In Detroit, the engines of ingenuity are running full blast. This is a great American city, founded on Henry Ford hustle and Joe Louis grit. And today a fresh breed of artists, entrepreneurs and builders are rethinking how the Motor City should run. Inspiring public spaces, modern mom-and-pops, and an enduring sense of I’m-from-Detroit pride carry the torch of this soulful city into the new century.
Want to get an authentic look at real Detroit? So did we. That’s why we partnered with the travel writers at WILDSAM to find the people and places making the city thrive. From old standards to new classics, check out the following stops to discover why everyone's talking about Detroit. If you’re curious for more, grab WILDSAM's field guide to the city at wildsam.com.
Stop 1: The Social Club Grooming Company
Entrepreneurship and big ideas are the new drumbeat in Detroit. Take Sebastian Jackson of Social Club Grooming Company, a modern barbershop in Midtown that’s as smart and socially conscious as it is slick with the scissors. Opened in 2012, Jackson built out the handsome space using wood from nearby blighted homes, donates clippings for fertilizer in metro parks, and hosts a monthly Shop Talk series with seasoned Detroit business leaders.
Stop 2: The Slow Roll
Though some would argue that Detroit’s fate will always be tied to the automobile, don’t tell that to the 3,000 folks riding bicycles together every Monday night during the summer and early fall. This super-friendly, two-wheeled congregation is called the Slow Roll, launched six years ago by Detroit Bike City founders Jason Hall and Mike MacKool. It’s Detroit community in full motion. And no matter if you’re sporting a single-speed beater or a fancy cruiser, it’s no doubt the best way to spend two hours admiring the Motor City.
Stop 3: The Fox Theatre
Fox Film visionary William Fox may have opened this 1928 art house with a silent film—the Oscar-winner Street Angel—but ever since, live music has packed the house. From Shirley Temple to Elvis to headliners of the 1960s MotorTown Revue concert SERIES—Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder—the Fox’s opulent interior, renovated in the 1980s, has played host to a crazy amount of hitmakers. And it remains a shining tribute to a city that’s sung the soundtrack of American life in the last half century.
Stop 4: Lafayette Coney Island
Many say Detroit is the hot dog capital of the world. Exhibit A: the Coney dog, a chili-mustard-and-onion-topped frank served up in a steaming bun. Nowhere does it better than Lafayette Coney Island, founded by Greek immigrant Bill Keros (that is, unless you ask devotees of American Coney Island, the rival joint started by Bill’s brother Gus). When it opened in the 1930s, Lafayette’s customer base consisted largely of auto workers. Today, the no-frills restaurant retains its democratic soul, drawing slice-of-life regulars ranging from Detroit PD officers to hockey fans (and players) to late-night snackers.
Stop 5: Downtown Detroit
Those curious about Detroit big-city cred need only walk the streets downtown. Art Deco skyscrapers anchor nearly every block, from the 47-floor Penobscot Building, to the Guardian with its lavish Pewabic tilework in the lobby, to the recently purchased circa-1926 Book Tower, unoccupied for years and now awaiting the revitalizing touch of downtown’s new patron saint, Dan Gilbert. The soaring structures (and a new stunning public sculptures) remind locals and visitors alike of Detroit’s powerful heritage and inspired present.
Stop 6: Corktown
Corktown is Detroit’s mom-and-pop hub, both the oldest neighborhood in the city and a thriving pocket of small businesses. On and around Michigan Avenue, just west of downtown, relative newcomers Slows Bar BQ and Batch Brewing Company stand alongside old-guard establishments like factory-turned-bookstore John K. King Books. Add in some prime housing stock and the rise of Assemble Sound’s collaborative space for musicians, and you’ve got the American Dream, Detroit-style.