You’ve finally got those Final Four tickets! For years, you said you would go and this is your year. Instead of San Antonio, St. Louis, Indy, or Atlanta, you got… Detroit. Detroit is much maligned. Some of it is well-deserved, but most of it really is not.
It’s true that the city now has less than 1,000,000 residents, but when you include its suburbs, Detroit is a top 10 media market. Seriously, there are a ton of people around here. It’s simply that most don’t live in the city.
You would think that with those 4,000,000 people we would have a robust system of public transportation. We don’t. This is Motown. We have cars. Lots and lots of cars. For the visitor, rent a car. Apart from the few square block radius of downtown, you will need a car if you want to venture to other parts of the area. Oh yeah, bring your passport too.
I’m going to separate this into two segments – day and night. Should you decide to spend your daylight hours in the bars and casinos, who am I to judge your decisions or cheer you on?
Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village – When I was a kid in northern Michigan, my school took a trip to the Henry Ford Museum. It was one of my favorite field trips of my youth. History comes alive at this metro Detroit landmark.
Detroit Institute of Art – The DIA is one of the crown jewels of Detroit. It is the nation’s fifth largest art gallery and recently reopened to the public after extensive renovations. It has everything from Manet to Max.
Cranbrook Art Museum - Not to be left out is Cranbrook. They have a more hands on approach and specialize in art for kids.
Ford Rouge Factory Tour - You’re in Motown. Why not see how trucks are made? This may not sound like a lot of fun, but this is a very interesting tour. You learn a surprising amount about vehicle production and all that goes into it. Tours run daily except for Sundays.
Renaissance Center - The Ren Cen, as the locals call it, is not just General Motor’s world headquarters. It’s also home to a number of retail stores, boutiques, restaurants, and a movie theater complex. One of my favorite restaurants in Detroit is located in the Atrium. Check out Andiamo’s for an outstanding Italian dinner. On the ground floor is GM World where visitors can get a look at many GM vehicles – old and new.
Detroit Red Wings - 2008 Stanley Cup Champions! Detroit is the self-proclaimed Hockeytown. If you’ve ever been to the old Boston Garden to see all of the banners hanging from the rafters, this is hockey’s equivalent. Championship banners from the 50s with three banners from the last ten years trumpet the Red Wings’ long history. The Wings happen to be in town on April 2 and April 5. Scoring tickets won’t be easy so you will likely have to resort to eBay or Stub Hub.
Lafayette Coney Island (118 W Lafayette Blvd, Detroit, MI 48226) I have no idea what this city’s obsessions with “Coney’s” is. The suburbs are thick with them. It’s an infestation of hot dogs smothered in chili sauce. The problem is…they are really good. Lafayette can argue that they are the original Detroit coney. But American Coney Island which is located RIGHT NEXT DOOR will beg to argue. Try it. You will love it and hate yourself later.
Windsor, Ontario - Windsor deserves its own entry for a number of reasons. First and foremost, you would be traveling to another country and this point needs to be reinforced. You WILL go through customs so you must have a passport or birth certificate. It is highly unlikely that the Border Agent will accept your sob story as proof of citizenship. But if you make it across the Ambassador Bridge or under the Tunnel, you are in for a treat.
There are a lot of things to like about Windsor. Their Little Italy section of town offers real Italian cuisine in Mom and Pop restaurants. You can find anything from pizza on a paper thin crust to one of the finest meals of your life all on Erie St.
At the intersection of Chatham St. and Ouellette Ave, Windsor has a decidedly different feel. Here you will find the Windsor Ballet . Except the dancers are naked. And they serve beer. Cheetah’s , the Million Dollar Saloon , and others are all available for your strip clubs needs. Unlike Michigan, the dancers are allowed to get nekkid AND you can have beer. There is a strict no touch policy enforced by men you don’t want to piss off. (I knew a fighter from Kronk Gym in Detroit who made extra cash bouncing at these places.)
The politically astute would know that Canada does not have a trade embargo with Cuba. What does that mean for you? Cuban cigars. A few tobacconists on Ouellette would love to introduce you to their little friends. (Don’t try to bring any Cubans back across the border. It’s illegal.)
Caesar’s Windsor - There is gambling in Detroit, but Windsor had it first. Recently acquired by the Caesar’s Palace group, the Windsor Casino has been renovated and upgraded. With the positive exchange rate for American dollars, it’s a great place to wager.
While we’re talking about gambling, Detroit has three casinos to take your hard earned dollar. All of the casinos have renovated and expanded with new hotels. The Motor City Casino , Greektown Casino , and MGM Grand Detroit will all gladly compete for your gaming dollar. While not as big in scope as their Las Vegas counterparts, each casino has all of the restaurants, spas, and other amenities you expect from a big time casino.
Of the three casinos, I’ve found MGM to be the classiest and the Greektown casino to be the most accessible. Note that the table stakes will likely be raised while you are in town. When Detroit hosted the Superbowl three years ago, the minimum table stakes were $25 most nights and $100 on Superbowl Sunday.
The gentrified area near the Fox Theater is called Fox Town in honor of its first tenant. Since the Fox Theater’s reopening, the area has seen a number of new residents. Most notable among these is Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers. Check out Cheli’s Chili Bar next to Comerica Park. It’s a great place for drinks and a surprisingly good bowl of chili. Across the street is The Hockeytown Café where all things Red Wings are on display. Next door is the State Bar and Grill where I’ve never seen a bar tender give anything but a generous pour. Cliff Bell's is old Detroit personified. Great jazz and stiff drinks await you in the watering hole that invented the bar stool. Nearby is the Town Pump Tavern . The Town Pump is an iconic bar with a great atmosphere. Of the Fox Town bars, it is my favorite when heading to a show or the game.
The bottom line is that Detroit has a lot to offer its residents and its visitors. I didn’t even mention the dive bars or the high end restaurants. If you’re not having fun, you just aren’t trying.