Detroit: Experience The Motor City in High Gear

Jordan Bishop September 20, 2018

Throughout American history, one city comes up again and again as a symbol of the nation’s might: Detroit. First came the cigar trade, then breweries flourished, pharmaceuticals moved in, and eventually the automobile took over, giving Detroit its long-lasting moniker, “The Motor City.” Of course, once you get beneath the surface, there’s much more to The Motor City than a rich industrial past. To make the most of your time there, here are some great ways to spend your time in Detroit.

Morning & Afternoon

The brainchild of two cousins, Rose’s Fine Food is a lovable little diner serving some of the best breakfast and lunch in Detroit. The scent of fresh-baked white bread fills the air as you step inside, an aroma not even the most ascetic can rebuff. Killing time daydreaming at Rose’s long linoleum counter is all too easy, and encouraged, too. Menu items are named with playful perkiness—Miss America is a pulled chicken sandwich with radish, goat cheese olive spread and beets; The Fun Guy involves mushroom chips with bacon and yogurt dressing—and positively scrumptious. Rose’s is in high demand, so arriving early isn’t a bad choice.

Now that you’re fueled up, head over to the Heidelberg Project, one of most highly-celebrated urban art projects in the United States. The Heidelberg Project dates back to 1986 when firefighter-turned-artist Tyree Guyton began outfitting the largely-abandoned strip of homes along Heidelberg Street with memorabilia of the city’s storied past. One home has been covered from tip to toe with a curious array of stuffed animals; another adorns dolls, making it, fittingly, the “doll house.” Walking through the Heidelberg Project offers all of the perplexed-yet-intrigued appeal of a contemporary art museum without the stuffy air and fluorescent lighting. Not everything in the area is this raw; on your way out, take a peek at Hunt Street Station, the gorgeous new co-working and events space set in a wonderfully-refreshed former police station.

Buddy’s Pizza has been serving Detroit-style square-slice pizza since Gus Guerra opened the place back in 1946. Guerra is actually the godfather of Detroit-style pizza, known in foodie circles as “a Sicilian slice on steroids” for its thick, chewy crust. Today, Buddy’s has a dozen locations scattered across the city, so you’re never too far from a hot slice of heaven. Opt for the Detroit Zoo, which comes with Buddy’s signature Motor City cheese blend, roasted tomatoes, fresh basil, pine nuts, and tomato basil sauce.

No trip to Detroit is complete without a look at its musical roots. Both Motown (of course) and techno (perhaps surprisingly) were born here, and the city’s list of world-class musicians is truly astounding. Aretha Franklin, Eminem and Diana Ross are obvious culprits, but Alice Cooper, Marvin Gaye, Kid Rock, Big Sean, Stevie Wonder and The White Stripes may jump to mind less quickly. Peoples Records has a mind-boggling collection of R&B, jazz and soul, with a choice assortment of rock and funk thrown in, too.

Evening & Late Night

Canadians tend to think of one thing when they hear the word “skates”: ice. But don’t forget that in many places around the world, skates come with four wheels apiece. Riverside Arena is the best place to get your fix in Detroit, where skating is equal parts sport, art and social outing. “Detroit has a vibe about skating,” explains Charlotte Beacham, general manager of the MoTown Navigators skate club. “That’s what we do.” Marcus “Fresh” Gavin, who’s built more like a linebacker than a roller skater, agrees. “We call it Skate Family. Everybody in the rink—we’re a family.” In Detroit, skating is all about getting into the groove, so let Riverside’s disco ball and distinctive Detroit funk transport you back a few decades.

Though Detroit has seen its share of struggle in years past, Midtown has never relinquished its position as the city’s shining star. Part of Midtown’s recent success is due to the resurgence of artisanal shops like Shinola, which peddles its trademark made-in-America watches, bikes and leather accessories from its flagship store here. Around the corner from Shinola is The Bronx, a pool-table-and-jukebox sort of getup known for its oversized burgers and sundry selection of beer. “The Bronx is short on frills,” writes the Detroit Metro Times, “No bands, no parking, no Red Bull or exotic martinis—but long on character.” It’s up to you to find out just what that character is.

Often called the “Cheers of Detroit,” TV Lounge is where everybody knows your name. On weekdays, it’s cozy and intimate, a perfect spot for catching up with friends. Don’t let that low-key innocence fool you, though. On weekends, local and international DJs get the place thumping with the best of Detroit house.

The Trumbull & Porter Hotel in Corktown offers spacious rooms with polished concrete floors and contemporary leather furnishings. The outdoor beer garden and fire pit around the back of the hotel give it a warm ambience, while the bold color palette and Detroit-themed art strewn across the property ensure design lovers will feel at home, too.

The central message of this marvellous metropolis is clear: Good things come in unexpected packages.

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