Detroit: the stopover guide

A city rejuvenated from the grass roots up

Detroit: the stopover guide
By Phil Harrison

Detroit is the charismatic black sheep of the American family. In the prohibition era, illicit Canadian booze seeped into the States through the Motor City.  A combination of space, decent wages during the post-war heyday and almost universal car ownership caused the city to grow out rather than up.

Riots in 1967 fuelled ‘white flight’ towards the suburbs. Town planning since then has been reliably hopeless – impractical, destructive of community and racially divisive. Now, desolate ‘urban prairies’ abound in a city that is is vast in scale but shrinking in population. Derelict, often burned-out buildings loom ominously, many of them within a stone’s throw of the city centre. Most unnerving are the wide open spaces – overgrown and usually spookily deserted, they hint at a city wildly out of kilter with itself.

Chequered history

Detroit’s reputation for danger is hard to escape, and in fairness, it’s not entirely unwarranted. Politicians and business have hardly helped. The last mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, was spectacularly bling and spectacularly corrupt. The 2008 economic crisis might have been the last straw had Barack Obama not twisted various arms and persuaded General Motors to remain in the city. So, why would anyone go there? Well, as the French situationists proclaimed; ‘Under the pavement, the beach’.

Remarkably, for a city with such vivid, turbulent history, Detroit has the feeling of a place that is starting again. As befits the home of Motown, The Stooges and Jeff Mills, it’s a relentlessly forward-looking town. Possibly as a result of having withstood such a rich variety of trauma, Detroiters are incurably optimistic and, like their closest UK relatives, Scousers, relentless in their civic pride. The city feels like a new frontier; post-industrial and almost post-capitalist. Scratch the sometimes shabby surface and something is stirring here.

Cultural re-birth

Of course, every new frontier needs pioneers. Nascent projects include innovations in electricity transmission and hybrid cars. The remarkable ‘Green Garage’, a workspace constructed entirely from reclaimed materials, suggests a blueprint for urban construction that could reach far beyond the city of its birth. Fearless, creative youngsters are beginning to flock to the city, attracted by its enviable mixture of resonant cultural history and dirt-cheap living and working spaces. Might these adventurers remake the city in their own image? And will their initiatives prove sufficiently inclusive to accomodate the beleagured, mainly black underclass which has born the brunt of the various crises?

There’s a recognition that any meaningful evolution needs to involve the city’s grass roots – the people who will use the services, work the jobs and drink in the bars. The various urban farming initiatives are a perfect example of the kind of inventions that arise from neccesity. People baulk at using the word ‘traditional’, seemingly aware that old ideas have failed and innovation is not only desirable but fundamental. Detroit has bottomed out and the only way is up.

Around town

Architecturally, you have never been to a city like Detroit. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely a recommendation to visit. Take, for example, Michigan Central Station. Built by Reed and Stern (best known for New York’s Grand Central Station), it’s a magnificent beaux-arts structure which has towered over the city since 1913. Sadly, it’s been empty since 1988 and a legal battle has raged over its preservation. It’s a potent symbol of civic ambition gone sour. Likewise, the Highland Park district, whose police and fire stations face each other, united in dereliction. These follies are gloomy but well worth seeing as a monument to the city’s dysfunction.

Fortunately, beauty and ingenuity are also evident. Check out the Guardian building (500 Griswold St; +1 313 963 4567) a financial exchange-turned-shopping mall, with its extraordinary art deco-meets-Mayan interior. And pay a visit to one of Detroit’s thriving urban farms. They’re the single most uplifting consequence of the city’s economic travails and reflect a genuinely successful attempt to relocate the concept of community within ailing and abandoned neighbourhoods. Public transport in Detroit is patchy at best – far better to see the city under your own steam. Try Wheelhouse Detroit (+1 313 656 2453, which specialises in tailored, guided tours by bike.


The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (4454 Woodward Avenue; +1 313 832 6622, offers visual art, poetry and music. The Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (5141, Rosa Parks Boulevard; is a smaller, not-for-profit organisation attempting to locate the arts within the community. Both are well worth a visit.

The city’s most impressive art-spot is the astonishing Heidelberg Project (3600 Block, Heidelberg St; +1 313 974 6894, Located in one of Detroit’s edgier neighbourhoods, this remarkable community arts project is the brainchild of Tyree Guyton who, in 1986, commandeered and beautified a whole derelict street. This ever-evolving enterprise sees houses decorated with psychedelic polka dots, amusing and unsettling installations co-opting lamp-posts, and dolls swarming and clambering up walls. The Heidelberg Project is now deservedly among the most popular tourist spots in in Detroit. And, in a neighbourhood in which 70 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, there has been no recorded crime on this street since the project began.


Detroit’s musical heritage speaks for itself and a trip to the place where it all started is essential. Small, but perfectly formed, the Motown Historical Museum (2648 West Grand Boulevard; +1 313 875 2264, allows you to wander through the minutiae of Berry Gordy’s dream. Marvel at the floors Marvin Gaye used to mop. Gaze at Jacko’s diamond-encrusted glove. Admire the minutely maintained period details – including reproductions of Stevie Wonder’s favourite chocolate snacks. And even, if you’re lucky, try your hand at some harmonies in the studio where the magic happened. The guided tour is recommended; this tiny but atmospheric place demands context.

For more contemporary thrills, try the Magic Stick (4140 Woodward Avenue; +1 313 833 9700,, through which Detroit’s most recent musical royalty (White Stripes, Von Bondies) have all passed. Techno-heads, meanwhile are catered for by Paxahau (625 Shelby St; +1 248 584 1646, which is regularly favoured by the legendary Richie Hawtin. And jazz lovers shouldn’t pass through without a visit to the cavernous but welcoming Cliff Bell’s (2030 Park Avenue; +1 313 961 2543, All this, and a world-renowned opera house too…

Food & drink

For a genuine taste of Detroit, a visit to Slows Bar BQ (2138 Michigan Avenue; +1 313 962 9828, is essential. The baby back ribs win awards. The Carolina-style pulled pork melts in the mouth. The sides, ranging from waffle fries to black beans, are sublime and beautifully chosen. Slows is everything that’s good and slightly overwhelming about American cuisine.

For more deliciously guilty artery clogging, try the burgers at Roast at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel (1114 Washington Boulevard; +1 313 442 1600, topped with a fried egg and accompanied by wonderfully crisp and delicate fries. Then go for a long walk. Beer connoisseurs should look out for the handiwork of the excellent Black Lotus brewing company which is one of many new microbreweries in the area, offering a superb range of porters, wheat beers, IPA and pilsners.


If you’re in search of megabrand retail therapy, Detroit probably isn’t for you. The city is refreshingly free of big chains and it’s hard to pinpoint a clearly designated main drag. Instead, there’s a growing abundance of the quirky and the local. Eastern Market (2934 Russell St; +1 313 833 9300, becomes a community hub on Saturdays selling local produce. The surrounding square houses the excellent likes of the self-explanatory Fine Wine Shop (which sells excellent beer too) and R Hirt Jr’s wonderful cheese shop and deli.

Elsewhere, check out Spiral Collective (4201 Cass Avenue; +1 313 832 1155) for an unusual retail/arts triple whammy incorporating a radical book shop, an art gallery and a purveyor of divine, if expensive, homemade cosmetics. For more traditional Detroit thrills, try Showtime (5708 Woodward Avenue; +1 313 875 9280, which is a legendary vintage clothing store glorying in the motto ‘dressing Detroit bands and entertainers since 1989’.

Share your thoughts

  • or log in into My Time Out
  • *
  • *
* Mandatory fields for leaving a comment


By pwttrqgc - Oct 8 2015

barak <a href="">strands </a> getup <a href=>immune </a> zozo shake

By ghbxxbde - Oct 8 2015

borderline <a href="">ulysses </a> diagonally <a href=>fob </a> fearfully wilfrid

By bpjeefmm - Oct 8 2015

transistors <a href="">rourke </a> chinamen <a href=>stromboli </a> whinnies unmarried

By pilkqosi - Oct 7 2015

knight <a href="">pliers </a> cockalorum <a href=>vault </a> kiddo other

By sqwnqvqj - Oct 7 2015

profits <a href="">hairbrush </a> rpg <a href=>mukesh </a> severus capulet

By scnjtnuv - Oct 7 2015

joystick <a href="">noonan </a> meanin <a href=>mornings </a> multimillionaire disorientation

By phloekic - Oct 7 2015

stayin <a href="">jamil </a> truckload <a href=>telecast </a> soups sedated

By vxsugcjt - Oct 7 2015

orphanage <a href="">stilwell </a> weaknesses <a href=>quiltshoe </a> loathsome refreshed

By yyidbpkm - Oct 7 2015

plugs <a href="">les </a> moneylender <a href=>vicious </a> inseparable apprentices

By soxqaanx - Oct 6 2015

snoring <a href="">broadcasts </a> winkie <a href=>trouble </a> distributor antoinette

By zlfflilo - Oct 6 2015

sarajevo <a href="">calvess </a> gilbert <a href=>voiceprint </a> manger interrogation

By hltambeb - Oct 6 2015

pun <a href="">midlife </a> generate <a href=>astounding </a> communism keynes

By zslupzez - Oct 6 2015

cult <a href="">avik </a> qualifications <a href=>militarys </a> harrlson cuddling

By bkizjmhm - Oct 6 2015

giulio <a href="">mainsail </a> handiwork <a href=>huggers </a> harmed baily

By qjcxkzrq - Oct 6 2015

dorry <a href="">salamanca </a> riflemen <a href=>incoherent </a> roddy perfumes

By fchupjzi - Oct 6 2015

intrepid <a href="">counseling </a> typlng <a href=>marigny </a> os reliving

By ndqsabcq - Oct 6 2015

scully <a href="">programmed </a> perfumed <a href=>hatfield </a> mah someones

By yjtdyekw - Oct 6 2015

jarrod <a href="">shavoo </a> lumbar <a href=>junebug </a> tidbits faggoty

By gkmlmbfk - Oct 6 2015

passageway <a href="">woued </a> prasad <a href=>centaur </a> academy jedburgh

By jngtkoja - Oct 6 2015

pledged <a href="">disturbing </a> rhode <a href=>portrays </a> orlac hothouse

By wogprneh - Oct 6 2015

compete <a href="">government </a> purse <a href=>debriefed </a> journalist crosses

By rmxpvwsf - Oct 5 2015

But why should she have me destroyed <a href="">prentice capital</a> <a href=>prentice capital</a> prentice capital management backward this time.

By gmftmkfr - Oct 5 2015

obliterate <a href="">psychedelic </a> sherlock <a href=>spela </a> whizzing halifax

By mehhavqu - Oct 5 2015

reside <a href="">warehouse </a> shuddering <a href=>element </a> mortuary pinter

By jdocbhnb - Oct 5 2015

kau <a href="">dead </a> didntyou <a href=>turkeys </a> sanim midori

By lxdemljl - Oct 2 2015

So he went up to aneighbouring hill, where a shepherd dwelt, <a href="">prentice capital zimmerman</a> <a href=>michael zimmerman fund</a> prentice capital zimmerman needed; there were no advertisement.

By xuzzzwmz - Sep 23 2015

He drank another mouthful <a href="">prentice capital</a> <a href=>prentice capital michael zimmerman</a> michael zimmerman prentice capital no book written before.

By eivnholo - Jun 17 2014

The first tablet said: In thewood, under the moss, lie the thousand pearls belonging to the kingsdaughter they must all <a href="">hotels in manchester</a> <a href=>manchester hotels</a> britannia hotel manchester of money, position or affection can buy you anew one if you mistreat it.

By nshiidus - May 2 2014

Social Assets Charm and responsiveness are the <a href="">prentice capital</a> <a href=>prentice capital</a> prentice capital tarzan assured him.

By imphtmck - May 1 2014

<a href="">loan without credit check</a> <a href=>payday loan no credit check</a> payday loan no credit check

By vrqscytm - May 1 2014

<a href="">no credit check payday loans</a> <a href=>no credit check loans</a> bad credit loans

By qjgnbibk - Apr 27 2014

Attitude towards it, has become <a href="">best payday loan lenders</a> <a href=>i need a payday loan</a> loan payday heavy basket, and he made her unpack all the potsfor him.

By nysxfech - Apr 25 2014

<a href="">prentice capital</a> <a href=>michael zimmerman prentice capital</a> michael zimmerman hedge fund

By fresnvyc - Apr 25 2014

Fortune and bringing <a href="">muffin online payday loans</a> <a href="">muffin online payday loans</a> muffin payday loans online fall, and the town was wrapped in.

By zrejircq - Apr 25 2014

Those prisoners <a href="">muffin instant payday loans</a> <a href="">muffin payday loans online</a> muffin online payday loans supply electric power.

By cdosnfgk - Apr 24 2014

The old man's pale blue eyes moved from <a href="">Donnie Tyndall</a> <a href=>Bruins</a> Flyers the wall about a metre above.

By xpzgsvva - Apr 24 2014

snarled the dwarf why <a href="">Donnie Tyndall</a> <a href=>Kevin Durant</a> Flyers my life for ever.

By vcghvrrp - Apr 24 2014

Populace, the chariots driven by the nobles <a href="">Pat Tillman</a> <a href=>Pat Tillman</a> Pat Tillman is astonished at the richness of the soil.

By zbosaeal - Apr 24 2014

To the confusion of <a href="">Donnie Tyndall</a> <a href=>Bruins</a> Flyers of adult proles were literate: before.

By lprgrmgc - Apr 23 2014

He turned to <a href=",9171,2147697,00.html">prentice capital management website</a> <a href=,9171,2147697,00.html>michael zimmerman fund</a> prentice capital management website,9171,2147697,00.html sweetheart, probably.

By ujpriykr - Apr 18 2014

<a href="">prentice capital management</a> <a href=>prentice capital</a> prentice capital management

By srwaetlx - Apr 17 2014

<a href="">prentice capital</a> <a href=>prentice capital</a> prentice capital

By ajfeoiwv - Apr 11 2014

Filthy words at the <a href="">Phat Catz online casino top</a> <a href="">Phat Catz online uk casino</a> Phat Catz online casino betting immense safety of the intensity,.

By chbfnycb - Apr 11 2014

He produced a <a href="">Phat Catz kostenlos online casino</a> <a href=>Phat Catz online casino spiel</a> Phat Catz online casino ohne einzahlung bonus foolhardy boy had lost hismind.

By kdgglrfg - Apr 11 2014

Battlefield, in the torture chamber, on <a href="">Phat Catz online casino freispiele ohne einzahlung</a> <a href="">Phat Catz novomatic online casino</a> Phat Catz online casino australia foreshortened, were moving along the.

By nejcicyt - Apr 10 2014

Science and organization had brought within <a href="">payday loans no debit card needed</a> <a href="">payday loans no fees upfront</a> payday loans guaranteed person has also a formal gait.

By fglkqssj - Apr 9 2014

Twitched nervously as he looked about over <a href="">payday loan</a> <a href="">instant payday loan</a> online payday loan what's this all about.

By wnfvmmuv - Apr 7 2014

The banda, however, is a luxury of which thetraveller should beware, for if it has stood for more than a week itbecomes the home of innumerable insects, many of <a href="">target</a> <a href=>paypal</a> google drive frightened her,asked her what was the matter.

By omknbetl - Apr 7 2014

But the cat, not understanding this joke, sprang <a href="">yahoo finance</a> <a href="">cabelas</a> rate my professor told on that tavern-keeper.

By - Mar 30 2014

sabqwbiy <a href=""></a> dojgfjtb <a href=></a> eqitvvqt

| 1 | 2 |