Detroit or Nothin!

On July 3, 2018 by keirobyn

[June 2018]  Robyn, Zoë and I travelled to Detroit with my brother and his family.  We were fortunate to stay at my friend John’s house, who has an AirBNB there but lives abroad (thanks John!).  Detroit was fascinating, and one of the most unusual places I’ve ever been.  It’s been on super hard times for the last couple of decades, but it’s showing encouraging signs of life in the most unique ways.  The city used to have 2 million people, but now has less than 700,000.   To reduce blight, the city continues to destroy thousands of abandoned houses each year, resulting in bizarre ‘urban prairie’, where there are streets, sidewalks, lights and fire hydrants, but also few houses and lots of grasslands!

People are utilizing the new space in creative ways.  Lots of farming in the middle of the city (!), growing forests (!) and art projects.  While houses are considerably more expensive in some places than the Detroit’s and (ten years ago?), some people are still enthusiastically buying up places on the cheap, with hopes of renovating them.  A tour guide of mine had bought ten places in the last few years, mostly for $500-1000.  These places are usually neighborhoods that are in the path of urban renewal.  If there is an empty lot next to your house, the city will also allow you to buy it for $100!.

Detroit does not have the best safety reputation.  This list claims it’s the most dangerous in the nation.  However, we felt completely safe while we were in Detroit.  I spent one day pushing Robyn through abandoned neighborhoods from the edge of Detroit, to the center and then back again.  We encountered nothing but friendliness and helpful people..

Click on any picture below to open it up.

Travel Notes:

We had two lists of recommendations for all things Detroit.

John’s Detroit List

1. On Saturdays and Sundays please to to the Eastern Market.  It is good to go there in the morning.
2. On your way to the eastern Market drive through the Heidelberg project.
3. Don’t know if you can find a double bike, but you can bike through the “Dequindre Cut” bike path or just around the neighborhood. It’s nuts.  There is a bike in the garage for one person.
4. Do not miss the Cadieux Cafe. It’s an old Belgian bar/restaurant with famous mussel dinners and the only bar in the nation that has Feather Bowling. An old Belgian game.  My friends play in the league there every Tuesday, you can go and watch.
If you want to eat in some of the new and awesome and expensive restaurants, try out Grey Ghost, La Lanterna (actually nicely priced), Selden Standard, Chartreuse Kitchen and cocktails. They are the foodie places that everyone raves about if your family is into that. Slow’s BBQ on Michigan Avenue is also awesome and not foodie with good prices, amazing BBQ, the best in Detroit.
5. If someone likes baseball go see a Detroit Tigers game.  Super awesome way to spend an afternoon. All American fun.
6. Don’t miss a drive around Belle Isle. It is a state par island in the middle of Detroit 10 minutes from my house.
7. The Detroit Institute of Arts is absolutely amazing if you love museums. So cool.  The Henry Ford museum is also super awesome. It is a bit further out of the city.
8. There is a funny ‘city within a city’ in Detroit called Hamtramck. Its super cool with crazy restaurants and bars. It used to be mostly Polish, but now it is mostly Bangldeshi. There is a famous old Polish restaurant that is popular called the Polish Village Cafe. In a basement, tons of character and quite old. It gets packed so easy if you want to eat early there.
9. If you go to Detroit you have to eat at Laffeyette Coney Island and get a few “coney dogs”. Detroit has their own hotdogs called Coney dogs. They will come to you in under a minute by some Lebanese dude. Only go to Lafayette and not the American Coney Island next to it. Don’t put ketchup on it or someone will knock your teeth out. Chili, Mustard, and onions. It comes that way.
Lil’s Detroit List

La Boeffe:

Casual and yummy

  • El Rey Taqueria in Southwest Detroit. Get the “chicken dinner”
  • Pupuseria Y Restaurante Salvadoreno in Southwest Detroit — get the loroco, frijol y jalapeno pupusa (don’t get the tamale like we accidentally did one time. Turns out you should definitely get pupusas at the pupuseria)
  • Rose’s Fine Foods – great brunch spot
  • DutchGirl Donuts – super fresh donuts at all hours of the day… open 24/7 and the donuts are secure behind bullet proof glass. Great locals scene…
  • Green Dot Stables – not as much of a locals scene but it’s a fun spot quand meme
  • Johnny Noodle King
  • There is some of the best MiddleEastern food in the country in Dearborn (Ford Motor Company HQ).  Al Ameer is famous and good but there are lots of good places.
  • There is a lot of craft beer in Michigan. The Livernois tap is a nice spot right around the corner from our house.. or the Atwater Brewery by the river.. some people like Jolly Pumpkin…
Upscale Restaurants
  • Lady of the House – this restaurant has been getting a ton of press recently and we thought it was excellent. Hard to get into without a reservation so try a weeknight or you might be able to get a seat at the bar to eat on the weekend
  • The apparatus room – The food is fine (not amazing) but the space is an old renovated Detroit firehouse and it’s beautiful and a fun place in downtown Detroit to have a drink and hangout.
  • Takoi – hip new age Thai food spot
  • Chartreuse – Not everything is amazing but you have to get the Twice cooked egg salad if you go

To do:

  • Slow Roll Detroit! If you can get a bike and are in the city on a Monday, this is so fun.
  • Saturday Eastern Market
  • Walk/run/bike along the DeQuindre Cut. It connects to the Detroit riverfront so it’s fun to take it all the way to the river and then walk along the Detroit River Walk
  • Belle Isle – there are a bunch of cool spots there, but it’s not very wild… The conservatory and free/public/historic/dilapidated aquarium are all cool. Also good Detroit people watching
  • Volunteer on the weekend at D-TownFarm, one of the largest urban farms in the city (Saturdays from 8 am – noon and Sundays from 9 am – noon).
  • Awesome Diego Rivera Murals (and other cool exhibits) at the DIA. Sometimes cool concerts there, too. The Detroit Public Library (across the street from the DIA) is also an incredible historic building
  • The Heidelberg Project
  • You can rent a kayak from Detroit River Sports

My notes

There are some great and funky places to stay on airbnb.  A guy I met also recommended the Detroit Hostel, he said he got a private room for cheap in a fun neighborhood.

I did two excellent tours.  Detroit Rise and Fall was a walking tour of downtown.  Detroit Urban Exploration and Photography Tour was a photography tour of ruined buildings.  .  The guy who runs them is nice but not very responsive, it took me a week to get ahold of him.  Not everyone thinks that this type of ‘Urban Exploration’ tour is a good idea, some view it as ‘ruin porn’ — something to consider.

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