I guess once you look past that whole “most segregated school districts in the country” thing, Detroit really isn’t that bad. And as tourism interest in the city continues to grow (sit outside at any patio downtown, and just wait for a group of passers-by wearing lanyards and snapping iPhone pics), so grows the market for travel pieces about the city, where writers for publications try their absolute best to boil down how to have a good time in the city in 1,500 words or so.
Full disclosure: I’ve written a few of those exploratory pieces over the years, including for BLAC’s July 2014 cover, and they’re not easy. It’s impossible to capture all of Detroit in a single take because we truly have so much to offer. But there are some general guidelines that make these pieces good.
One, a good travel piece on Detroit should have some semblance of diversity. We can go back and forth all day on whether downtown Detroit caters specifically to the white millennial, but a seasoned writer should, at the very least, include one hometown favorite that’s reflective of the city at large. (Think Café D’Mongo’s, a notable black-owned speakeasy, or even all of Greektown, which is enjoyed by Detroiters of every stripe. These are slam-dunk choices, here.) Two, although I fully support regional cooperation between the city and suburbs, I’ll maintain that a travel guide to the city should include as many city destinations as possible. And three, it’s gotta be accurate.
Newsweek, which not so long ago declared that “Detroit Makes You Sick,” published a native’s guide to the city. And it’s bad. Really bad. So bad, it’s not inclusive, city-focused or accurate.
Until recently, suggesting Detroit as a travel destination sounded like a joke you’d play on your distant Estonian relatives or the “zonker” behind door No. 2 on Let’s Make a Deal. And besides, why go to Detroit when you could book a suite in Aleppo, Syria, at half the price?
Nothing like a jab at a war-torn Middle Eastern capital. We’re off to a great start!
As a Motown native, I am allowed to make cheap cracks at my beleaguered hometown’s expense.
Google told me that Weiss also goes by David Was and co-founded Was (Not Was) with Don Fagenson (or Don Was). Was (Not Was) is pretty good. (I have to say that because Detroiters are never allowed to make fun of hometown acts, no matter how disagreeable their music might be. It’s in the rules somewhere. It’s why Kid Rock is still allowed to make those T-shirts.) The band’s origin story, however points to…ta-da! Oak Park. Per a history of Oak Park, the two of them went to high school with Doug Fieger of The Knack, the one-hit wonderband known for “My Sharona.” (And yeah, Doug would also be lawyer Geoffrey’s brother.) Seeing as you’d have to live in Oak Park to attend Oak Park schools at the time, I’d like to call that “Motown native” claim to the carpet.
Since those distant, halcyon days, Detroit took a proper licking and almost stopped ticking, but then it miraculously sprang to life some five years ago as digitally correct millennials noticed lofts the size of football fields selling at a dime on a New York dollar and migrated to the City Formerly Known as Murder as if it were a mecca for moderns.
I wouldn’t exactly call five years ago as a banner year for Detroit. 2010 was especially bloody, things improved (somewhat) in 2011, but then the murder rate increased in 2012. And in 2011, the population actually went down, and a whole bunch of schools closed. But hey, lofts.
So if you don’t mind flannel-clad hordes sipping double-digit, free-range lattes but like the idea of visiting a city oozing with history and an increasingly buffed-out urban grittiness, Detroit might just be the new Berlin.
Mr. Snyder, tear down 8 Mile? I’m not even sure how to connect the dots between Detroit and Berlin. Also, “gritty,” everyone’s favorite Detroit word.
It would be silly to come all this way and not bunk downtown, where a bevy of sleek boutique hotels have taken glorious root. For a double-shot of architectural splendor and hip yet cozy digs, Starwood’s Aloft Detroit at the David Whitney (a 1921 atrium-style office building) is the coolest call. The rooms have 9-foot ceilings and big windows peering out at the city streets and river beyond. The Westin Book Cadillac has been restored to its former Roaring '20s glory and then some, and it is also home to Michael Symon’s justly celebrated Roast restaurant. And for those too delicate for urban living, stay where the celeb-set stays in suburban Birmingham, at the oldest-school luxury sleepery of them all-the Townsend Hotel. You’ll think you’re in Vienna, not Detroit, but we forgive you in advance for not keepin’ it hyper-real.
OK, so the Aloft is nice. Can’t argue with that. Can’t argue with the Book, either. I’ve personally heard of more celebs staying at the casino hotels and the Book before Townsend, but what do I know. But wait, Townsend? Why Townsend, again? Is this a guide to Detroit or Metro Detroit? Thank goodness this guide came out after Dream Cruise weekend; I’d be pissed staying in a suburb along the Woodward corridor and trying to get downtown.
Again, nobody in their right brain thinks Detroit when it comes to outdoor pursuits,
Well actually, you could go kayaking on the numerous river tours of Detroit, bike along the Dequindre Cut or the Riverwalk, jog along the trails at Rouge Park, or venture out in the Metroparks if you’re leaving the city limits.
Shepherd’s Hollow in Clarkston boasts 27 holes of glorious parkland golf in a most unspoiled setting; Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan is home to a classic Alister MacKenzie layout at a quite reasonable fee for such a hallowed facility; and Oakland Hills Country Club is the golf get of all time, but you’d better know someone named Ford or Chrysler to gain entry to the course Ben Hogan dubbed “the Monster.” If it’s indoor gaming you prefer, the MGM Grand awaits your fresh paycheck with over 3,400 slot and video poker machines (and a Wolfgang Puck steakhouse, in case you line up three plums).
Clarkston is like 45 minutes from Detroit and LOL, Oakland Hills. Let’s talk about why anyone would want to come to Detroit strictly to play golf at suburban country clubs, though. Aside from the fact that country clubs generally have sticky racial histories and Detroit still remains heavily segregated, out of all the activities the region has to offer (Fowling? Or maybe boating, which hits right at the middle-aged white guy sweet spot that this Newsweek piece is obviously going for.), we’re going to go with golf? Sure, OK.
When I come home to Detroit,
I make for a handful of joints that specialize in lethal, working-class grub. Loui’s Pizza is the best square-shaped, thick-crusted pie in the city, though a chain called Buddy’s is making major bank with a generic version; downtown’s Lafayette Coney Island is the definitional chili dog-a snappy tube-steak, drowned in viscous brown gravy and finely chopped onions on a steamed bun; BBQ fanatics hie to chef Brian Perrone’s Slows, where baby-back ribs and smoked garlic pork sausage are bringing in veggie-haters by the half-ton (served dry with five sauces on the table). And Batch Brewing Company has local hopheads in a lager-lather, with some boss soft pretzels complementing a bounteous beer menu.
THE WORST. THE WORST PART IS RIGHT HERE. Where to begin? Buddy’s Pizza, which has been in business for 70 years and consistently makes top-ten and foodie countdown lists, is “generic” compared to Loui’s, whose pizza chef literally got his start at Buddy’s before opening up shop? The coney sauce at Lafayette is “gravy?” And Lord, would the entire city of Detroit collapse if Slows decided to close tomorrow? It wouldn’t, and while I can already hear your argument that a travel piece on Detroit wouldn’t be complete without the city’s most popular (most popular doesn’t mean best tasting, by the way) barbecue restaurant, mentioning Slows in a Detroit travel piece is like mentioning the Eiffel Tower in a Paris piece: Tourists already know it's there. Phil Cooley doesn’t need any more free press.
Five years ago, Detroit was overrun with a vampiric tourist class panting over “ruin porn.”
There were also black people here living and working just fine.
Nowadays, there are vegetable patches where abandoned homes used to be, frequented by locaphile chefs; bicycles and watches are handcrafted by Shinola (next door to Jack White’s place)
SHINOLA AGAIN! God.
and even a handful of tony art galleries have moved downtown from the suburbs.
There were also art galleries here that never left.
No second acts in American lives? Hey, maybe Motown will even come to its senses and return to its soulful, Midwestern roots.
For Motown to properly come back to Detroit, that would mean Capitol Music Group, a worldwide entertainment conglomerate, would have to separate the brand that they acquired in 2014 from another conglomerate that held the brand since the 1990s, cancel contracts with artists currently signed to the label (that includes Ne-Yo, Erykah Badu and Stevie Wonder…Stevie can stay, I guess), and somehow operate within the new music industry that relies less on pressing 45s and more on streaming – oh, and somehow compete from Detroit with record labels in Los Angeles and New York. Wishful thinking.
I’ll second that emotion.
I’ll not be reading this again.