Here's Model D's look at what downtown has to offer visitors. Also check out our guides to opening a business in and moving to downtown Detroit.
Downtown Detroit is the region’s living room.
It’s where you go to hear music, and if you had the inclination you could hear jazz, opera, R&B, Irish shanty songs, hip-hop or garage rock, all on the same night.
It’s where you go to hear the roar and watch the fountains light up when the Tigers hit a homer, tailgate and cheer on the Lions through thick and mostly thin, and chant “Let’s go Red Wings” from the parking garage, through the tunnels and straight into the Joe.
It’s where you go to catch a big-name show, play in one of the casinos, marvel at stunning architecture, dine on world-class cuisine and global flavors, ice-skate in the winter or, after dark, dance to underground hip-hop and booty-shaking techno.
During the Super Bowl, the city shined like never before; lights beamed from skyscrapers, and people swarmed through the streets. The game’s over, sure enough, but Detroit didn’t shut down. In fact, the Downtown scene gets more vibrant all the time, giving people more reasons to get out and explore this urban playground.
Pub crawls and club hops
If you seek a pleasant pub, look about you, says Downtown denizen Jeanette Pierce. She has counted 100 places to pull up a stool and enjoy a cold one — all within walking distance from her Downtown apartment.
Pierce, owner of Inside Detroit, a business that offers insider tours of the city’s hotspots, prefers to hoof it to her favorite bars, but she says plenty of people take the People Mover, the Downtown elevated train, to get around.
A pub crawl around Downtown should start somewhere classic like Jacoby’s — an old German hangout on Larned that looks like not a thing has changed in its 100-plus years, the perfect setting for a warm-up beer, and possibly a bratwurst. Next up, something new: Buzz Bar opened recently, mixing lethal combos of art and music, caffeine and liquor (don’t miss the espresso martinis and Spanish coffees). Next, slide over to Pulse, a tiny spot across from the Compuware parking garage on Monroe where old images of Detroit are projected on the wall of the sleek bar, and comfy couches await in this hip place to congregate.
From there, you could stumble back toward Jacoby’s and, if you want to lose yourself in the moment, check out the Shelter, the subterranean club beneath St. Andrew’s Hall on Congress. The club is known for, fittingly, its underground sounds.
Or you could head up toward Foxtown and check out the Town Pump, a beauty of a bar that looks and feels like a classic hangout. Across the street is the slick new Centaur, a multilevel, Parisian-inspired Art Deco bar that looks like it’s ripped from an Edward Hopper painting.
If dancing is your thing, you gotta check out the place where the elite meet to get up on their feet – the Elysium Lounge on Shelby, the VIP place to be during the Super Bowl. Club-hoppers should also check out Envy, nearby on Larned, a posh spot that oozes with modern swankiness.
Can I get an ‘opa’?
As easy as it is to satisfy Dionysus (the Greek god of wine) Downtown, you gotta eat. Around Monroe and Beaubien, Greek is the cuisine. Over on Lafayette near Campus Martius, Coney dogs are de rigueur. You can also, however, find great Italian, Indian, Thai, Cuban, German, Japanese and a world of other flavors Downtown.
In Greektown, classic spots like Pegasus and Nikki’s are Motor City favorites. Ordering the saganaki and hiding under a parent’s coat while the flames fly and everyone cries “opa!” is a right of passage for metro Detroiters. But Greektown’s got new flavors these days. Places like trendy Mosaic have hit the scene, bringing a fusion of international flavors and contemporary design to the old neighborhood, and the late night crowds flock there.
Another Motown rite is the Coney dog. Here you have to declare your allegiance to your favorite Coney Island restaurant, and there are but two choices. Everyone’s got their preferred neighborhood joint, but when Downtown you are either a Lafayette or an Amercian fan, and you must pick a side.
In almost any direction from the epicenter of all things Coney, new flavors are arriving all the time.
Near Campus Martius on Monroe, Sizz’l-n -Spice serves up Indian curries, while Orchid Thai spices things up across the street. In the Renaissance Center, people from all over metro Detroit flock to Seldom Blues for some of the city’s finest dining (just ask any food critic) and coolest jazz (just ask any music critic). There’s soul in the food at Sweet Georgia Brown near the Greektown Casino, as well as in jambalaya and etouffee at nearby Fishbone’s. And Latin flavors reign in the Cuban cuisine and on the dance floor at Vincente’s on Library Street. Or get your wasabi on at Oslo on Woodward, part sushi bar, part techno-friendly nightclub.
Downtown by day
As hopping as Downtown is at night, spending a quiet, sunny afternoon with a coffee and good book sitting on a bench on the riverfront near Hart Plaza or on a chair in Campus Martius can be equally as satisfying. So can spending an afternoon in the $8 Pepsi seats at Comerica Park, eating pizza and hot dogs and waiting for the home-run fountain to spray.
For interior beauty, the cathedral-like Guardian Building atrium and lobby are a must-stop for any Detroit visit. More than just a bank lobby, the Guardian has become a place to sit in awe of Detroit’s grand old architecture. It’s also become the spot for people watching, schmoozing and networking over fancy coffee drinks. Business types and art students sit elbow to elbow, gazing at the colorful murals, tiles and windows at the Rowland Café (named for the building’s architect). Take time to browse the shops — including the Pure Detroit shop — for unique gifts, like Pewabic tiles, cool t-shirts and other Motor City-made fare.
As for shopping, Downtown’s not inundated with chain stores yet, but that means nearly every shop is a unique experience. The Renaissance Center’s offerings include designer Dominic Pangborn’s unique ties and other items at the Pangborn Design Collection. Other shops specialize in chocolates, perfumes, books and jewelry. Fashionistas will want to check out Marc England de Mode — a fashion hot spot in Merchant’s Row — and Pure Detroit’s Design Lab — featuring unique work from up-and-coming local designers. Hot Sam’s in the Compuware Building is a classic for menswear, and Henry the Hatter on Broadway is one of the city’s oldest retailers. Hipsters have discovered it, thanks to a certain chapeau-happy member of the White Stripes.
For families, Downtown makes for a cheap day out. Take a couple 50-cent rides on the People Mover, bring a couple bucks for ice cream at the Astoria bakery in Greektown, and a stroll along the RiverWalk to watch the boats, stopping by the RenCen and Hart Plaza to play around the fountains. Toss in a puppet show ($5 for kids, $7 for adults) at the PuppetART Theatre on Grand River, a few Coneys and you’ve got yourself a daylong outing on the cheap.
One of the best events Downtown, the Detroit Jazz Fest is another great way to spend a day in the city. Every Labor Day weekend, thousands hit Hart Plaza on the riverfront for the festival, which now spills down Woodward to Campus Martius. Vendors offer food and goodies, and the music is top-notch — attracting national acts like Dr. John and the Blind Boys of Alabama, as well as local favorites like Thornetta Davis and Johnnie Bassett. You don’t have to be an aficionado to appreciate that river views, sweet jazz music and big city skylines are a perfect combo.
One of the best ways to appreciate Detroit is just to look up. Downtown architecture is the subject of many a volume, including the recent "American City: Detroit Architecture 1845-2005" (available at the Pure Detroit shop in the Guardian Building). But you don’t need a degree or even a book to marvel at the Art Deco skyscrapers like the Guardian and the Penobscot and the Beaux-Arts beauties like the lesser-known Cornice & Slate Building. You could take a tour through Preservation Wayne, or just take a stroll downtown, grab a coffee or a Coney dog and take in the view that is uniquely Detroit.
Directions to Downtown
From the East:
Take I-94 West and merge onto I-75 South/Chrysler Fwy via Exit 261A toward Toledo. Continue onto I-375 South/Chrysler Fwy via Exit 51C on the left toward the Civic Center. Turn slight left onto Jefferson Ave. E and turn right onto Woodward, arrive Downtown.
From the North:
Take I-75 South and continue onto I-375 South/Chrysler Fwy via Exit 51C on the left toward the Civic Center. Turn slight left onto Jefferson Ave. E and turn right onto Woodward, arrive Downtown.
From the West:
Take I-96 East and take the I-75 North/M-10 exit on the left toward Flint/Civic Center. Continue to the M-10/Lodge Fwy exit toward Rosa Parks Blvd/Civic Center and then exit on the left toward M-10/Lodge Fwy/Civic Center. Take the M-10 South exit toward the Civic Center and then merge onto John C Lodge Fwy/M-10 South. John C Lodge Fwy/M-10 becomes Jefferson Ave. Turn left onto Woodward, arrive in Downtown.
From the South:
Take I-94 East toward Detroit and merge onto I-96 East/Jefferies Fwy via Exit 213B toward Canada. Continue to the I-75 North/M-10 exit on the left toward Flint/Civic Center. Take the M-10/Lodge Fwy exit toward Rosa Parks Blvd/Civic Center and then exit on the left toward M-10/Lodge Fwy/Civic Center. Take the M-10 South exit toward the Civic Center and then merge onto John C Lodge Fwy/M-10 South. John C Lodge Fwy/M-10 becomes Jefferson Ave. Turn left onto Woodward, arrive in Downtown.
Take I-75 North toward Detroit and continue to Exit 49 to M-10/Lodge Fwy/Rosa Parks Blvd/Civic Center. Exit on the left toward M-10/Lodge Fwy/Civic Center. Take the M-10 South exit toward the Civic Center and then merge onto John C Lodge Fwy/M-10 South. John C Lodge Fwy/M-10 becomes Jefferson Ave. Turn left onto Woodward, arrive in Downtown.
Dancing at Envy
Jazzfest at Campus Martius
All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger