An Insider’s Guide to Detroit
Detroit has earned the nickname “America’s Comeback City” for a reason: after decades of economic distress and rising crime, the city experienced an artist-led rebirth— characterized by an explosion in art, food, and cultural activity— that forged a path to a total revitalization. Here, a handful of places to witness this reinvention firsthand, from an outdoor art project to a leather goods shop and a boutique hotel with an emphasis on all things local.
Housed in the iconic—and massive—David Whitney Building in downtown Detroit, next to Grand Circus Park, the Aloft Detroit puts you within striking distance of some of the city’s best dining and shopping. The four-story gold-leafed atrium and glazed brick façade reinforces the city’s ties to American’s Golden Age, dating back to 1915, but the amenities are all modern, including keyless entry via the SPG app, 24/7 grab-and-go meals, and WXYZ bar and lounge just off the main lobby.
A stay at the Foundation Hotel plugs you into all things Detroit. The property’s collaborations program taps artists throughout the city to help craft everything from the chocolate on your pillow to the denim vests worn by the bartenders. The on-site Apparatus Room blends the city’s history and its modern visage perfectly, serving new American cuisine rooted in Midwestern ingredients, while their Chef’s Table offers a singular experience: an eight- to 12-course dining experience helmed by two Michelin-star chef Thomas Lents, limited to 12 diners on Friday and Saturday nights.
This Westin branch in downtown DeTroy plies on the luxury—bold whites, grand staircases, plush dining rooms, and cozy lounge areas—in a building that dates back to 1924, at that time the tallest hotel in the world. Its Italian Renaissance style has since been fully restored, and now includes the casual 24Grille casual dining spot and Michael Symon’s ROAST, one of the city’s most celebrated steakhouses.
One of the pioneers in Detroit’s downtown revitalization, this boutique cocktail bar and small-plate restaurant sits on the second floor the historic 1500 Woodward building, built in 1891 and long occupied by the Write-Kay jewelry firm. Despite the building’s regal atmosphere, Wright and Co. strikes a feel of refreshing intimacy in its main dining hall, which is flanked by a massive bar helmed by the city’s most talented mixologists. Classic cocktails like the city’s own Last Word (gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, and fresh lime juice) are an easy go-to, but their own seasonal cocktail program may be the best way to sample the bar's best. The list changes often, but will always include inventive drinks like the Moon and Harbor, a mix of green tea-washed Jameson with spiced plum and grapefruit-lime cordial.
Detroit purists may scoff—Jolly Pumpkin actually brews its beer in Dexter, Michigan—but this annex of the award-winning microbrewery warrants a visit, especially if your tastes run on the adventurous side. They specialize in open-fermented brews, which deliver a gloriously unpredictable measure of barnyard funk and sour notes to each of their Belgian-inspired beers. They also sell large-format beers and merch, along with beers from their North Peak collaboration and some of the city’s best pizza. Better still, Motor City Brewing sits a short walk away in the same Cass Corridor neighborhood, should you also want to sample some made-in-Detroit beers.
The city’s first “nano-brewery” (industry-speak for a very small beer operation), Batch personifies the best of Detroit. Positioned in the hip neighborhood of Corktown, the airy tap room and neighboring patio (framed by dirt beds where they grow their hops), are always filled with locals (and their dogs) imbibing on Batch’s short list of pales, IPAs, and saisons. Expect easy conversations, and be sure to try a few unconventional brews like a grisette made with grapefruit and pink peppercorns.
When it launched five winters ago, hand-crafting watches in the Motor City felt almost like a comical endeavor—but it’s panned out. Shinola now has stores across the country, and their products are sold in legions of retailers. Peruse their meticulously designed watches first-hand in their Flagship store in the Cass Corridor, and check out the other array of Detroit-made products, everything from luxe leather bags and custom bikes to boxing gloves, wallets, multi-tools, and smart phone cases. This is American craftsmanship at its finest.
Right next to Shinola, in the hip ‘hood of the Cass Corridor, sits Third Man Records, the brainchild of Detroit native Jack White. And though this establishment came after the first location opened in Nashville, this retail location epitomizes Detroit’s love for all things music. It’s a record store, a novelties lounge, and a performance space. It also houses Third Man Records’ vinyl record pressing plant, producing as 5,000 records in a single eight-hour shift. Windows looking onto the floor offer a glimpse into the process.
Selden Standard has endured as one of the city's hottest tables since opening in 2014. The small plate dishes by chef Andy Hollyday feature rustic flavors born in local farms, captured at peak perfection, and cooked in a massive wood-fired oven. Go for lunch or dinner and feast on dishes like roasted carrots served with honey, cumin, sesame, feta, and lemon, or the stellar smoked lamb ribs with agrodolce and yogurt. The wine list and cocktail menus are equally as impressive, along with a robust variety of beers, including both Michigan and European breweries.
This intimate restaurant in downtown Detroit serves contemporary soul food in portions that will fill you up without leaving you unable to move. The Motor City Boil puts a Detroit spin on a Creole classic, with mussels steamed in a Cajun broth served with Cobb corn, red potatoes, shrimp, and sausage, while the fried chicken—buttermilk-battered boneless breast with collards and a candied yam casserole—may be the best in the city. The Living Room, the lounge/bar adjacent to the dining room, also serves appetizers along with a full array of artisanal cocktails and an extensive wine list.
The hand-written menus at this charming spot in Hazel Park (about 20 minutes north of downtown) exemplify the restaurant's thoughtfulness and attention to detail. But the real draw at Mabel Gray is the rustic eats, which rotate with the seasons and feature items made in-house from scratch and sourced from area farmers, butchers, and foragers. It's no wonder it's widely considered one of the best spots in the state to experience Michigan's exploding food scene.
If Jack White’s Third Man Records personifies Detroit’s present-day music scene, the Motown Museum stands as a testament for the city’s enduring musical legacy. The museum sits in the very house where legions of #1 hits were crafted, all of them overseen by Detroit’s own Berry Gordy. The tour through the house includes an historic overview of Motown Records, replete with vintage memorabilia and photos, as well as a visit to the very place—Studio A—where all those songs were recorded. Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, the Four Tops, the Jackson Five, the Temptations…the list is staggering, but the convivial tour guide helps you wrap your head around all the magic that exploded out of that one small house in one small part of the city.
Located in Midtown, the DIA houses one of the country’s largest and most significant art collections, with more than 100 galleries spread across its 658,000 square feet. The encyclopedic collection includes Egyptian, Asian, and European artifacts— everything from the medieval armor collection of William Randolph Hearst to early- and mid-20th century works from van Gogh and Cezanne. It’s easy to get lost, but be sure to visit Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry, a massive mural project that spans the upper and lower levels of the museum’s grand marble courtroom. The series consists of 27 panels depicting the industrial world of the Ford Motor Company, imbued with more than a few critiques of the capitalist machine at work. They also have started to pilot a few augmented reality experiences that guide you through the museum and lets you do things like peer inside an Egyptian sarcophagus.
Spend a few hours wandering any part of Detroit, and you’ll bear witness to the city’s vibrant street art scene—everything from expansive murals to downtown gallery pop-ups. A visit to Inner State lets you dive a bit deeper. The gallery north of downtown works with contemporary street/graffiti artists from around the globe, with a steadily-rotating series of exhibits as well as limited-edition prints for sale. The gallery also runs 1xRun out of the building, an online retail experience that produces limited-run prints and original works for purchase (at prices most can afford).
Visiting this open-air art project in the city’s East Side is to witness both the hardships that fell upon Detroit and the restorative power of art. Named after Heidelberg Street, where artist Tyree Guyton lived, the project started in 1986 as an attempt to breathe life back into a region of the city devastated by drugs, crime, and poverty. Guyton systematically re-arranged the existing landscape, incorporating found objects to create art instillations on vacant lots, abandoned houses, and the city streets, sidewalks, and trees. Today the “outdoor art environment” covers blocks of East Side, with pieces made largely from objects salvaged from the city streets, and is today overseen by a nonprofit dedicated to using art as a way to improve urban living. Tours are also available; make arrangements at least two weeks in advance by contacting the organization directly.
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