Midtown Visiting Guide

Also check out our guides to moving to and investing in Midtown.

As a destination, Midtown is without match.

No place in Detroit has consistently drawn as much interest. An estimated 2 million visitors patronize the cultural center institutions, with an additional 1.5 million patients visiting the Detroit Medical Center hospitals and 35,000 students attending classes at Wayne State University. Those numbers don’t even take into account the churches, restaurants, galleries, bookstores and other Midtown businesses.

On any given day, Midtown is probably the busiest place in town, with three times its population commuting in.

Midtown becomes the destination twice a year, in the summertime for the Detroit Festival of the Arts and in December for Noel Night. The art festival, which draws an estimated 350,000 people annually to the streets around WSU and the Detroit Institute of Arts, offers an array of musical, performing and visual art. Noel Night, which opens the doors of many of the cultural institutions for free, is a festival of Christmas holiday entertainment. Plus, in the fall, there’s Dally in the Alley, the street fair that evokes the spirit of the 1960s and paved the way for Midtown’s other festivals.

Year-round, however, Midtown is the epicenter of culture in the city — whether it be fine dining or quick student-friendly meals, high art or gritty rock.

Visitors, local resident Jeffrey Montgomery says, are finding Midtown has more to entertain than just the big museums and theaters. “It’s not like they’re coming for a museum visit and go back home – like it used to be. More people are sticking around after shows and coming down on other nights. People are discovering that there is life down here.”

Center of culture

When you think of the cultural center, you naturally think of the museums, with the Detroit Institute of Arts at the top of the list. The museum is currently undergoing a major expansion to be complete in 2007. Nearby sits the nationally recognized Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, which has provocative and engaging exhibits, and the new Detroit Science Center, which has hands-on exhibits and an IMAX theater.

A new museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, or MOCAD, is drawing attention for its cutting edge exhibits. Check out Model D's video feature from opening night.

Plus, the Detroit Historical Museum has underwent an $800,000 upgrade, and now has more exhibits to offer.

In addition, Midtown has spawned nearly a dozen galleries, each with its own specialty and flavor. There’s contemporary, pop and lowbrow art at C-POP on Woodward; works from local and nationally acclaimed artists at the Dell Pryor Gallery inside the Spiral Collective on Cass; and cutting edge work from young, talented locals at the Detroit Artists Market on Woodward, to name a few.

George N’Namdi, owner of the G. R. N’Namdi Gallery and who also has galleries in New York and Chicago, wants to build the identity of Midtown as a gallery district. “Once you have a gallery district in your city that signals to the world that you have an intellectual city. What communities have galleries? New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami. It changes how people visit the city.”

Midtown is also home to fine music, via the “The Max,” a performing arts center that includes a recital hall and the historic Orchestra Hall, home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and a prominent jazz series. The Masonic Temple auditorium, in Cass Park, hosts large shows — from pop music concerts to theater.

There’s also a wealth of live theater, thanks to productions at Wayne State University’s Bonstelle, Hilberry and Studio theaters put on by its renowned theater program. Film buffs also flock to the DIA’s Detroit Film Theatre to see art house fare.

One stop entertainment shop

Midtown bustles day and night. Almost every type of entertainment can be had here.

Perhaps the most all-inclusive entertainment complex in Detroit is the Majestic Theatre complex on Woodward. In addition to its restaurant, the Majestic Café, the complex offers a major concert hall, the Majestic Theatre; an intimate and hip club with billiards, the Magic Stick; Sgt. Pepperoni, a cool pizza parlor; and perhaps the city’s oldest bowling alley with a decidedly contemporary attitude, the Garden Bowl, known for its hip twist on the sport, “Rock’n Bowl.” You can spend an entire evening here — bowling, dinner, music, pool — without ever stepping outside.

You don’t have to go far to find other great dining options, too. The Majestic Café’s longtime competitor, Union Street, has held its position as the bistro of choice for medical center employees and Wayne State students who like the feel and the food on the other side of Woodward. You can also find Indian at American Masala, upscale and eclectic dining at Atlas Global Bistro and a good cup of coffee and wonderful baked goods at Avalon Breads.

The revived Twingo’s Euro Café is representative of the two cycles in Midtown: weekdays and theatre nights. During the weekdays, the café serves breakfast and lunch to Wayne state students and staff, business people and local residents. In the evening and weekends, it’s the theatre and museum crowds.

That was something John Lopez had to teach his new staff at Twingo’s – most of whom live outside Detroit. “I had to explain to them, it’s totally different down here – especially where we’re located right now,” he says. “You can set your clock on a Friday and Saturday night — by six o’clock the entire restaurant is full and by a quarter of eight they all get up at the same time to pay their checks and walk across the street to the Hilberry (theatre) or drive to Orchestra Hall or the Fisher.”

Weekend mornings are starting to become a Midtown mainstay, as well. There’s something of a competition brewing over who serves the best mimosas, bloody maries and creative egg dishes for Saturday and Sunday brunch: Twingo’s, Atlas, Union Street and the Majestic Café all have their own versions.

Exciting and urban

Midtown attracts a wide array of patrons.

On any given night at Twingo’s, says Montgomery, a regular patron, “there will be people sitting here on their way to the symphony, there will be students working on some outrageous project, people who live in the neighborhood – it’s such a great feeling. … This neighborhood has everything you want to find in an exciting, urban livable place.”

That exciting feeling is not lost outsiders. For in Southeastern Michigan, Detroit is still an “adventure,” and Midtown’s allure is widespread.

“You’ll find people who have driven in from wherever because they’ve heard of a particular restaurant,” Montgomery says. “At first, it’s like an adventure for them – ‘Let’s do something different; let’s go to Detroit.’ They’ll come down here and have a great time. The next time they come here … they bring their friends.”

Directions to Midtown

From the East:
Take I-94 West and continue to Exit 215C toward M-1/Woodward Ave/Brush St. Stay straight to go onto Edsel Ford Fwy East and turn left onto Woodward Ave. Arrive in Midtown.

From the North:
Take I-75 South to Exit 53A toward Warren Ave. Stay straight to go onto Chrysler Dr, and then turn right onto Warren Ave. East. Arrive in Midtown and stay straight to either Woodward or Cass Ave.

From the West:
Take I-96 East and take Exit 190A to merge onto I-94 East toward Port Huron. Take the M-1/Woodward Ave Exit 215C toward John R St. and stay straight to go onto Edsel Ford Fwy East. Turn right onto John R St., and then turn right again onto Hendrie ST to Woodward. Arrive in Midtown.

From the South:
Take I-94 East toward Detroit. Take the M-1/Woodward Ave Exit 215C toward John R St. and stay straight to go onto Edsel Ford Fwy East. Turn right onto John R St., and then turn right again onto Hendrie ST to Woodward. Arrive in Midtown.

Take I-75 North toward Detroit and continue to Exit 50 toward Grand River Ave. Stay straight to go onto Fisher Fwy West and turn left onto Woodward. Arrive in Midtown.


The Detroit Institute of Arts

Charles Wright African American Museum

The George N’Namdi Gallery

Wayne State's Bonstelle Theatre

Union Street

Avalon Bakery

All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger

Read more articles by Dennis Archambault.

Dennis Archambault is a Detroit-based freelance writer.
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