For all the flashiness of the city's many new restaurants, Detroit has a ton of timeless establishments that have been serving more or less the same great food for decades.
Whether it's grabbing your favorite booth or barstool, or catching up with a long-time server or bartender-turned-friend, there's a warmth that comes with returning to a familiar haunt or restaurant. No matter how many times you say you're going to order something different this time, you always come back to the same thing.
With that in mind, we wanted to pay tribute to some classic restaurants that have been around at least 25 years (the "newest" restaurant on our list opened in 1982). And while a city of this size and caliber has too many to list in one article, here are a few that stand out to us.
Nearing its 50th year in business, this Detroit restaurant is credited as being one of the first—if not the
first—Creole-style restaurant in the city. Its original location, opened in 1970 on the edge of Eastern Market, was joined by a second location on the city's northwest side in 2016.
Current co-owner Joe Spencer purchased the restaurant from its founder Joseph Stafford in 1982. It was a seemingly unlikely venture for Spencer, who had never even tried Creole food before a business partner suggested purchasing the restaurant. Spencer was a pioneer in the Detroit media industry; he was one of the first black radio producers in Detroit while at WWJ, and eventually became program director at WGPR-TV 62, the first black-owned television station in the United States.
Despite his initial lack of familiarity with the business, Spencer was taught by best. Stafford, who learned to cook from his mother in Louisiana, spent the next year teaching the new owners how to prepare the product, making sure that they knew what they were doing before retirement. Spencer has since added to Stafford's legacy, introducing healthier options like vegetarian gumbo and red beans and quinoa to the menu, alongside traditional favorites like gumbo, jambalaya, and other Louisiana- and southern-style dishes.
There along Brush Street, in the shadow of the glass- and steel-clad Renaissance Center, are two downtown Detroit classics. One is the Sweetwater Tavern.
There's a lot of history at Sweetwater Tavern. While the bar and restaurant have been up and running for more than three decades now, the building itself has been around for more than a century.
But people don't go to Sweetwater just for a history lesson; the main attraction is the wings. Sweetwater is routinely recognized as one of the top places in the city for chicken wings—and often coming in at number one. It's also long been a go-to spot to hang out and watch the big game over drinks, or to meet friends and dine out before going to nearby St. Andrew's Hall.
Sweetwater is so popular, in fact, that they now have multiple locations, including one each on McNichols Road and Harper Avenue in Detroit, a location in Southfield, and even a Sweetwater in Fort Meyers, Florida.
Just a block north of Sweetwater is the other downtown classic: Jacoby's German Biergarten, a bar that is routinely acknowledged as one of the oldest in the city, dating back to 1904.
Jacoby's German roots run deep, and its kitchen specializes in authentic entrees like Jager Schnitzel, Rindfleisch Rouladen, and the German Sausage Plate. Jacoby's is also known for its selection of otherwise hard-to-find European beers, including selections from countries Germany, Belgium, England, and more.
Travel up Gratiot Avenue well into the city's northeast side, almost all the way to State Fair, and you'll find Capers Steakhouse.
Capers is known for its steak-by-the-ounce system. Rather than choose between, say, a 12- or 16-ounce-cut of steak, Capers allows customers to order their steaks at whatever size they like. It's a friendly approach to treating its customers that is matched by the restaurant's atmosphere.
Of course, Capers offers more than steaks alone, and customers can find a range of items, from southern-fried catfish to the Atomic Bomb sandwich, a six-ounce Delmonico steak with sauteed onions, green peppers, mushrooms, and melted swiss on a sub roll.
The drop ceilings. The wood-paneled walls. The model boats and fish on the walls. Scotty Simpson's Fish & Chips opened in 1950 and it feels like it.
This Brightmoor charmer may look like it belongs in a different era, but its fish are fresh and service friendly. Scotty's famous fish and chips utilizes Nova Scotian cod, flown in daily. Perch, smelt, and even frog legs round out the menu at this westside classic.
And many more...
: A Detroit staple, Lou's serves classic deli sandwiches from two westside locations, on McNichols and 7 Mile Roads, respectively. It's been serving pastrami, salami, corned beef, and more for over 50 years.
: Warren Avenue barbecue spot recognized for its homemade sauces, fresh meats, and open pit barbecue. The Butler family running Vicki's shares decades of barbecue experience between them.
: Old world Italian restaurant on the outskirts of town, Giovanni's is the type of place where Frank Sinatra would eat—and did, with Martha and William Clay Ford.
The Dakota Inn Rathskeller
: Authentic German restaurant on John R Road, just north of McNichols, known as much for its raucous parties, with its live bands, sing-a-longs, and chicken hats, as it is its traditional menu. Open since 1933.
Baker's Keyboard Lounge
: Also open since 1933, Baker's is billed as the world's oldest jazz club. The lounge, which features a full bar and kitchen, still hosts live music on a stage that has seen the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Nat "King" Cole, and many, many other jazz legends of the twentieth century.
Mike's Famous Ham Place
: Belly up to the counter of this neighborhood joint at the corner of Michigan Avenue and West Grand Boulevard, serving fresh sliced ham since 1974. It's ham sandwich is one of the most classic in the city.
: Just a block east of Mike's, whose reuben is every bit as delicious as the other's ham sandwich, Hygrade has established itself as one of the best sources of corned beef since first opening in 1955.