Amid the boarded-up buildings and weed-choked lots are oases of culture and cuisine.
Big cities are generally not for the faint-of-heart tourist. Sure Paris has the Tuileries, but it also smells like a toilet. New York has museums but it also has muggings. (I actually witnessed one on a trip there years ago). So if you’re looking for a perfectly picturesque getaway, an urban destination is probably not for you. But if you like to dig into the corners to find worthwhile experiences, Detroit should be on your list.
I’ve been there twice in the last few months, and I like the place a lot. There’s something appealing about a city that refuses to give up, despite economic hardship and a downtown core that’s a shell of its former self.
Detroit earned the nickname The Motor City in the heyday of the auto industry of which it was king, and the wide avenues and stylish Art Deco buildings are still there as a testament to its former status.
As you walk the streets around the downtown area just north of the river―and, yes you can safely walk around downtown–you’ll find hip, happening clubs, nestled up against empty storefronts and beautifully tended parks and community gardens overshadowed by ghostly high-rises.
Being there during the annual–and awesome–jazz festival on the Labor Day long weekend added more vibrancy and pedestrian presence to the downtown area. The well-organized festival takes up sufficient space–from the riverfront right near the modern, massive Marriott Renaissance hotel complex and north a few city blocks–to feel significant and energetic, but compact enough to walk to the various stages.
Since all the concerts are free, and the music programming is high-quality and varied enough to appeal to a broad audience, lots of people came out for the performances and to stroll around.
Meat Me in Detroit
Being there not during the jazz festival is a fine time too, especially if you like to eat. Especially if you like to eat meat. I had some incredible meals in Detroit, with the cuisine tending toward the hearty rather than the fussy, especially with the proliferation of Southern BBQ places.
“You can’t hurry love,” are the immortal words from Motown divas, The Supremes, and you can’t hurry good BBQ either. Slows Bar-B-Q knows this. Based in the up-and-coming Corktown neighborhood, Slows dishes up soft, smoky pulled pork, ribs and brisket in a relaxed, but packed bar/restaurant. Also, the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe was at the jazz fest serving smoked goodness from its barrel cookers.
Roast, in the beautifully refurbished Westin Book Cadillac Hotel, is another meat mecca with a menu that features such daring lusciousness as steak tartare and roasted marrow, and burgers that will make you wonder why anyone would cook on a gas grill.
Detroit’s Cultural Hub
Visiting the Detroit Institute of Arts – with its famed Diego Rivera murals–will take you into midtown and a lovely neighbourhood of Victorian era homes. With its proximity to Wayne State University, and several other cultural institutions such as the Detroit Public Library, the Detroit Science Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, the area is a small hotbed of arts. You can even get a good crepe at Good Girls Go to Paris. It’s little surprises like these that make a trip memorable and a place worth exploring.
Good Girls Go to Paris Does the Crepe Thing!