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Wall Street Journal – A Fascinating Long Weekend in Detroit: The Essential Guide

June 19, 2019

Wall Street Journal

By Matthew Kronsberg

View the original article here.

IN ITS MIDCENTURY boom years, when Motown ruled the airwaves and the big three ruled the roads, Detroit defined America. But, in the subsequent decades, no city fell farther, or harder. Now a much-publicized revival is unfolding there. Downtown is a hive of construction, its sidewalks buzzing with tech-bros and tourists on app-enabled electric scooters (at least until they randomly discard them). Neighborhoods like Midtown (née Cass Corridor) and the West Village are rebounding with ambitious new bars and restaurants, many served by urban farms which have sprouted where houses once stood. Though the hollowing out that made those farms possible is still an issue (the city’s population today is just below 700,000, sharply off its 1950s peak of 1.8 million people), rampant development has become an equally pressing concern for many Detroiters. Even the city’s industrial ruins, like the old Packard Plant, which have aged into beloved icons for many, are targeted for restoration. The time to appreciate them is now. Taking in everything that Motor City has to offer over the course of a long weekend is challenging. As the T-shirts say, Detroit Hustles Harder. You’ll have to adopt the same motto if you want to fit it all in, but feel free to opt out of our ambitious itinerary now and then.

Day One: Friday

5:30 p.m. Land at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and pick up a rental car. The Motor City’s spread pretty much demands you have wheels.

7 p.m. Check into one of the four rooftop cabins at the intimate El Moore Lodge in Midtown. From your deck, you’ll have views for miles. The hotel just created a small public park on the corner next door, and DJ Casey Kasem grew up where the El Moore’s greenhouse now stands (cabins start at $200 a night, elmoore.com). The city’s downtown construction boom has resulted in a surfeit of glitzy hotel options. Shinola, a company that has capitalized on “brand Detroit,” opened a highly polished luxury hotel this January, while the Siren has refurbished the Wurlitzer building to its deco glory (shinolahotel.com, from $255 a night, thesirenhotel.com from $139 a night).

8:30 p.m. Chef Kate Williams’s cozy Lady of the House occupies a former Irish pub in a residential corner of Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood (reservations recommended). Start with a dozen oysters and a martini, made with the restaurant’s own gin, from Detroit City Distillery, and don’t miss the “carrot steak” (1426 Bagley St., ladyofthehousedetroit.com).

11 p.m. In Detroit’s midcentury heyday, the clubs and bars atop downtown’s skyscrapers were the places to see and be seen. The new Monarch Club rekindles that tradition on the roof of the Element Hotel, about 10 minutes away. Get a Last Word cocktail and claim a spot on one of the bar’s three terraces. If there’s a Tigers game on, you can even see some of the action in Comerica Park from your 13th-story perch (33 John R St., monarchclubdetroit.com).

Day Two: Saturday

9 a.m. Start the day as countless Detroiters do, with a trip to Eastern Market, about a 10-minute drive away. The Russell Street Deli has, in its 30 years, become a Detroit institution, beloved for its civic mindedness and for its soups. A cup of gazpacho sets the tone for a summer’s day nicely, while hearty and well-spiced pastrami hash adds necessary ballast. As developers set their sights on the market and its environs, many longtime businesses are facing displacement, including the Russell Street Deli, which will close at the end of September, so get there while you can (2465 Russell St., russellstreetdeli.com). While strolling among the market’s produce and plant vendors, be on the lookout for Pingree Detroit, selling luxury bags and shoes made by veterans using surplus leather from the automotive industry (pingreedetroit.com).

10 a.m. Take a respite from the market’s hubbub in Trinosophes, an airy gallery space a five-minute walk down Russell St. Inside is Warda Patisserie, serving French and Algerian pastries and dishes such as mahallabi, an almond milk and rice pudding topped with seasonal jam (1464 Gratiot Ave., trinosophes.com).

10:30 a.m. Walk next door into the adjoining People’s Records, a store and museum with a focus on soul music 45s, but a purview that seems to take in all of Detroit’s musical history (1464 Gratiot Ave., peoplesdetroit.com).

11 a.m. By now, you’ve noticed those rentable electric kick scooters discarded on sidewalks everywhere. Commandeer one (downloading the app and registering is a two-minute affair) and zip down into the Dequindre Cut greenway from the entrance on Gratiot Ave just beyond Orleans St. Exit to Lafayette Street, and scoot into Lafayette Plaisance Park to see the apartment buildings and townhomes designed by Mies van der Rohe, a modernist utopian rejoinder to the single-family sprawl of the rest of the city. Back in the cut, you can continue to the river; from there at full speed, it’s less than 10 minutes back to Eastern Market to retrieve your car.

12:15 p.m. Park at the hotel and walk a block to Selden Standard for lunch. The restaurant was one of the earliest supporters of urban agriculture in Detroit. Look for seasonal specials like fava and pea toast (3921 2nd Ave., seldenstandard.com).

1:15 p.m. Walk three blocks to Third Man Records, a vinyl shop founded by Jack White of the White Stripes. You can cut your own record in its 1947 Voice-o-Graph booth, and two Saturdays a month the staff offers tours of their record-pressing plant, soon to press its millionth record (441 W. Canfield St., thirdmanrecords.com).

2 p.m. Go fetch your car to visit a farm. With a little advance planning, Fisheye Farms can show you their 2 acres in Core City, one of them within sight of an abandoned engine-casting plant (fisheyefarms.com). Or drive 10 minutes to Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, spread over 6 acres in the city’s North End neighborhood. Wander past the farm’s henhouse and apple orchards, and stop to buy some mulberry Afro Jam. Revenue supports future projects like the restoration of Red’s Jazz Shoe Shine parlor, where Motown stars like the Temptations would harmonize out front while waiting to get their shoes buffed before heading downtown to perform (9227 Goodwin St., oaklandurbanfarm.org).

3:30 p.m. Less than a 10-minute drive away in the enclave of Hamtramck is one of the nations last remaining Negro League ballfields. The grandstands are fenced off, awaiting repair and upgrades. But the field, where greats like “Turkey” Stearnes of the Detroit Stars and Satchel Paige played, is in use thanks to the efforts of the Hamtramck Stadium Grounds Crew, a volunteer band of green thumbs, and the financial support of Jack White who has made a substantial donation for restoration. If you’re lucky maybe you’ll catch a game of 19th-century style “Base Ball” being played (3201 Dan St., hamtramckstadium.org).

5 p.m. The two-block-long sculpture garden at Olayami Dabls’ MBAD African Bead Museum, about 10 minutes’ drive from Hamtramck Stadium, is an epic cosmology rendered in paint and found objects. Standing in the overstuffed museum (and store) listening to Mr. Dabls expound on what it all means is one of the city’s great pleasures (6559 Grand River Ave., mbad.org).

6 p.m. Time for a little liquid courage—trust us you’ll need it soon. With its stylishly vintage interior and a cozy patio, Kiesling is more than just another pretty space. Sip a bracing but balanced cocktail like the Rose Colored Glasses, made with grapefruit, lemon and amari, and you’ll quickly taste why this is seemingly every Detroit bartender’s favorite bar (449 E. Milwaukee Ave., kieslingdetroit.com).

7 p.m. You haven’t seen Detroit until you’ve seen the Motown museum and studio, and the only way to see them is to take the tour (reservations recommended). And the only way the tour ends is with your tour group singing (and dancing to) “My Girl” in the studio where it was recorded (2648 W Grand Blvd., motownmuseum.org).

8:30 p.m. If there’s one restaurant that captures the spirit of Detroit today, it’s Flowers of Vietnam, about 15 minutes away, on an ungussied-up stretch of Vernor Highway. Chef George Azar, a native Detroiter of Palestinian heritage, who’s done time at Alinea and Noma, turns out boldly flavored Vietnamese dishes like glazed chicken wings, and “shaky beef,” made with dry-aged rib-eye cap. The mood is welcoming. Hip-hop music courses through the dining room most nights, but when a server brought out a candle-bedecked pie for a diner’s 70th birthday, the music stopped and the restaurant broke into “Happy Birthday” (4430 Vernor Hwy, flowersofvietnam.com).

10 p.m. Drop the car at the hotel, about 10 minutes away, and change into something swanky. Walk two blocks to the Willis Show Bar, a gorgeously renovated art moderne lounge with a stage behind the bar, and performances ranging from soul revues to burlesque (4156 3rd St., willisshowbar.com).

Day Three: Sunday

9 a.m. Get an early start at recently opened Ochre Bakery, in Core City, about 5 minutes away. Scrambled eggs are fluffy and strewn with locally grown herbs, and the pastry case, especially the oat-and-coconut Anzac cookie, is not to be ignored (4884 Grand River Ave., ochrebakery.com).

10 a.m. If you get to the Detroit Institute of Arts right when it opens, you might just get the courtyard with Diego Rivera’s monumental murals to yourself for a bit. His depiction of Detroit’s industrial might, as well as the inherent tension between labor and capital, makes this possibly his greatest work (5200 Woodward Ave., dia.org).

11:45 a.m. The Guardian Building, a 10-minute drive into downtown, is one of Detroit’s most beautiful skyscrapers. Take a few minutes to marvel at the cathedral-like lobby, or join one of Pure Detroit’s free tours. Also on offer: tours of Albert Kahn’s magisterial Fisher Building in New Center, and (paid) hard-hat tours of the remnants of Kahn’s massive Packard Automotive Plant (500 Griswold St., puredetroit.com).

1:30 p.m. It’s 10 minutes to the West Village and to Marrow, a combination butcher shop and restaurant with a dining-in menu that keeps one foot squarely in Asia. Pick up picnic fixings, like smoked kielbasa and housemade pickles and grab a slice of eye-opening coffee-buttermilk pie next door at Sister Pie, which has gained national renown for its sweets (8044 Kercheval Ave., marrowdetroit.com; 8066 Kercheval Ave., sisterpie.com).

2:30 p.m. Take your treats on a 5-minute ride to 982-acre Belle Isle. The idyllic island in the Detroit River is home to an aquarium, a botanic garden and, for a time in the ’60s, several Nike nuclear missiles. Find a patch of grass and gaze across the water at Canada (belleisleconservancy.org).

4 p.m. Get yourself outfitted at downtown’s Détroit is the New Black, home to a rotating roster of local and indie designers, including Nelson T. Sanders Jr., who makes bespoke suits under his label, Dandy. (1430 Woodward Ave., detroitisthenewblack.com; dandydetroit.com)

5 p.m. Walk 5 minutes to the Belt, a street-art-decorated pedestrian alley. Stop into the Skip, beneath the parking garage overpass, for a well-crafted slushy cocktail or tiki drink. (Grand River Ave. between Farmer St. and Broadway St., theskipdetroit.com)

7:30 p.m. Detroit has a distinct style of pizza—thick-crusted or rectangular—with an edge-to-edge shellacking of cheese that, critically, caramelizes into a frico along the sides of the iron pans the pie is baked in (supposedly derived from car-factory utility trays). While Buddy’s lays claim to originating the style, Loui’s Pizza, about 20 minutes north, in the suburb of Hazel Park, provides the perfect mix of pie and place, with red-checked tablecloths and walls covered in wicker wrapped Chianti bottles (23141 Dequindre Rd., Hazel Park, facebook.com/louispizza).

9 p.m. Drive 10 minutes to Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, which claims to be the world’s oldest jazz club. Performers are booked into this intimate space from the upper echelons of the talent pool, which means something in Detroit (20510 Livernois Ave., theofficialbakerskeyboardlounge.com).

11 p.m. Detroiters, more than anything, are tenacious. Celebrate that tenacity by belting out Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock” at karaoke night at UFO Factory, 15 minutes away. The Corktown rock ’n’ roll bar’s owners refused to sell to developers, forcing them to build around it (2110 Trumbull Ave., ufofactory.com).

Day Four: Monday
10 a.m. Check out of your hotel, and breakfast healthfully at Folk in a bright corner storefront in Corktown, about 10 minutes away. Think yogurt bowls and undetectably gluten-free Belgian waffles. Beverages include colorful milks, infused with things like turmeric and rose (1701 Trumbull Ave., folkdetroit.com).

11 a.m. The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, a 20-minute drive away, could easily take up an entire day if you try to visit the 80-acre complex, and take the Rouge Factory Tour. Visiting the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is essential. Sitting in the bus where Rosa Parks defied segregation can be a moving experience, as can witnessing John F. Kennedy’s limousine. Walking through Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House is a thrilling view of a future that never came to be (20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn, thehenryford.org).

1:30 p.m. Having walked up an appetite, drive 15 minutes into Dearborn for lunch at Al Ameer. Even in a city where a significant percentage of residents are of Middle Eastern descent, this Lebanese restaurant is a standout, with superlative stuffed lamb. You will be tempted—encouraged—to over-order (“I’ll pack it up for you, honey. You want some extra toum?”). Do it. Leftovers are the best souvenirs, especially the toum, a creamy sauce that sets everything it touches alight with garlic (12710 W. Warren Ave., Dearborn, alameerrestaurant.com).

2:30 p.m. Head to the airport. Fingers crossed that you get a row to your garlicky self.