escape the irony of a marxist being commissioned by an industrial megapolis.
The museum houses famous artists such as Monet, Cezanne, van Gogh, Rembrandt and Rubens. What makes the museum stand out, aside from the Murals, is the museum’s efforts to contextualize its artwork. Like their descriptions explaining that art critics of the time ridiculed Monet and other impressionists because their style was messy. We tend to think of Monet as a classic, but actually he was a rebel.
3. Craft Beers
Detroit has plenty of great beer to help them get through these tough times. Michigan has long been a pillar of the craft beer scene, such as Founders and Bells Brewery in Grand Rapids. Detroit itself has a new class of local breweries and tap houses for your drinking pleasure.
Try: IPA Gold Medal Winner at World Beer Cup DRIPA from Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. In Midtown, go to Jolly Pumpkin Brewery and HopCat bar (with over 130 taps!) in Midtown.
4. Feather Bowling
I’ve never seen this anywhere else, except in Detroit. A Belgian game like bocce, players try to get their wooden cylinders closest to a white feather. You’ll have a rustic experience in the dirt-floored venue. And there’s beer. If you want to play, make sure to make reservations well in advance because this is very popular.
Try it: Cadieux Cafe http://www.cadieuxcafe.com/featherbowling/
Detroit’s wealth skyrocketed during its heyday in the 1920’s. Auto industry businessmen built beautiful buildings to flaunt their fortunes. Art deco was a popular style, and many of these buildings are still in good condition.
See: Penobscot Building (1928), Fisher Building (1928), Guardian Building (1929), General Motors Building (1923), Kales Building (1914), Book Cadillac Hotel (1924).
I love this site that shows old photos of Detroit’s landmarks.
Unfortunatley, ruin is also a part of Detroit’s landscape. Shots of dilapidated Detroit have been a hotspot in the news. These aren’t just an buildings with busted out windows. With some imagination, you can appreciate the grandeur that they once were. Michigan Central Station shows the magnitude of Detroit’s fall. It’s grand facade with giant arched windows and Doric columns anchor an imposing 18-story office tower behind it. Though the office tower windows were just replaced, it still carries an air of desolation.
I wouldn’t recommend you to visit these on your own. Instead Motor City Photography Workshops offers a walking tour of several abandoned churches, theaters, auto factories, schools, and warehouses in the downtown area.
7. Urban Renewal
Although it’s only 40% occupied, Detroit is undergoing a resurgence. A new downtown stadium for the Detroit Red Wings anchors the development. Associated projects include Wayne State University’s new business school, two new residential buildings and the renovation of four other buildings.
People are also returning to the city and renovating some of the historic homes. I love this older blog written by a journalist who renovated a 1914 Georgian Revival. She has also written a memoir about the experience called Detroit Hustle: A Memoir.
8. Street Art
If you are looking for evidence of the heart of Detroiters, you only have to look around! Locals and international street artists have created hundreds of murals around Detroit. Some murals have survived since the 70’s, but most have been created within the last few years.
See: Detroit’s street art collectives such as Eastern Market and Dequindre Cut, Z Garage, Grand River Creative Corridor, Legends Wall, and Lincoln Street Art Park
Eastern Market sponsors Murals in the Market an 8-day festival where 50 international and local artists will paint new murals live. This is the 3rd festival and the murals are reflect local issues.
When I visited in 2016, I saw Detroit-native FEL3000ft’s mural showing a girl mending Detroit’s heart. The caption reflects the spirit of Detroiters perfectly.
Near Eastern Market is the Dequindre Cut, a pedestrian/cycling path repurposed from a railroad line. It is also a street art gallery managed by the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. As in other places throughout the city, the Conservancy has left unauthorized graffiti in place.
You’ll never see a parking garage like the Z Garage in Detroit. The relatively new project features almost 40 murals throughout the 10 floors, including some from big names in street art. You can’t miss the huge mural on the onramp to the garage by New York team How & Nosm.
Grand River Creative Corridor mural project consists of 100+ murals on abandoned buildings on the street. It began in 2012 by “real estate guy” Derek Weaver https://web.facebook.com/pg/GRCCDETROIT/about/?ref=page_internal
Legends Wall became a project after business owners gave up trying to police tagging. If you can’t beat them, join them. So, they contacted the group responsible for the Grand River Creative Corridor to organize the space. It now has over 30 works in the same location, which makes for extraordinary photography opportunities. See Detroit Kosek’s wildstyle.
Lincoln Street Art Park and Sculpture Garden is near the Fisher Building in another once-abandoned area. There are both commissioned and un authorized pieces in the alley known as “Fisher Canyon”.
Detroit will entertain you for at least a long weekend, whether you are into sports, food, nightlife, or the history and the arts. I personally find more and more to visit each time I go. You will certainly be surprised to feel the never-say-die attitude that took Detroit to the top in the first place.
What do you think about Detroit? What would you like to see there or where would you like to visit?