please tell me everything about visiting Detroit
September 20, 2018 4:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm visiting Detroit for a few days next week. What's good to eat, and where do I spend my time and money?

We're three adults with a couple of unplanned days. So what are the things we won't want to miss? It looks like Detroit has a really nice art museum and an amazing used bookstore. What's fun? What are the best places to eat?

More specifically/bonus questions...

I'm a veteran thrift store shopper and have been told by many thrift store workers for years that Detroit is the place to go to get the good stuff. They say that a lot of clothing sold by thrift stores across the country goes through Detroit for some reason, and that is where a lot of the best things get yanked for sale. Is this true? I'm always on the lookout for quality items from the 70s. Can I find good vintage stuff somewhere in Detroit for real?

I'm a movie nut. Any special local opportunities on that front? The internet is giving me conflicting info about whether the Robocop statue is actually being exhibited now. Can I go see it or not?

I love music too! Is there a good place to get used CDs?

Is fowling actually fun?

I somewhat regret doing internet research, because people say a lot of worrying things about the city, and I'm inclined to ignore it. For example, people say that visitors probably don't want to rent a car because traffic patterns are somehow unique enough to be confusing. Can that be true? Is driving in Detroit substantially different from any other city?
posted by heatvision to Travel & Transportation around Detroit, MI (27 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Buddy's Pizza is your best bet for Detroit-style (square, thick, crispy crust) pizza. There are great indie burger joints all over the place (Basement Burger Bar for the basics, Vinsetta Garage for a little more upscale). The Detroit version of a diner is called a Coney Island. It leans Greek, and they're all over the place, and virtually all are great.

Motown Museum. (Note: It is a guided tour, but I've done it a couple of times and loved it each time, and I dislike guided tours.)

Fowling is fun like bowling is fun -- if you're there to hang out with some friends and enjoy bar food and the libation of your choice, and no one gets dickish about how good or bad anyone is, then you'll have a good night.

Driving is a little different, in particular the Michigan left, but it's not so horrible that you won't be able to figure it out, and all of the mapping programs are good at dealing with it. Go ahead and rent a car, because public transit sucks, especially if you need to get out of the city core.
posted by Etrigan at 6:17 AM on September 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

The Detroit Institute of Arts is indeed first rate, and is a national treasure. A good portion of your time is spent saying "They have THAT here?"

Good vintage can be had around the Eastern Market. Quite a few antique stores around the edges. They're knowledgeable sellers, and I've seen things there I've never dreamt of finding out in the wild. The market itself is a great place to spend time, even if you don't buy anything.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:45 AM on September 20, 2018 [6 favorites]

In my opinion, the most amazing thing to do in Detroit, or, for my money, all of Michigan, is Greenfield Village, and the adjoining Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. The village has important buildings, such as Edison's lab, Frost's New England home, and the Wright Brothers bike shop, most of which were actually moved, piece by piece, to the park. It's really impossible to describe how intimate it feels to deal with the actual artifacts used in daily life by famous historical personages, and to actually stand in their footsteps*. You could easily spend two entire days here, but if you have extra time the nearby Henry Ford museum also offers a wide selection of historically interesting items, such as the car Kennedy was in when he was shot, and the bus Rosa Parks wouldn't go to the back of (but you can!). You will find more information about the parks here.

* Presumably. Footsteps not actually marked.
posted by ubiquity at 7:52 AM on September 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

All great recommendations so far! Yeah, you'll be absolutely fine driving, that's what Motown DOES, and it's so much easier than Boston or Paris or New York. If you're up for a cocktail, go to Sugar House in Corktown. You should see Corktown anyway, and you can see the train station (is the Robocop statue supposed to be near there?), and they have delicious cocktails. It can get pretty busy, so if you can do it early in the day or week, recommended!
posted by ldthomps at 7:59 AM on September 20, 2018

You don't mention where you are staying....that might be helpful for guiding you to food/entertainment options.

The Michigan Left is definitely a thing. Driving downtown can be a bit confusing *because history* - downtown is an ordinal grid laid out over the remnants of a grand radial plan laid out over Indigenous trails. Then because that wasn't confusing enough, the city decided to make a bunch of the streets one way. There are parts of the CBD, particularly north and east of Campus Martius, where it is quite possible to see where you want to go but never actually be able to get there.

Seconding the DIA and the Motown Museum. Belle Isle is the largest city-owned island park in the US and contains the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, Belle Isle Aquarium, and Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory in very close proximity. None are very large but they are nice little gems in fabulous historic buildings. The Dossin and the Aquarium are only open Fri-Sun. Belle Isle is worth a nice drive around (again with the one-way roads)...great views especially from the western tip.

If architecture is at all your thing, you must step inside the Guardian Building, one of Detroit's great Art Deco masterpieces. The other being the Fisher Building in the New Center...also worth a nosey inside.

If you like history, kitty-corner from the DIA is the Detroit Historical Museum...also well worth a visit (free!), particularly for the "Streets of Old Detroit" exhibit in the basement and for the current Detroit 67: Perspectives exhibit on the 1967 uprising. Also nearby is the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, on a par with the National Museum of African American History.

The Detroit restaurant scene is pretty amazing these days...hard to recommend just one or two because it seems like every day another awesome new place opens. Here's a pretty recent list with some old favorites (Polonia, Al-Ameer) and some newer entries. Coneys are definitely a Detroit can declare your allegiance at either Lafayette Coney Island or American Coney Island, conveniently right next door to each other for comparative purposes. For the record, Lafayette is better.
posted by Preserver at 9:27 AM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Exciting recommendations! We'll be staying at the Greektown Casino.
posted by heatvision at 9:35 AM on September 20, 2018

Oh, please eat at Harmonie Garden near Wayne State's campus. It's a little divey/homey middle eastern place that does Special Falafel Ideas (e.g. the Flobby Joe: a falafel patty covered in chili and served on a bun; or the Fala Melt, a reuben sandwich with the meat replaced by falafel). I used to eat there pretty much daily during school and I dream about their falafel still.

Royal Oak is a suburb outside of Detroit (easily driveable) and has a small historic downtown with many vintage shops, if you don't find what you want in other places.
posted by holyrood at 9:39 AM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Pizzapapalis is a deep dish pizza restaurant that people will tell you to eat at (I prefer Detroit style, but deepdish is pretty good too). There is a location very near the Greektown casino so it's likely that people will tell you to go. Protip: it can take 30-60 min to make a deepdish there (they have a note on the menu) so you can call ahead and order it, and stroll in when it's ready.
posted by holyrood at 9:44 AM on September 20, 2018

We'll be staying at the Greektown Casino.

Ah, then, much will be walkable, and you will probably want to garage the car unless you are specifically heading someplace not accessible by foot or public transport (like Belle Isle or the Henry Ford). The QLine (streetcar) runs up Woodward all the way to the New Center and will take you to or near many of the locations I mentioned. Detroit also has MoGo bike shares and Lime/Bird scooters if you are up for that.
posted by Preserver at 9:46 AM on September 20, 2018

On the food front, here are some recommendations that are all relatively close to your hotel in Greektown.
The Rattlesnake Club for happy hour (unless your feeling flush and want to spring for their dinner prices). Long term Detroit staple and right on the riverwalk. See Canada!
Bert's in Eastern Market for barbecue. Often has live music.
Astoria Pastry Shop Right outside your hotel and open pretty late. Usually everyone's last stop in Greektown before heading home. Good baklava.

The riverwalk in general would be a great way to spend an afternoon with decent weather. There's lots of parks, amazing views, and some restaurants along the way. From your hotel, it's easy to head on foot to Woodward and Jefferson where you'll see The Spirit of Detroit statue (this guy), the Joe Louis Fist and then cross over to Hart Plaza (right next to the Ren Cen) to start exploring the riverwalk.

There is Evil Dead the Musical starting at the end of next week which might be up your alley.
posted by thatquietgirl at 10:24 AM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

There is currently a star wars costume exhibit at the DIA which is amazing - and I don't even love star wars. The African American History Museum and MOCAD are interesting depending on what exhibits are there - I'm not sure what is there right now. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is amazing, and they are doing Star Wars next week too I think. For great shopping, check out Busted Bra Shop, the Peacock Room, and Frida in the Park Shelton or Yama and other shops in the Fisher Building (which is gorgeous in and of itself if you like buildings).

Santorini in greektown has great food. The riverwalk is walking distance from where you are. We also have bikes and scooters for rent.

You might want to check out Corktown generally - that's where Sugar House, mentioned above is. I *love* the sugar house. There is also Slows BBA, Ottava Via (italian), Nemos (bar food), PJs Lager House (vegan facy bar food and usually live music), Two James Distillery, Takoi (excellent food, usually live music), Gold Cash Gold, Bobcat Bonnies (excellent food and drink happy hour specials), Batch Brewery (amazing fish tacos, I don't like beer but am told the beer is good), Mudgies Deli (excellent for breakfast).

In Midtown there is The Petoboro (they have amazing cheesburger eggrolls, and the best crab rangoons I've ever eaten, and also my favorite drink anywhere, called the Earthly Branch; their other food is just Meh for me - always too salty); Grey Ghost (amazing food and drinks both); Selden Standard; Hopcat brewery.

A short uber away is my favorite restaurant - El Barzon. The menu is half mexican and half italian and all amazing.

Pupuseria Y Restaurante Salvadoreno has no alcohol and is in the middle of nowhere, but has amazing salvadorian food.

I could recommend another dozen places to eat or drink if there's something specific you are looking for. Feel free to PM me with questions when you get here if you think of any.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:39 AM on September 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

One thing that I found really interesting about Detroit is the high population of Arab-Americans. Around 30% of people in the suburb of Dearborn are Arab-Americans (the largest population of Iraqis outside Iraq), and a lot of businesses have their signs in Arabic. If you're interested in other cultures, it's an experience you probably won't get to have anywhere else in America.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:04 AM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ah, then, much will be walkable, and you will probably want to garage the car unless you are specifically heading someplace not accessible by foot or public transport (like Belle Isle or the Henry Ford). The QLine (streetcar) runs up Woodward all the way to the New Center and will take you to or near many of the locations I mentioned.

Keep the car. Detroit is about the last big city in the world I'd call walkable (you will be in a reasonably central location, but you'll see quickly how limited a scope that implies) and you really don't want to rely on its public transit to get around.

If you happen to be interested in ceramics particularly or decor more generally, Pewabic Pottery has a studio there and (just in case you really like tile, enough to invest in the drive) Motawi Tileworks, in Ann Arbor, has public tours twice weekly.

Buddy's > Pizza Papalis

I feel sad writing this because it is very hard to give short-term tourists a way to get to grips with the real Detroit--not the present gentrification efforts and not the glorious Art Deco period, even though they both offer legitimate points of interest--but the way a primarily African-American population survived during some very difficult decades (and are still, in many areas of the city untouched by "urban improvement," struggling to make their way). Basically, if you find yourself mostly in places where most of the people you see are white, you should at least be conscious that you are in a particular bubble, most of which has been hastily thrown up over the past decade or so.
posted by praemunire at 11:12 AM on September 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

John King Used and Rare Books is definitely worth a visit!
posted by Mouse Army at 11:39 AM on September 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

Keep the car. Detroit is about the last big city in the world I'd call walkable (you will be in a reasonably central location, but you'll see quickly how limited a scope that implies) and you really don't want to rely on its public transit to get around.

I wasn't suggesting OP not keep the car. But for anything within or relatively near the central business district, or in the Woodward Avenue corridor up to New Center (DIA, etc.), they are IMO better off walking or using the QLine (assuming they are able for moderate walking/biking/streetcar riding). Parking particularly in those areas often isn't convenient or affordable enough to make it worthwhile to get the car out of the hotel garage, drive, park, walk to the venue, then reverse the process to get back.

Sure, use a car to get to outlying destinations and to see more of the city than downtown/Midtown. But the city is not completely devoid of reasonable options to a car for the most concentrated areas, and the more such things get used, the more it demonstrates that there is a demand for expanding public transit options in the future.
posted by Preserver at 11:54 AM on September 20, 2018

Oh, and record stores - Peoples Records and Hello Records are the general recommendations.
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:06 PM on September 20, 2018

If you want to make an art day of it, you could do the DIA + MOCAD + The Heidelberg Project (which is worth a drive past at the very least).

I nth the Eastern Market recommendation.

For food, don't miss Dearborn, which has the largest concentration of Middle Eastern & North African people in the United States. I don't have a very current list of recommendations for you, but this looks like it'll point you to a fine meal & some excellent baklava. oh, the baklava
posted by ourobouros at 12:44 PM on September 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's almost 2.5 miles on foot between Greektown Casino and the DIA. (And, while the Cass Corridor is certainly nicer than it used to be, I'm not sure I could guarantee the entire walk to be without bleakness!) Average headway on the Q-line is like 20 minutes.

I mean, I don't know OP's preferences, maybe they like a long walk or enjoy seeing different cities' public transit, so it's a bit speculative either way, I guess. But I wouldn't send strangers on foot further than about the Opera House from there.

If you go to Eastern Market, get some pistachios from Germack.
posted by praemunire at 12:55 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

John King Used Books is definitely worth a trip; it's an old glove factory with 4 stories of books, which lean toward older editions and odd curiosities (among the cookbooks is a shelf labeled "cooking at sea".)

Diego Rivera considered his Detroit Industry Murals at the DIA his masterpiece; that alone makes the museum a must-see. I posted about it here.

If you're in Dearborn, Miller's Bar is a classic spot to get a no-nonsense hamburger. They don't hand out menus, everything is served on wax paper, and you pay cash-only at the bar with the honor system.

Greenfield Village focuses on living history (meaning costumed interpreters) from the colonial period through about the 1920s. As a bonus, you can glean the utopian, bootstrappy mindset of Henry Ford. If you get a Model T ride from someone who's worked at the museum for a long time, it might be worth asking about the guy who drag-raced a Model T against a pennyfarthing bicycle (spoiler: it was me, and hell yes I won.)
posted by Turkey Glue at 1:43 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

As a former Windsorite and frequent visitor to Detroit:

Lots of great suggestions above. If you love bookstores, DEFINITELY check out John King. It's amazing, and the DIA is super-great.

If you go with the car as an option:

Driving there isn't anything weird and unusual - there are local quirks like the Lodge Freeway (don't ask - it blows, but if you want and experience in shitty urban planning, give it a shot) but nothing wildly crazy - and you're right to ignore the negative press).

With a car, you could head out to Bloomfield Hills and the Cranbrook Campus.

Hop onto Woodward from right where you'll be staying, and just keep driving up Woodward for 20 miles, and shazam. You're in Bloomfield Hills.

Once you're there, the Cranbrook Campus is an absolute trove of cool stuff in one spot. Here are some of the things you can see and do there - it's really great to visit...


Cranbrook House and Gardens

The Saarinen House (more on Eero Saarinen in this fantastic Metafilter post, and more on "Michigan Modern" in this one that I did)


The Cranbrook Institute of Science


The Cranbrook Art Museum
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:47 PM on September 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's almost 2.5 miles on foot between Greektown Casino and the DIA.

If I really need to spell this out, here goes: Walk to areas within walking distance of the hotel (central business district - i.e. downtown) - this covers quite a few potential attractions and restaurants. Use QLine for areas in the Woodward corridor within a few blocks of the QLine - this adds another large chunk of attractions/restaurants, including Midtown/the Cultural Center/New Center. Drive to everything else.

I don't think that 20 minutes on a clean, safe public transit line that almost literally takes you door to door is an unreasonable alternative to driving and parking. Parking in the DIA lot is $7, street parking (if you can find it) is $1-2 an hour. An all day pass on the QLine is $3. Plus supporting (desperately needed) public transit in Detroit, avoiding unnecessary emissions, getting to see the sights along the way rather than having to navigate driving in downtown traffic in an unfamiliar city, yadda yadda.

Places to stop along the way:
Montcalm Street for The Fox Theatre or the Fillmore, or drinks at Cliff Bells.
Sproat Street for dinner at Pho Lucky or to gawk at the new Red Wings arena.
MLK Boulevard if you have a hankering for Whole Foods or are going to the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, home of the DSO.
Canfield Street, for great coffee (morning) and drinks (evening) at the Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Co or hang out at MOCAD - tons of great eats in this area too (and you can wave to my office).
Warren Avenue/Ferry for the DIA, Historical Museum, Michigan Science Center, Wright Museum, etc.
Amsterdam Street for Z's Villa and the Ford Piquette Plant museum.
Grand Boulevard for the Fisher Building
posted by Preserver at 2:45 PM on September 20, 2018

20 minutes on a clean, safe public transit line

I'm not trying to be picky here, but rather practical for benefit of OP. Headway is not travel time. Headway is the time between the arrival of two buses/streetcars/subway cars. 20 minutes from point to point becomes 40 minutes if you happen to arrive after the bus just pulled off. A lesson Detroit transit has left me to contemplate in the cold and the wet many a time.
posted by praemunire at 4:12 PM on September 20, 2018

I'm not trying to be picky here, but rather practical for benefit of OP. Headway is not travel time....A lesson Detroit transit has left me to contemplate in the cold and the wet many a time.

And I get that (I do know what headway time is). Believe me, I've done my share of cursing when someone parks on the tracks and everything grinds to a halt. It's not paradise, and there have been times when I've had to go from my office in Midtown to the CAYMC in the cold or the wet and thought eh...screw it and hopped in the car. But this is not a phenomenon unique to Detroit transit. I think for a visitor to the city, who might have the leisure to wait for a form of transit that saves them from having to find parking or navigate in a new city, it's worth consideration for certain destinations.

To continue to make this a useful discussion to OP rather than veering into debating the merits of public transport in Detroit...the QLine has an app through which you can purchase tickets and check when the next car is scheduled to arrive at a station.
posted by Preserver at 5:20 PM on September 20, 2018

Just popped in here to say that if you are into vintage you should definitely check out Lost and Found in Royal Oak.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 5:28 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's been a few years since I was in Detroit, but the best damn chimichanga I ever ate was at the Mexicantown Restaurant. Wood fired, pastry-like crust, damn. Well worth the trip.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:24 PM on September 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

And FYI - the local alt-weekly is the Metro Times if you're looking for what's on, etc.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:06 PM on September 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I regret not having taken an entire day to go to John King. That place has an overwhelming amount of books. I didn't spend an entire day at the DIA, but saw quite a bit of it and really enjoyed it. Turkey Glue is right, it was worth going to just to see the Diego Rivera murals, wow!

Eastern Market was awesome, but as a tourist a lot of its usefulness was lost to me. If I lived there, I would go there regularly for sure. It was without a doubt the biggest produce market I have ever seen. It smelled incredible, not just because of the food vendors, but also because there were people selling so many different kinds of vegetables and fresh herbs that it smelled like Thanksgiving to me. I did buy a bunch of jewelry there. And we enjoyed walking around in the crisp cool air. It's still in the 80s in my city, so Detroit's cool weather was bracing.

I was shocked by the size of the casino. It wasn't as big as some of the places in Vegas, but still, that was a hell of a lot of rooms. And boy did we contribute to the local economy. Noodle Art there had the best ramen I've ever eaten... The Ham Shop down the street had the best fried chicken I have ever eaten! We also had a great time at Fishbones, and some terrific Chinese food at Shangri-La.

I wish I would have had more time to check out more places you all recommended, but we only had a few days and my fellow travelers had their own preferences that needed to be negotiated with too.

I had felt instinctively defensive about praemunire's comment regarding race, because I like to think of myself as conscious of those things already, but the fact that it was said made me more aware and I appreciated it. Thanks, Metafilter, and thanks, Detroit. I had a really good time. I met a lot of people and liked almost every single one. It's clear that the people of Detroit feel invested in its character, and its future. I'd be happy to go back again sometime.
posted by heatvision at 10:20 AM on September 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

« Older Seeking gluten-free kid-friendly recipes for...   |   How do I file a shipping insurance claim for... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.