Design Destination: Detroit

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The coolest city on your “must-visit” list.

The concepts of “revival”, “reinvention”, and “rebirth” dominate most discussions about Detroit, but this American city is more than that. Perhaps not many know that it was originally founded in 1701. Fast forward to 2018, and it’s the largest city in the US to have all-LED street lighting. A rich history and a desire to embrace change – and technology – with open arms. Two facts which only scratch the surface of Motor City’s complex character. Traveling to Detroit, tourists find history, art, music, and a rich architectural heritage throughout the busy streets, with a strong entrepreneurial spirit also pushing the metropolis forward. Put more simply, this is not an ordinary city – a stay in Detroit stays with you for a while.

Instead of seeing the Phoenix rising from the ashes, we prefer to focus on the soul and one-of-a-kind treasures of this city as well as on its people and its spirit. After all, this IS the birthplace of the first Ford vehicle. The home of the iconic Motown Records and of the majestic Michigan Central Station, which served as a gateway to the heart of the US. Yet Detroit is also a thriving urban environment that never stops writing new chapters in its history. Named “City of Design” in 2015, it’s filled with art and crafts communities, museums and galleries, old and new architecture. And at the center? The huge array of start-ups and local businesses that make Motor City a flourishing and exciting place to be. Here’s a guide on how to make the most of your stay in Detroit:

Stay

If you’re traveling to Detroit, you’ll have no problem stumbling upon amazing accommodation in the city’s vibrant neighborhoods. Some of the gems we’ve found include hotels that celebrate the past with modern design, as well as places that make one feel at home. A beautiful, picture-perfect home. Like many places here, the boutique Detroit Foundation Hotel is rich in history and has many stories to tell. The former headquarters of the Detroit Fire Department, the building underwent a tasteful renovation that maintains its old-time character, with extra-high ceilings, exposed brick walls and earthy colors creating a warm, welcoming atmosphere.

Built in 1898, El Moore underwent a complete restoration process with a focus on sustainability. Here you can admire gorgeous city views from the Cass Corridor neighborhood. Located in the Corktwon area, the design-focused Trumbull and Porter features Herman Miller furniture as well as bespoke items crafted by Michigan artisans. Guests have access to a beer garden, where they can admire the views, and to a bicycle rental service to make a stay in Detroit even more fun. Just as passionate about design, Honor & Folly welcomes guests into NYC-style loft space. Think exposed brick walls and airy rooms, with a well-equipped kitchen also included.

Eat

On your visit, you’ll discover that Detroit’s character shines through everywhere, including in the choice of food. There are many top places to eat in Detroit, but we’ve chosen a few to get you started on a culinary adventure. For a delicious brunch, stop by Dime Store. This joint offers classic as well as creatively fresh takes on brunch food, with locally-roasted coffee and organic teas also included on the menu. Or go to Mudgie’s Deli in the historic Corktown neighborhood to grab some artisan-style food, sandwiches, and a cup of coffee.

For a more stylish lunch location, go to the Apparatus Room which awaits inside the Detroit Foundation Hotel. High ceilings and arched windows give the decor a charming vintage vibe, while the food prepared by the two-Michelin starred Chef Thomas Lents is probably worth the trip to Detroit all on its own. More creative than your usual restaurant and bar, Rusted Crow Detroit features a striking steampunk-inspired decor with plenty of exposed brick, rustic wood, and tarnished metal. The menu includes great food as well as signature cocktails.

Pizza lovers should definitely stop by Supino Pizzeria in the Eastern Market for a slice of artisanal-style pizza with a thin crust. Fantastic places for dinner include the London Chop House which opened in 1938 and was named one of the best ten restaurants in the US the one-and-only James Beard; the Detroit steakhouse and bar that takes its name after the alias of the infamous rum smuggler of the Prohibition era; the Mexican-style El Asador Steakhouse; and the Selden Standard, which is perfect for a cozy dinner with friends.

Visit

Making your stay in Detroit more memorable is easy if you visit at least a couple of its cultural spaces. The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) provides access to amazing art and should be at the top of your list. Here you will also find a bustling contemporary, visual, literary, and performance art hub. Events that cover music, film, and lectures enrich the museum’s permanent collections.

Contemporary art lovers won’t want to leave College for Creative Studies Gallery. For those who are traveling to Detroit, the Detroit Historical Museum and the Motown Historical Museum provide a comprehensive glimpse into the city’s past. The former chronicles the history of Detroit, while the latter pays homage to the legendary record label and offers access to some of the original equipment and instruments that have helped write Motown and musical history. If you prefer spending more time outdoors, you can visit the City Sculpture park to see the sculptures of Robert Sestok, or the iconic Heidelberg Project which has revived the local community through the power of art.

Shop

Whether it’s books, clothing, home accessories, or records, you’ll find plenty of places to shop in Detroit. John K. King Used & Rare Books holds the title of the “largest used and rare bookstore in Michigan,” offering access to four floors stacked with well-known titles and hidden treasures. And if you’re wondering how big the store really is, just keep in mind that customers receive a map upon entering. For Japanese and Scandinavian-style design, drop by Nora to not only browse through a fantastic collection of housewares, but to also buy handmade products and jewelry crafted by local artists.

One of the most inspiring Detroit success stories, Shinola makes everything from watches to bikes and leather goods locally, celebrating the ‘made in USA’ label all the way. Just as passionate about local manufacturing, Detroit Denim makes jeans using the finest domestic raw denim and vintage shuttle looms. Finally, if you’re traveling to Detroit (the home of Motown Records), you can’t leave without entering one or two records shops. Go to Hello Records Detroit to find a large collection of vinyl and shellac recordings from the 1940s and up to the 2000s. Or drop by Jack White’s Third Man Records to browse through records and memorabilia. While there, don’t forget to check out the vinyl pressing process, on view through a window.

Up Late

Traveling to Detroit, you’ll have a couple of epiphanies. Among them, the realization that Motor City is filled with good bars. Which means that you’ll have a long list of watering holes and top places to eat in Detroit to choose from when planning your trip. Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy is a local institution, extremely popular, and you may even stumble upon a famous face or two here. For fine cocktails, go to Sugar House where you can order classics or creative drinks made with rare liqueurs. If you prefer wine, The Royce is perfect as it offers an excellent list of wines sourced from small-batch producers.

Beer lovers have plenty of cool joints to choose from, including the Batch Brewing Company where they can find a range of nanobrews (along with burgers, nachos, and sandwiches) as well as 8 Degrees Plato Detroit, which offers a selection of beer, mead, and cider to drink or to buy. Baker’s Keyboard Lounge opened its doors in 1934, which makes it one of the oldest jazz clubs in the world. Hidden in a dark alley under the warm light of a lantern, Standby welcomes customers with a stylish, dimly lit décor, a menu with modern cocktails, and a range of good food.

Markets and quality edibles

From local markets to artisanal-style delis, you’ll never go hungry while exploring Motor City. These top places to eat in Detroit offer the perfect opportunity to mingle among the locals and experience the city’s vibrant atmosphere. If local markets are your thing, you can never go wrong with Eastern Market. Apart from its impressive age of 150 years and beautiful design, this market is also the largest historic public market district in the country. Stalls with fresh food and locally grown produce, handmade products, and flowers stand alongside food trucks and local restaurants, with music also filling the air.

Located in Corktown, the Farmer’s Hand market and coffee shop offers a selection of vegetables and baked goods as well as meat and organic products, with every single item grown or made locally. Finally, Honeybee Market welcomes visitors with Mexican flavors, including the hugely popular chorizo made after a secret family recipe. Among the artisanal-style places to shop in Detroit, Avalon International Bread stands out. It uses 100% organic flour and a hearthstone oven to make its baked goods. At Sister Pie you’ll find melt-in-your-mouth pies and hearty breakfast and lunch options, while at Zingerman’s Delicatessen you’ll discover a cornucopia of mouth-watering food and ingredients. And keep in mind to check out The Detroit Institute of Bagels to fall in love with the humble boiled and baked treat all over again.

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