Photo: Courtesy of Townhouse
Ask anyone who's spent time in downtown Detroit in the last year and the words they'll use to describe the city are probably a bit different than what you'd expect: art, nightlife, design, creativity, growth, hope. The Renaissance City is finally delivering on its promise. In the last year, more than three dozen new restaurants have opened, elevating Detroit to a bonafide dining destination; there's a vibrant art scene, including several new initiatives to bring public art to the citizens of Detroit; a rich history; and so many awesome bars that Esquire named it a top drinking city in 2014. Add it all together and you have a recipe for an exciting travel destination&mdsah; and a surprisingly great choice for an urban honeymoon.
Dining and Drinking
For decades Detroit did a few things well in the dining department: traditional Greek, Italian, Mexican, Polish, and Middle Eastern food brought over by immigrants, and Coney dogs, chili-topped hot dogs dressed with onions and mustard that have a cult-like following among locals. Delicious, yes, but haute cuisine, it was not.
All that traditional ethnic food is still available (and worth seeking out) at places like Pegasus Taverna and Polish Village, but now it's been joined by enough higher end options to make your head spin— and fill your belly for days. Detroit's abundance of available low-cost spaces mean that chefs can take more risks in their cuisine, and the city's DIY mentality means that industrious chefs without spaces of their own still find a way to make it work, whether via pop-ups or sharing space with other business. And even as Detroit grows, many of its older buildings are being refurbished to their former glory, so you have your dinner with a side of history.
Take, for example, Wright & Co., which is set in an 1891 building and serves craft cocktails and seasonally-influenced small plates with a backdrop of original dark wood, marble tables, and tin ceilings. The more modern Townhouse is equally classy, with a glass atrium, twinkling lights in ficus trees, and a menu that ranges from elk tenderloin to an epic 10 oz burger. For a romantic night over small plates and wine, head to Vertical Wine Bar, a cozy basement lounge that serves more than 50 wines by the glass and 500 bottled vintages.
In addition to the city's many restaurants, there's a bevy of drinking options too. Seven craft breweries and almost as many distilleries (and even an urban winery) serve up beers, wines, and specialty cocktails that you can't get anywhere else. Belly up to the convivial bar at Two James, the city's first post-Prohibition distillery, or sip on inventive cocktails with such unusual ingredients as mustard, Greek yogurt, or truffle salt—and fun names like "Pronounced with an Umpty"— at candlelit cocktail den Standby, accessed through a wooden door with an antique gaslamp over the entrance.
Art, Culture, and History
Detroit has always been a city of history, art and culture. The Henry Ford museum (located a short drive away, in Dearborn) and the Detroit Institute of Arts, are recognized as two of the best museums in the world. Now, the art is being taken to the people, thought a series of public art initiatives.
In the same alley as Standby, you'll find the newest addition to the Detroit art scene. Known as The Belt, the alley is an open-air gallery featuring work by artists from around the world, including Shepard Fairy, who is best known for creating President Obama's "Hope" campaign poster. At the other end of the alley, the Z Lot parking garage features murals from 27 international artists on its 9 floors; even if you aren't driving, it's worth taking the elevator to the top and making your way down on foot. Other public art projects include the Grand River Creative Corridor, a stretch of road dotted with abandoned buildings that have since been brightened up with murals, and Eastern Market, which features more than 40 works of art in and around the market. There's even public art in each of the 13 stops in the city's People Mover system.
Shopping and Design
Just as Detroit chefs have been able to exercise their creative muscles, so have the city's designers, with boutiques ranging from purveyors of ultra-lux high-fashion bags (Z Ballerini) to shops selling exclusive and one-of-a-kind sneakers (Nojo Kicks).
The most famous story of homegrown success comes from Shinola, which has earned international recognition for its high-style and high-quality "made in Detroit" watches and bikes. The company's store in the Cass Corridor neighborhood is a gorgeous showroom of leather and glass, with beautifully crafted watches, belts, bags, and other leather goods displayed like museum pieces.
On the same street, City Bird and Nest carry housewares, jewelry, paper goods, apparel, and home decor by local independent artists and designers; Jack White's Third Man Records rounds out the block.
Where to Stay
To make the most of a visit, stay downtown so that you're able to get around with minimal driving (despite Detroit's growth, it's still the "Motor City" and public transport is limited). Located in the heart of the city in the bustling historic Greektown district, the Greektown Casino Hotel offers commanding views of the iconic GM Renaissance Center as well as the Detroit River, and just across it, Windsor, Canada. Spring for a corner suite for the best views out of floor-to-ceiling windows— from the large bedroom, spacious sitting room, or even from the sexy soaking tub in the master bath.
For something smaller and more intimate, check into the romantic Inn on Ferry Street, a stately historic home that's now a 40-room Victorian bed and breakfast featuring antique furnishings and offering complimentary shuttle service around downtown. A bit farther from the heart of downtown, the MGM Grand Casino Hotel boasts nine restaurants, a full-service spa, fitness center, and a stunning indoor infinity edge pool, plus private women's and men's Jacuzzi, steam room, and sauna. For added luxury, book a room on the concierge level, which includes a light breakfast, complimentary hors d'oeuvres in the evening, and free wifi.