A guest blog from Matt Nickel
When the city of Detroit is dropped into a conversation these days, it is so often negative. While much debate is held over the good, bad and ugly, it is hard to deny that Detroit is a city rich in culture, history and creativity. When my grandparents and dad told me stories of the city I grew up near, they told of a wonderful city full of life and families and hard working people.
As General Assembly brings Presbyterians from around the country to the Motor City, it seems that such life-giving conversations about the church will take place in this great American city. As a longtime native to the Detroit area, let me offer some of the essentials beyond the obvious Detroit Institute of Arts, Comerica Park and Fox Theatre.
Things to Do
D.Hive / Detroit Experience Factory – 1253 Woodward Ave.
Even locals learn about the city on a walking or bus tour starting from D.Hive. Walking tours are free and bus tours are inexpensive. Either way you have a guide to see the city as it is: amazing.
The Guardian Building – 500 Griswold St.
People talk about the ruins of Detroit… and this is no ruin. Go inside. You’ll be amazed. Eat at Rowland Café in the mezzanine and enjoy the beauty of the art deco. The blood-red marble is rare and extraordinary. The design is iconic of the late 1920s when it was built. If you see the doorman, say hello. He’ll tell some stories.
Michigan Central Station – 2405 W. Vernor Hwy.
Now for your ruins. Check this behemoth out. What the coliseum is for Rome, Michigan Central is for Detroit. It was dedicated 100 years ago and was the pride of citizens for decades though it has sat empty since the 1980s. If you go, take a look at the top rows of windows because there are actually several someone has recently installed. Not far from here is Slow’s Bar BQ (I recommend the Triple Threat) and Astro Coffee (an artfully caffeinated haven for hipsters), both worth the visit.
Arab American National Museum – 13624 Michigan Ave.; Dearborn
While not actually in Detroit, this is a great experience to learn about the history and culture of Arab Americans and the impact Arab communities have made on American life. Take note that a PC(USA) tour will take place on June 18th.
Charles H Wright Museum of African American History – 315 E Warren Ave.
A powerful experience to learn about the diverse history and culture of African Americans. It is a large museum with multiple exhibits happening simultaneously. It is an essential experience. Take note that a PC(USA) Underground Railroad tour will take place here on June 19th .
Walk/Bike at the Riverwalk
From Hart Plaza, you can walk or run all the way to Milliken State Park. It is a nice walk on the Detroit River and you can wave to Canada. Rent a bike from Wheelhouse 1340 Atwater St. and cruise up the path.
Eastern Market – 2934 Russell St.
Offering local produce to the community since 1891, it is North America’s largest open-air market. It is open Tuesdays 9am-3pm and Saturdays 6am-4pm. If you are looking for lunch, both Russell Street Deli and Supino Pizza are in the market area. Check them out!
Heidelberg Project – 3600 Heidelberg St.
A visit to Detroit often requires stopping in this once abandoned neighborhood-turned-art-project. Founded by Tyree Guyton, the artistic director, this group of houses and yards is continually evolving. Creative and controversial, seeing has an effect. Regardless of opinion, they are changing lives through art. It started with one man reclaiming his neighborhood through art and is now an organization that now offers youth art programming and artist residencies.
Ride the People Mover
I know many will ride the wonderful monorail around the Central Business District. When you get off at various stations, take a look at the renowned “Art in the Stations.” Each station features different artist’s work from mosaic to sculpture to neon.
Despite people who gladly suggest there is nowhere to shop, it should be known there just are not traditional places to shop, but there are thriving, locally owned small businesses. Here are a few to check out:
Pure Detroit – Guardian Building or Renaissance Center
If you are looking for something to bring home in memory of Detroit, this is place to go. This has all things Detroit on its shelves: seatbelt purses, framed photos and art, memorabilia, local Detroit products, D-town hoodies and hats to your heart’s content.
CItybird – 460 W. Canfield
A playful store with home goods, jewelry, arts and gifts. Check it out particularly for their wide selection of locally produced gifts.
Bureau of Urban Living – 460 W. Canfield
Next door to Citybird, this store offers a similar spirit but a different selection. If you cannot life without a Detroit Futbol League shirt (like me), this is the place to get your very own. They offer letterpress cards, art, jewelry and again lots of locally produced goods.
Hugh – 2233 Park Avenue
A stop into Hugh is a step back into retro-posh design of the 1960s. It is elegant, eclectic, and masculine. Worth a visit
Leopold’s Books – 15 E. Kirby St.
If you are looking for a small, independent, local bookstore, Leopold’s is your place. It is small, but its shelves are like an art gallery for the book lover. What it lacks in size it offers in curiosity and exploration – especially if you love literary fiction or books on art and design.
John King Books – 901 W. Lafeyette
If Powell’s or the Strand were transplanted into an old warehouse, you would have John King Books. It is massive, industrial and beautiful. It is one of the largest bookstores in North America and if you want to get lost looking for books, there is no better place. They specialize in used and rare books. Looking for an obscure tome of theology? This is where you ought to look.
In downtown Detroit you’ll find the usual chain restaurants among the wonderful local options. Here is a list of some local restaurants that, while not exhaustive, will offer some places to start – and a few you might miss if you weren’t looking for them.
American and Lafayette Coney Island – 114/118 W. Lafayette St.
Okay, let’s get the institutions out of the way. Coney Island diners/restaurants are everywhere and these two are among the infamous. There is a rivalry between them both by history and in the hearts and minds of Detroiters. Started by two Greek immigrant brothers in 1914, their dispute split the restaurant into two. As they say, you must eat at both and pick your favorite. There is just no riding the fence on this one. Seriously, you must choose.
Good Girls Go to Paris Crepes – 15 E. Kirby St.
Worth the trek to Midtown (near the DIA), this independently owned establishment is brilliant! Sweet, savory, delicious and it has crepes that are sure to inspire. A vegetarian friendly place as well.
Great Lakes CoffeeCo. – 3965 Woodward Ave. (Midtown)
This is my favorite cup of coffee in Detroit. There are many great places for coffee, but throw in a common table with benches, great atmosphere, creative breakfast and lunch: it is my first choice. Great Lakes is one of the reasons why downtown Detroit can feel like a small town; it is where local professionals and creatives run into each other.
Grand Trunk Pub – 612 Woodward Ave.
This is close to all the PC(USA) action. Once the ticket station for the Grand Trunk Railroad, they have kept the historic ambiance without an ounce of stuffiness. Enjoy traditional pub fare, great local pints and close proximity. A local legend is on the menu: try the JL Hudson Maurice salad (a classic famously served at the restaurant in the no longer standing Hudson’s Department Store in Campus Martius).
For a lot of restaurants in close proximity, go here. There is a range of prices and menu options from old standbys like Fishbones, Pegasus and Olympia to new Redsmoke and Five Guys. For a great carry-out dessert, go to Astoria Bakery. It is oh-so-good!
Loco’s Tex-Mex Grill – 454 E. Lafayette St.
You won’t write home about Loco’s, but you won’t be disappointed by their delicious Southwest-inspired meals. I’ve been going here since I was a kid. Get off the People Mover at Greektown and walk up Beaubein toward the river. It’s on the corner.
Niki’s – 735 Beaubien St.
A simple casual environment with classic Greek fare and a wonderful take on the old-style Detroit square deep-dish pizza. Great breakfast and open late. Located near Greektown, it’s a local favorite.
Greenroom Soup and Salad – 120 W. Congress
This small restaurant has great lunch and vegetarian options. (There are also carnivorous options; they are like the Ambassador Bridge for meat and veggie eaters.) Come here for inexpensive and tasty carry out meals. Recommendation: carry out and eat on the waterfront. Don’t be scared if there is a line out the door, that’s normal as the footprint of the restaurant is small. People behind the counter take orders. It is a staple for locals for a quick lunch and there is NO seating, but great food.
Rowland Café – 500 Griswold St. Guardian Building Mezzanine
Rowland is a great lunch spot in the beautiful mezzanine of the Guardian. It is a classy, delicious café experience that is one-of-a-kind. Not to be missed.
Detroit Beer Company – 1529 Broadway St.
It delivers as promised. Good beer, good pub style food, great place to watch a game or gather with friends. (Using the People Mover, get off at the Broadway Station and walk toward Grand Circus Park.)
Slow’s Bar BQ – 2138 Michigan Ave.
While it requires a drive, if you are checking out the empty outfield of old Tiger Stadium or the ruins of Michigan Central Station, you ought to just stop at Slow’s . Lunchtime can be very busy and it is worth the wait. Parking is difficult to find, but there is a lot behind the Mercury Bar.
Supino Pizzeria – 2457 Russell St.
This is the new Detroit Pizza. While Detroiters love the old square deep dish, a new era of pizza is under way in Detroit. Thin and cooked hot, Supino is one of the new pizzas to try. Arguably the “best” pizza in the city.
Altas Global Bistro – 3111 Woodward Ave (Across the street from Ecumenical Theological Seminary)
Great for white linen lunch and dinner when you need to reasonable fine dining experience. Eclectic and classy, it will impress. Great ambiance with a relaxed upscale experience.
Roast – 1128 Washington Blvd. (in the Book-Cadillac/Westin)
This Michael Symon restaurant is an experience for the carnivorous. It is an expensive option with dishes in the $20-$30 range, but if you are looking for a fun place to celebrate something, one cannot go wrong with Roast. Try the roasted brussel sprouts – a favorite!
Angelina Bistro – 1565 Broadway St.
Traditional Italian food served with modern flare in a well-designed contemporary environment. For good fine dining, this is a great downtown option. Also an excellent bar to sit and have a drink and chat into the night about overtures of life in the church. (Using the People Mover, get off at the Grand Circus Park Station.)
Matthew Nickel is the associate pastor for congregational life, outreach and mission at Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and has served congregations in Ann Arbor and Royal Oak, Michigan.