If you’re not turned on by Detroit’s new energy, you’d better check your pulse.
Boom and bloom have shattered the Motor City’s gloom-and-doom reputation. Super-charged vital signs include a white-hot urban art scene, homegrown jazz, R&B, funk and electronic virtuosos, sensational bargain-priced food, coffee and craft beer, a fresh new riverfront, a greenway where lush foliage competes with street art-splashed concrete slabs, new urban bike and kayak tours, and friendly residents excited to share their cultural riches.
Abandoned buildings are surging back to life. The Aloft hotel opened last year in the David Whitney, a 1915 neo-Renaissance skyscraper with a jaw-dropping atrium. A labyrinth-like brewery now holds Red Bull House of Art’s galleries and studios.
Russell Industrial Center, an auto body factory designed by Detroit starchitect Albert Kahn that opened 1925, now holds studios (Bill Poceta’s glassworks, Dana Keaton’s fashions), Michigan Hot Glass Workshop and galleries. Catch the Robots and Ray-guns exhibition.
An abandoned warehouse has revived as Ponyride, a business accelerator and home toAnthology, a new slow/ethical/heavenly coffee purveyor where you should savor it black.
Neglected storefronts now hold hip joints like Northern Lights Lounge, a retro outpost with no cover, even when Motown veterans take the stage.
As a stunning new hockey arena rises downtown, entrepreneurs are racing in from New York to snap up cheap big digs with character. Homegrown innovators are launching dream ventures. The 100 restaurants that have opened in the last two years include wildly popular Selden Standard, Republic and Katoi. New brewpubs include Batch Brewing and HopCat.
Art scene among the world’s most robust
Detroit boasts spectacular new art not found anywhere else. Z Garage’s 10-story parking high-rise overflows with bold street art. The Belt is a destination alley (really!) filled with works by local and global muralists; its doors open to slender pubs and cafes. The Grand River Creative Corridor treats drivers and pedestrians to an outdoor parade of eye-popping murals.
More murals enliven the Eastern Market district. The legendary Saturday event, which now also operates Sundays and Tuesdays, presents crafted foods like Living Zen Organics’ kale chips and salads, Ethel’s decadent gluten-free brownies, Mindo dark chocolate and McClary Bros. Michigan-grown Saskatoon berry small-batch drinking vinegars. And smell the candles, particularly the Donut Parade aroma.
Since so many artists moved here for cheap rents, the art scene is among the world’s most robust. MOCAD — Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit — has a packed schedule of free exhibition openings, artist talks and workshops. Genius upcycle wares include Rebel Nell jewelry made from graffiti paint chips, a social enterprise that trains and employs women. I learned this from Kim Rusinow with Show Me Detroit, which now offers twice-daily neighborhood tours — further proof of Detroit’s boom.
Thank goodness locals halted plans to sell Detroit Institute of Arts’ masterpieces to pay city debts. This world-class museum is better than ever with multi-media exhibitions (one’s dance-themed). Young-gun spaces like Library Street Collectivealso boost Detroit’s global stature.
Cliff Bell’s, a swanky club restored to its 1935 glory, transports you to a glamorous realm seen only in classic movies. When Ben Sharkey and his orchestra unleashed big band standards to Prince, we understood how Detroit earned its jazz reputation. Dance? Yes!
Over at art-filled WXYZ Lounge, acoustic guitarist Steve Jarosz once thought he’d have to move to Europe to make it as a musician. Fortunately, he loved Detroit too much to leave — and is now rewarded by the cultural renaissance. Sean Blackman goes overseas frequently — but to gather inspiration for world beats he plays at Northern Lights and the Garden Theater with fellow genre-busting virtuosos.
Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, the world’s longest-running jazz club, sports its original piano-shaped bar. Hidden behind the born-again Book Cadillac (now a Westin), Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy has a golden oldies house band and a “we’re-all-family” vibe. Open weekends only. Alone? You won’t be for long.
Urban outdoor fun
Cool new ways to combine exercise with sightseeing include bike tours starting on RiverWalk at Wheelhouse Detroit and kayak trips led by Detroit River Sports. Take a walk or bike ride on the Dequindre Cut GreenWay, which now runs 2 miles between Eastern Market and a riverfront park anchored by the new Outdoor Adventure Center, which houses cool interactives and a waterfall. No other rail-trail offers a submerged channel fully lined with lush greenery, entrancing painted murals and graffiti tags.
Detroit has roared back as a global destination, and its live-wire sizzle can be enjoyed stress-free. I felt safe walking around day and night. You can go car-free in the Motor City: walk, bike, take the People Mover or Uber. Early next year, modern QLINE streetcars start running. And here’s another plus: your budget goes further than in other culture capitals.
Just realize that with so many thrills, you won’t want to leave.