city guide

4 posts

City Guide: Detroit

The D, The Dirty, The 313, Hockeytown, Detroit Rock City, Motown, Motor City. Call it anything you want; just don’t call it Hell. Hell’s 60 miles to the west. I have a love/hate with the city, almost as much as my love/hate for New York, but, even if you don’t want to live amongst the urban decay (but, really, why wouldn’t you? One of my friends lives next to a goat slaughterhouse and she sees goats killed e’ry day!), it’s a stellar place to visit, because then people will look at you and say,

“You went on vacation…in Detroit? Why?”

And you can tell them its because you’re a hardcore badass and you saw, like, five shootings and had your rental car stolen (good thing you got that insurance!) and everyone will believe you. That’s the beauty of Detroit. There’s so much awesome crap, but everyone stays away because of the crime, which, to be honest, is bad, but more in some parts than others and I wouldn’t send you to the bad side of Mexicantown. That’d just be reckless.

Now, I by no means claim to be an expert on Detroit. I grew up in the suburbs, but we’d go down into the city for games or theater and then we’d get a bite to eat somewhere nearby. My first long-term exposure to Detroit was my first two years of college when I went to school in midtown. Then I left for 18 months to be in New York. I’m going to do my best to give you a rundown of what to do in and out of the city because Detroit, as special as it is, is also a city that thrives off its suburbs. Detroit, never just means Detroit. It almost always means (in my head) the area west of Telegraph, East of the River, North of Detroit city limits and South of 26 Mile Road (yes, there’s not just 8 Mile). The best stuff, though, is in the city proper.

Before I begin, I’d like to say something controversial. New York pizza sucks. It’s awful. Just terrible. The true king of pizza is Detroit and I will be covering the top three, two of which are in suburbia.

Michigan Central Station


Detroit Proper

Mudgie’s: 1300 Porter at Brooklyn 313.961.2000. OMFG MUDGIE’S. If there was one place I’d like to lift to New York City via helicopter, it would be Mudgie’s. I talked about Mudgie’s briefly in the last The Detroiter column, but, OMFG, it’s so good. I finally went down there last week for the first time since I’ve been back in Detroit and I had a total foodgasm. All of the sandwiches are made with fresh ingredients, most of them local and organic and the meats are all ethically sourced. Their mustard supply alone is worth the trip. Best sandwich?

Madill – house roasted turkey, Nueski applewood smoked bacon, avocado, tomato, romaine lettuce, Mudgie-made garlic mayo and melted pepper Jack cheese on an 8 “ sub bun served warm – voted into Detroit’s Top 21 Sandwiches List, Detroit Free Press, March 2008 – $9.50 lg / $7.50 sm

Also amazing is their famed dessert, the fudgie mudgie. It’s a ghiradelli brownie waffle, topped with Calder’s vanilla ice cream, hot fudge and walnuts. This is what it looks like. Disclaimer: I am not responsible if you buy a ticket to Detroit after seeing this photo.

Walnuts cost extra and this person evidently doesn't like walnuts which makes them awful because walnuts are amazing

Union Street: 4145 Woodward Avenue at Willis Street. 313.831.3965. Reservations recommended. Union Street has awesome burgers, awesome fries, awesome Spanish coffees and is right across the street from Garden Bowl

Cass Corridor

Cass Cafe: 4620 Cass Avenue at Forest. 313.831.1400. Cass Cafe isn’t just a restaurant, it’s a complete state of mind, a great place to go drinking between classes, and one of my favorite galleries in the city. Cass has amazing food. It’s thrilling.  The best burger I’ve ever had in my life that I haven’t made myself is from Cass Cafe and that’s their pub style angus steak burger ($7). Well, actually, it’s tied with the Good Stuff Burger at Good Stuff Diner on 14th and 6th in NYC. Besides the point! PBR’s are $2, but it seems like every time I’m there it’s dollar PBR night, which, let’s face it, is swell. The art is hit or miss, but that’s what makes it so great. It’s all local artists just putting themselves out there. My favorite was a charcoal drawing of a brisket I saw a few months back.

Le Petit Zinc: 1055 Trumbull Street. 313.963.2805. There’s a bit of a rivalry amongst those who like their crepes from Le Petit Zinc and those who like them from Good Girls Go To Paris, but the fact of the matter is, they’re equally good. Le Petit Zinc wins out though for smelling like French cheese all day long. The stench is so strong, in fact, that you too are bound to smell like French cheeses for the rest of the day. I think that’s a plus. Others don’t, and those people get their crepes from Good Girls.

Lafayette Coney Island: 118 W Lafayette Blvd. 313.964.8198. Do not, I repeat do not be tricked by American Coney Island’s glitz and glamor. Its shady, gross-looking next door neighbor is the best Coney Island in the city. Dirt cheap food, bad service and weak coffee are the hallmarks of all Coneys, but there’s something special, something, well, right about Lafayette.


Yummy Heart Attacks Are Yummy: Coney Islands from Lafayette Coney Island

Traffic Jam and Snug: 511 West Canfield at Second. 313.831.9470. Splendorinda said it best:

I wish I could order the waiters off the menu

Traffic Jam is not a place you go to for food, it’s a place to go to for the eye candy. Yes, the food is good, but it’s a little on the pricey side. The best thing about it is the dairy and bakery in the Snug portion, but it seems like everyone who works at Traffic Jam is impossibly gorgeous (I haven’t been in a while, so this may have changed, but I doubt it). They mix their drinks on the strong side and, being a brewery, have a great selection of beers, the best being the amazingly named “Don’t Touch My Junk”

Pizza from Niki's

Niki’s: 734 Beaubien at Lafayette 313.961.4303. Yes, I just threw a fit the other day about how I quit Niki’s, but the point stands: This is the best pizza in Detroit proper and third best in Metro Detroit. Detroit pizza, if you will, is a miraculous blend of Chicago and New York that just works. Traditionally, it’s a square pizza, what New Yorkers call “Sicilian Style” with a good amount of cheese and sauce. It’s nice and crunchy, and when in pie form, it’s just a little thicker than New York slices. The only pizza in New York that I’ve found can compare is a Sicilian pizza from Rizzo’s in Astoria. Yes, I have to go to Queens for pizza. Queens, people.


Astoria Bakery: 541 Monroe at Beaubien 313.963.9603. Best damn bakery in the whole wide world. Get your dessert there after pizza at Niki’s and before gambling your life savings away at Greektown Casino.

Slows BBQ: 2138 Michigan Avenue at Wabash. 313.962.9828.  A little on the pricey side, but, sooooo good. Ribs and Mac. Make it happen, yo.


Alibi Pizza: 6700 Rochester Road at South Blvd in Troy, Michigan. 248.879.0014: Best pizza in all of Metro Detroit and, therefore, the world. Granted, I grew up on this stuff, but it’s totally true.

Como’s: 22812 Woodward Avenue at Nine Mile in Ferndale, Michigan. 248.548.5005. Second best pizza in Metro Detroit. Get it with feta and pepperoni because that’s the way to do it, yo. With a great atmosphere and location in the heart of Fabulous Ferndale, its no wonder that the restaurant is hugely popular and a great meeting place during Motor City Pride. I broke up with someone here once, but it didn’t taint my love for their pizza! Seriously, it’s real good.

A variety of pizzas from Como's. Como's pizza is more similar to NY pizza than Chicago on the Detroit pizza scale.

Original Pancake House: 33703 Woodward Avenue at 14 Mile Road in Birmingham, Michigan. 248.642.5775. They don’t take reservations and if you plan on showing up after 9am, you better be ready for at least a half hour wait and ten minutes waiting outside. That’s how good this place is. The coffee’s whatever, but their pancakes and crepes are just the bees knees. The best thing on the menu though (It’s awful as takeout. Come with an appetite big enough to eat it in one sitting) is the famed Big Apple. It’s basically a deep fried apple pancake in, like, a million layers. It’s guhmazing.

The Big Apple


Oslo: 1456 Woodward Avenue at John R. 313.962.7200. What’s cool about this unassuming sushi bar is its kinda trendy looking mini-club downstairs. The drinks are great, and the  best night to go is First Friday’s for Adriel Thornton’s Fierce Hot Mess party, a little retro gay hipster bacchanal. Michael Trombley throws a similar party, but with a disco theme at the R&R Saloon on the last Saturday of every month. They can be a little hit or miss on the crowd, but the music is simply grand at both parties.

FHM @ Oslo


Atlas: 3111 Woodward Avenue at Charlotte. 313.831.2241. Great little unassuming bar with decently priced, strong drinks. That’s all. Nice place to go with friends at the end of the day.

d’Mongos Speakeasy: 1439 Griswold at Clifford. No phone number. Same as Atlas, but only open on Fridays. D’Mongos stays afloat though by being absolutely insane on Friday nights and you’re always bound to meet someone interesting.


Menjos: 928 McNichols at Pontchartrain Blvd. 313.863.3934. Menjo’s is a terrible, terrible club that I sort of am in love with. It’s like Splash in Chelsea, but so much worse. So much worse. The crowd? Whatever. Not my kind of gays, the drinks are cheap, though. Two dollar wells on Thursdays which is the best night to go anyway, and a house drag queen whose schtick is boring after you’ve seen it so many times. I don’t know why I love such an awful place, but I do and, yet, I find myself cringing every time I’m dragged by a friend to Splash or, even worse, Rush, ugh.

Los Galanes: 3362 Bagley at 23rd. 313.863.3934: Great Mexican food, but this is in Drink for a reason. Las Galanes’ happy hour is the best thing in the whole wide world. Three dollar margaritas from 3-6 and boy are they strong! You’ll need a designated driver after two, for sure.



Great Hall @ The DIA. Photo by Tom Pidgeon for the NYTimes


Detroit Institute of Arts: 5200 Woodward Avenue. 313.833.7900. Detroit’s preeminent art museum is also one of the nation’s best. I like to call it the Mini-Met because it has everything, but is  a lot smaller than the Met and a lot easier to navigate. Admission is eight bucks and the best time to go is Friday night’s for free concerts (free with admission) and a variety of activities around the museum.

Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit: 4454 Woodward at Garfield. 313.832.6622. The DIA may be the big boy in the Detroit Art World, but MoCaD is the scrappy little upstart that’s got all the buzz. MoCAD (nobody calls it by its full name) is a graffiti marked cube blocks away from the DIA with some of the best curation of a museum in the city. From Rei Kawakubo to the current exhibition of work by Edgar Arceneaux, the museum caters to everything now.

Michigan Central Station: 2001 15th Street @ Roosevelt Park. No phone number. This abandoned Beaux Arts train station designed by the same team who did Grand Central isn’t open to the public, but that doesn’t mean people don’t get in. A huge pastime is sneaking in and exploring the ruin before heading up to the roof to get a great view of the city. A great idea for a self-made tour would be to scout out a series of abandoned buildings and sneak into them all. There’s a lot of them in Detroit!

Inside Michigan Central Station

Theater District: Basically all of Woodward south of Warren. Fun fact! Did you know that Detroit has the largest theater district in the country after Broadway! I bet you didn’t, and we too get lots of Broadway shows. The Fisher just ended In The Heights and starts Les Miserables later this month and you can catch, like, any concert at Saint Andrews, The Majestic, The Filmore and The Masonic amongst other places because everyone stops in Detroit because Detroit is known for two things: Cars and music. There’s also a lot of great independent theaters like Magic Giraffe and The Abreact. The Fox is pretty hit or miss with their material and tends to do a lot of family friendly stuff, but the space is just gorgeous. Seriously:

Lobby @ The Fox
View from balcony @ The Fox

The Fox is also known for being the first theater in the country to get the equipment to play talkies! Seriously though, there are so many performance spaces, it’s no wonder a lot of artists are flocking to Detroit. It’s essentially a hyper-cheap Brooklyn.

Heidelberg Projects: 3680 Heidelberg @ Mount Elliot. 313.537.8037. OMFG HEIDELBERG! Tyree Guyton’s open air installation piece with a storied history (the city spent a good deal of time in the 80 and 90s trying to destroy it) is probably the quirkiest place in all of Detroit. Seriously. It’s in a bad neighborhood, so it’s not as popular as it otherwise would be, but it’s just a really colorful, happy place that highlights the downfall of the city (at least, that was my takeaway).

Heidelberg Projects. Photo by Gerry Visco

Eastern Market: Alfred and Riopelle. This is actually a bit of a lie since Eastern Market is a neighborhood, not a strict place. I’m just choosing the center of it as its address. Anyways, Eastern Market is popping in the spring with an amazing flower market as well as other little doodads. It’s just a swell place to be. Its NYC corollary would be the Union Square Farmers Market.

Eastern Market

Other Cool Things in Detroit Proper There’s Just Not Time For

  • Penobscot Building
The Penobscot Building is one of Detroit's many fine art deco buildings
  • Detroit Artist’s Market
  • Garden Bowl
  • CityClub
CityClub, Detroit's best bisexual industrial goth nightclub is in the Leland Hotel, pictured, which also has another club in its basement called Labyrinth
  • Renaissance Center (a study in how not to design a building!)
  • Meeting me for karaoke at Soho Bar in Ferndale on Wednesdays!
  • Lots of other great stuff too! Go buy a book about the city!

Special Events of Interest

  • January: North American International Auto Show
  • May: Detroit Electronic Music Festival (DEMF)
  • June: Motor City Pride
  • August: Woodward Dream Cruise
The Woodward Dream Cruise is when everyone brings out their classic cars and cruises down Woodward Avenue
  • September: Tour de Troit Bicycle Race
  • November: Turkey Trot 5k/10k Run Through Downtown
  • Winter: Ice Skating in Campus Martius


It’s a super town with a lot of super things and a lot of super people, but you’re going to need a car and you’re going to need to be okay with the fact that you can’t change your mind on a whim because everything is really spread out, but, seriously, give it a chance. It’s just like Brooklyn, only with more cars and better music (I said it). Beware during winter. It gets cold. So cold.

City Guide: San Francisco

I love San Francisco.  Like any big city, we have our problems.  Yes, we are on occasion a bit preachy and sanctimonious.  Our politics can be screwy.  We get made fun of for stuff like the Happy Meals kerfuffle.  But great things happen here also, sometimes this can be a downright exciting city to live in.

Not only is it a lovely city to live in (most of the time), it’s a wonderful city to visit.  Apologies for the length (and number of Italian restaurants, but hey – it is San Francisco), and away we go. Continue reading