As a retail broker, I cannot go anywhere without taking in the local retail scene. I see it all—the signage, layout, merchandising plan, access points, variety, transportation access, lighting, quality, quantity and spirit (just to name a few). So as Labor Day weekend approached, I was highly anticipating my first trip to Detroit, a city on the lips of many as the great American restoration.
It did not disappoint.
Quite simply, we loved it. Detroit is THE great American story. A city rising back up by digging deep and tapping into the roots of the area and the people. Just as some cities, who experience huge growth or newly-found prosperity do it through the combined efforts of locals and newcomers, Detroit is also pulling from within and it shows. It's still gritty, steeped in its Midwestern sensibility and deeply authentic. If you haven't been in the past 10 years — go.
Here are some highlights from our time in the Motor City:
(Click on any underlined text for links)
Shinola, one of the indelible testaments to the Riser story, leveraged the expertise of auto industry craftsman into the production of the first US made watches built at scale since the 1960's. The company was founded in 2011 and is now a full-fledged lifestyle brand manufacturing bicycles, leather goods, jewelry and record players (just to name a few of the new lines) and a new Shinola hotel is under construction on the famous Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit. I was gifted a watch from the first production of the Gomelsky line, so the story has intrigued me for a couple of years. Their flagship Detroit Midtown location has a stunning build-your-own-watch wall, a cafe and a view into their bicycle production facility, which is onsite at this location. The main watch factory is about a mile north and is open to the public.
Will Leather Goods, around the corner from Shinola, has a stunning showroom for their Detroit outpost, which they call their "Legacy Store". William Adler, the company's founder, originally hailed from Detroit and the Adler family has a long history in the city. William eventually moved to California and then migrated up to Eugene, OR where the company was founded and thrives today. The Detroit location has leather and wood furniture, limited-run bags and satchels, leather embossing and a very cool design-your-own custom belt station. With only 8 company stores nation-wide, if you are a Will fan (which I am), this is a must-see.
The Jolly Pumpkin is a Dexter, MI-based producer of oak-aged sour ales. Their Midtown Detroit outpost is a full fledged pizzeria brew pub with their beers on tap plus a full bar, burgers, hot sandwiches and salads. It has a great outdoor dining area and a large inside area with tall ceilings. The pizza had a yeasty, sweet, sourdough chewiness to it, topped with hand-pulled cheese (if you select mozzarella) and fantastic, fresh toppings. It was a great lunch break while shop-hopping in this area. Bonus - if it's available, you can sit where President Obama sat during his visit in 2016.
Selden Standard, a self-described neighborhood restaurant with, "an ever-present eye for quality, creativity, and fun," delivered all of that in one of the best meals we've ever had. Nothing about the restaurant is fussy, but the food is refined and complex, and the service was outstanding. The small plate, family-style fare is sourced from local farms and producers. and the seasonality of the menu stands out. With two "Restaurant of the Year" awards, this is clearly a local favorite — the bar was slammed with people waiting for a coveted table. Reservations are recommended but they leave a few seats open for walk-ins each night. We had the very good fortune to walk in as a 2-top around 7 PM on Saturday night and were seated right away. Within about 20 minutes, it was obvious that would no longer have been an option. The dishes range in shareable size, so be sure to have the server point you in the right direction for overall quantity of food. And whatever you do, don't passover the drink menu. Their signature cocktails were phenomenal and set the tone for the bounty that was to follow.
Eastern Market Area
Unfortunately for us, we missed the chance to visit the famed Saturday Market at the Eastern Market. We drove the area on Sunday, only to find it a bit sleepy and the recommended restaurant, Supino Pizzeria, was closed. However, it's on our list for the next visit, so keep it on yours.
With Detroit's current reputation as a "food mecca," according to the Washington Post and others, narrowing down the choices to just two (for our only free nights) was daunting. I originally read about Antietam in this Town & Country travel article, and it was quickly reinforced by a few different sources. It's a romantic, art-deco inspired, quirky setting on a major street but in a sleepy, rising section of the city. It's somewhat inconvenient location means that it was packed with locals, which I love. We had a fantastic date night with boozy cocktails served in antique glassware, a French-inspired classic menu done extremely well, and house music that got progressively more festive as the night waned (we mouthed the words to "Beat It" while finishing up our main courses). We lingered in the romantic atmosphere, found ourselves as one of the last couples and ended up in a lively conversation with another couple, born, grown and thriving in their revived hometown. It was a memorable first night that exceeded expectations.
One of the hottest new hotels in Detroit, The Detroit Foundation Hotel, is part of the Riser story — a former firehouse that was reimagined into a sexy, high-end boutique hotel on the edge of downtown near the Detroit River. They expertly combined pieces of the original building with high-design and luxury furnishings. The hotel restaurant and bar, the Apparatus Room, has a Michelin star chef at the helm who has returned to his hometown. Before dinner on our first night, we hit the bar and had cocktails, featuring gin from the Detroit City Distillery, steak tartare and homemade curry chips. The hotel highlights everything Detroit — from the custom headboards made from reclaimed wood, to the bar snacks, to the bike share service, to the cityscape wallpaper murals in every room—it's all Made in Detroit. Open just a few months, it feels like it's been a part of the scene for years. Additional kudos for the comfortable beds, excellent customer service and the Riedel Noblesse whiskey tumblers next to the sink.
The cat is well out of the bag, so get in line early for brunch at The Dime Store in Chrysler House. This relatively small restaurant has a funky, diner vibe with classic but elevated menu items. They are known for their "Bennys" — Saturday's special was barbecue pulled pork eggs Benedict with a cabbage slaw. The plate was wiped clean. They are also doing nitro cold brew, malted Belgian waffles, and omelettes with seasonal farm-fresh ingredients. The building itself is also a must-see so waiting for a table won't be torture.
The battle of the Coneys is alive and well in Detroit. This all-American staple can be found all over the city and depending on whom you talk to, you will get a different recommendation. Enough people told me that Lafayette Coney Island is the best, so we hit it late-night, like the most Detroit of Detroiters do, at 1 AM...and had to wait in line. The menu is slim and frankly, they expect you to know what a "Lafayette Special" is — which we now know is a Coney with chili, onions and mustard. We ordered two, plus one with no mustard plus cheese for me. Maybe a Coney is a Coney is a Coney, but it's all in the flair and the originality of this Detroit institution, which hits the mark. They serve multiple plated Coneys balanced expertly down their arms and off-load cheap beer and waters six at a time. It's a scene and it's a perfect Detroit night cap.
Another oft-mentioned "must-do" is a visit to Astro Coffee in Corktown. This is in a historic downtown neighborhood and again, it is packed with locals. Outside of traditional espresso, cappuccino and coffee drinks, they offer a pour-over option for drip orders, and their baked goods are derived from local, organic and all-natural ingredients. We had their dark chocolate banana bread which was insanely good. It was a good and quick pit stop before we hit the freeway north for a golf outing.
Something I was totally unaware of before researching for the trip, is the presence of casinos in Detroit. There are mega casinos with recognizable names like the MGM Grand and even Caesar's, over the river in Windsor, Canada. Two large local brands are the Motor City Casino and Hotel and the Greektown Casino and Hotel. We opted for the latter since it's housed in another historic neighborhood downtown. It's a large, slick, well-run casino and let's just say, the House won. Nevertheless, it was fun to see the scene, and we learned (the hard way) that the Greektown craps rules are not the same as Vegas rules.
In summer, a visit to Comerica Park where the Detroit Tigers play is pure fun. While not one of the old historic parks, this luxury field is a true nod to the spirit of the Tigers, and to Detroit—don't miss the full-size tiger carousel inside the park, the massive tiger statues flanking all of the entrances, or the team store which has the legendary 'D' logo gear. And across the street, Cheli's Chili Bar boasts the "Best Margarita in the World". We didn't have time to check the validity of that, but from the look of the crowds, they might have nailed it.
We also golfed in central Michigan at Shephard's Hollow, and saw U2's Joshua Tree tour in Ford Field, so our three days and three nights went like lightening. We will be back, and we will undoubtedly add to this list, including missed "must-see" spots like the Motown Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Belle Isle, as well as other things we saw like the John Varvatos store (he is from Detroit so this is his hometown homage), Parks & Rec diner, actually eat a gyro in Greektown, drive up to Grosse Point, catch a Pistons' game in their new downtown arena (under construction now), see a show at the famous Fox Theater, and head over to Ann Arbor for a University of Michigan football game in the largest college stadium in the country.
Bottom line, from now on, whenever we see a "Detroit vs Everybody" T shirt—we are rooting for Detroit.