Over the past decade, the city of Detroit has climbed from the ashes of defeat and made powerful strides toward regaining its stature as a major metropolis. It’s hard not to get excited when you hear news of artistic and industrial rebirth in this iconic Midwestern city, a city characterized by muscular spirit and scrappy self-determinism. We went to investigate Detroit’s storied comeback for ourselves, and found plenty of proof that Motor City lives up to the hype.
There’s the easy way to eat in Detroit, and then there’s the hard way.
The easy way would be spending your visit researching the longstanding Coney dog rivalry between American and Lafayette, which stand right next door to each other on Lafayette Boulevard. (Detroit never backs down from a fight.)
Then, there’s the hard way. Honestly, there are more great dining options in Detroit than you can shake a stick at. These are just a few of our favorites.
Lady of the House
Easily Detroit’s most anticipated new restaurant last year, Lady of the House makes good on its promise of “throwing a dinner party every night.” Offering fine dining with impeccable ethos, Lady of the House presents a seasonal menu of stunning dishes that let you see the labor and feel the love. If you can get the duck wings, get the duck wings. Make sure to reserve your seat well in advance.
Pour-overs, handcrafted espresso drinks, and scrumptious homemade breakfast and lunch treats make this tiny Corktown coffee shop a morning magnet all week long. The natural lighting and plant-based décor keep the vibe calm, despite the crowds.
Detroit Institute of Bagels
On mornings when standing in line for brunch isn’t an option, throw on your sunglasses and head to the DIB. The swift, friendly service here is just icing (as it were) on the deliciously dense and chewy bagel. You’re as safe with a classic sesame-plus-schmear as you are with one of the gourmet breakfast sandwiches.
These New York-style crusts topped with organic, local ingredients have gained a reputation as the best pizza in town. (Don’t tell Buddy’s — that’s a whole different thing, anyway.) We recommend the slice of the day with a side of polpette, meatballs served with roasted polenta and marinara.
Russell Street Deli
This Eastern Market institution will make you feel like you’re living in a Seinfeld episode with its high-piled corned beef sandwiches and generous array of made-from-scratch soups. The atmosphere is as good as the food — Russell Street Deli’s communal tables are an instant welcome to the community. Look for the bright green exterior and the lines out the door. Fun fact: Russell Street Deli is Detroit’s lead purchaser of organic produce. How’s that for cred?
Rose’s Fine Food
Rose’s rewards the intrepid with soothing, nostalgic decor and food to match. This shoebox-sized eatery’s modest look belies its grandiose claim of being “The Ultimate Diner,” but Rose’s Fine Food makes good on its guarantee with elevated breakfast, lunch, and soda fountain classics. They also utilize the progressive practice of tip sharing, so don’t freak out when you see the gratuity included on your check — it simply means that all diner staff are paid an equal living wage.
Taqueria Nuestra Familia
Ask any Detroit local about the best taco in town, and you’ll get a hotly contested array of responses. We’ve thrown our lot in with Taqueria Nuestra Familia thanks to its block party vibe, its melting al pastor, and the addictive salsa verde served with complimentary chips. The restaurant also serves homemade caldo, tortas and breakfast dishes, but trust us and go with the $1.25 tacos — they’ll have you picking through your plate for every overflowed morsel.
Combine Detroit’s working-class roots with its plethora of college and professional sports teams and you’ve got a bona fide drinking city on your hands. As the city has developed layers, so has its palate for fine libations. These days, whether you’re looking for a place to knock back a cold one while watching the game, or a dark boite for sipping handcrafted cocktails, Detroit offers an embarrassment of choices.
The Old Miami
Opened in 1975 and named for the acronym “Missing in Action Michigan,” Old Miami started life as a hangout for Vietnam vets and later became known as the C.B.G.B.’s of the Midwest, thanks to its popularity with Detroit’s underground music scene. Along with a vintage jukebox and a pool table, Old Miami features the best backyard in Detroit, complete with a to-scale replica of Vietnam’s Hill Fights.
Two James Distillery
As Detroit’s first distillery since Prohibition, Two James has a hell of a standard to live up to. Not only do the small-batch concoctions pass with flying colors, but we’ll go so far as to say that the tasting room offers the best classic cocktails in the city. Sidle up to the round zinc bar and take a few minutes to appreciate the deft artistry of Two James’ barkeeps. The creation of a whiskey flip with Grass Widow Bourbon almost made us weep. If you want to make a day of it, weekends feature a rotating cast of guest restaurateurs offering hearty bar snacks like made-to-order guacamole or homemade pasties.
Café d’Mongo’s Speakeasy
This Detroit institution draws locals in droves, as well as visiting luminaries (e.g., Ryan Gosling, Quentin Tarantino, Sir Richard Branson) for stiff drinks, rocking live music, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, and the incomparable atmosphere provided by owner Larry Mongo. Renowned as a local storyteller and impresario, Larry Mongo can be found at the bar most nights, holding court while house band Carl & Co. kicks out classic rock and soul jams.
Don’t judge because the folks here refer to their menu as a “bar program”— these are damn tasty drinks. If you’ve ever wondered just how much liquid nitrogen can enhance a simple mix of gin, sugar, and lime juice, Standby is the place to find out. The labyrinthine menu can be a bit much when you’re a couple drinks deep, so keep it simple and keep the homemade potato chips coming until your head clears. Global music, an inclusive art collection, and a parade of Detroit’s most interesting people keep your senses lively.
Henry the Hatter
Detroit has always been a city of makers. Now more than ever, curious shops abound in every neighborhood, beckoning visitors in with a beguiling array of well-crafted goods. Established in 1893, Henry the Hatter holds the distinction of being the United States’ oldest hat retailer. While ownership and location has moved a few times over the centuries, the shop still keeps Detroit heads well-furbished with fine haberdashery, as well as offering cleaning, repairs and custom improvements. With today’s headwear resurgence, Henry’s is humming like never before, continuing to serve Detroit locals with the same taste and expertise that it offers to celebrity clients like Jimmy Kimmel and John Varvatos.
With leather goods, graphic tees, reproduction glassware, and fine goods from local institutions such as Carhartt and Stormy Kromer, Detroit Mercantile Co. is a one-stop shop for both Detroit souvenirs and essentials for the modern man. Our pick? These classic “lemon peel” baseballs.
Détroit is the New Black
Those who define fashion by more than a graphic T-shirt should run, not walk, to Détroit is the New Black. Founded by fashion buyer Roslyn Karamoko, DITNB is a brand that uniquely embodies the spirit and struggle of Detroit. The shop features Karamoko’s best-selling shirts, along with leather goods, grooming products, and fashion collections from emerging Detroit icons. DITNB truly embodies the beating heart of Detroit’s comeback.
This business incubator is home to a number of notable Detroit makers who, generally speaking, are happy to have customers stop in. (Hot tip: One of our favorite beard balms is made here.) Ponyride also hosts seasonal markets as well as the DDS Design Village, which features workshops and talks in addition to merchants. Check the site for details.
Here at The Manual, we make no secret of our enduring love for all things Shinola. This heritage brand, revived in the 2000s, started with watches and bikes and has since branched into leather goods, turntables, headphones, and, soon, boutique hotels. Get a taste at Shinola’s flagship store.
Third Man Records
Nashville can just step back. Detroit is the original home of Jack White’s iconic Third Man record label, and its Cass Corridor storefront is vastly superior in size, scope, and comfort. Loud branding notwithstanding, this spot really feels like a record store, with listening booths and comfy couches where you can easily get lost in the ever-widening Third Man catalog. Drop in for live performances from the in-store stage or geek out while watching the vinyl-pressing plant in action.
The Hub of Detroit
Detroit’s most egalitarian bike shop, The Hub offers new and used bikes and parts, complete repair and restoration services, and houses a 501(c)3 that provides cycling education and services to local youth. Whether you’re seeking an affordable tune-up, a custom build, or some intel on cycling news and events, The Hub of Detroit is … well, just that.
You won’t find a company more passionate about its origins than Carhartt, and it’s easy to see why. This fifth-generation, family-run institution is as Detroit as it gets. The fresh new storefront is even housed in a former car dealership. With 150 years of outfitting Detroit’s working class (not to mention its sports teams and emergency services), Carhartt has proven its durability. While you’re perusing the racks of classic “duck” coveralls and flannel-lined chore coats, make sure to check out the vintage pieces hanging on the walls. If they weren’t behind glass, you’d assume they were ready to take home and wear for another half-century.
Detroit Institute of Arts
Detroit comeback skeptics need only feast their eyes on DIA’s monumental Diego Rivera murals to feel a surge of underdog empathy. Alongside these national landmarks, other standouts include the General Motors Center for African American Art and the Paul McPharlin Puppetry Collection.
This below-street level greenway, a former arm of the Grand Trunk Railroad, connects Detroit’s Riverfront with the Eastern Market. The walls of this paved bike/pedestrian pathway serve as a two mile-long gallery of street art.
A park that is actually an island, Belle Isle is a popular spot for athletes, photographers, sunset watchers, and nature lovers. Home to an aquarium, conservatory, and other facilities graced by beautiful Belle Epoch architecture, as well as Detroit’s only public beach, the park offers 982 acres to get delightfully lost in.
Worth the Drive
The Heidelberg Project
While you can spend a week or more just exploring the city center, “Metro Detroit” (as it’s known) has plenty of attractions. An “outdoor art environment” constructed entirely of repurposed everyday objects, the Heidelberg Project could be a metaphor for the broken hopes and indomitable spirit of Detroit. Begun in 1986 by Detroit artist Tyree Gibson as a creative response to urban blight and decay, the project continues to evolve in both size and style. Depending on the weather, time of day, and your own personal mood, what you see in the Heidelberg Project can change from one day to the next. One thing is certain: You will leave thinking differently about Detroit.
Founded in 1930 as the Oakland Avenue Bath House, this traditional Russian banya survived decades of changing fortune to its current iteration as a thoroughly modern unisex spa. Use is divided evenly throughout the week between the sexes, with two co-ed days. The $30 fee gets you a locker, towels, and use of the steam room, cold water pool, sauna, and massage/skin treatment facilities. With a fine kitchen and special events that run the gamut from movie nights to drum circles, The Schvitz has reestablished itself as a Detroit institution.
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Rustic Cabins Bar
This Grosse Pointe dive is notable principally for its cult historical status: Jack Kerouac hung out here while fulfilling his obligations to his wife’s wealthy family, who bailed him out of jail after he was arrested for being accessory to the murder committed by Lucien Carr. According to the ex-Mrs. Kerouac’s memoir, Rustic Cabins was the place where Kerouac felt most at home amid the upper-middle-class grandeur of Grosse Pointe. If you’re a melancholic nostalgia buff with a penchant for pool and a love of Beat literature, you’ll probably feel the same way.
A short drive or ambitious bike ride away from downtown Detroit, the community of Hamtramck has become a melting pot of all Detroit’s times and cultures. Host to a number of arts and cultural festivals throughout the year, Hamtramck’s day-to-day life hums with working-class authenticity, making it perfect for an afternoon slow roll. Cruise the narrow roads with an eye open for landmarks such as Kowalski Sausage Co., the Detroit Zen Center, and Hamtramck Disneyland. International food options abound, but a visit to the sidecar-sized Boostan Café is a must; fuel your city wandering with silky hummus, smoky chicken shawarma and perfectly tossed tabbouleh. Finish your day at Bumbo’s, a pleasantly low-lit bar that offers sophisticated drinks in a laid-back setting.