Jaunts: Detroit’s amazing
art and architecture

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Contributed photo

The sign marking this as the geographic center of Detroit is covered by plastic this day — a sign says another restaurant is readying to open here in Campus Martius Park — but couples are chatting over coffee, surrounded by colorful pots of mums not far from where Antoine de Cadillac dragged his canoe to found a settlement. 

There’s the sound of dribbling, too, as multiple basketball games are played atop hand-painted court murals that change monthly. Signs on storefronts favor slogans like “Nothing Stops Detroit” and “Detroit is the New Black,” so when tour guide Isabelle Weiss says, “We’re America’s comeback city and the beginning is just now,” you’re already kind of a believer. 

More than 100 restaurants have opened in the past three years, and 10,000 housing units are under construction, many with waiting lists. So if you haven’t explored Detroit in awhile, it’s time for a visit, perhaps themed around the art and architecture as innovative and gritty as the city itself. Here’s a 24-hour adventure plan in the country’s first UNESCO city of design.

Contributed photo

Contributed photo

Friday night 

Art immersion starts with your choice of hands-in-the-clay at Pewabic Pottery (named for a Michigan copper mine) or some browsing to live music at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Pewabic’s Friday Night Out lets you craft beauty out of clay and have them fired with the original glazes of founder Mary Chase Perry Stratton — an innovator whose work is showcased in most of Detroit’s most famous buildings. 

For your nightcap, gaze at the gold-leaf ceilings of Cliff Bell’s while sipping to the backdrop of live jazz. 

Contributed photo

Contributed photo


Morning: Sample gouda (or 200 other cheeses) at DeVries and Co. 1887, pick up produce and pastries, then make it about the murals of Eastern Market, where the 50 new artworks added this fall capture whimsy and hard reality in particularly colorful ways.

Afternoon: Get a guide, if only to hear innovation stories you’ll never tire of. Twice this month (Nov. 5 and 19, $30 a person) and by prior arrangement any time, the Detroit Experience Factory offers tours centered around art and architecture and neighborhood rebirth — food and beer, too.

Neighborhood tours swing by Sister Pie, where you can sample the maple or savory hand pies while hearing the story of the young sisters who held danceathons to fund the transformation of an old building into a sweet cafe on a now expanding retail block amid the 1895-to-1929 mansions of Indian Village.

While Slow’s BBQ is a must-stop in Corktown, so is Ponyride, a cooperative offering affordable space to social entrepreneurs anchored by Anthology, where you can sip a just-roasted brew or take a home-roasting class while upstairs entrepreneurs sew couture, forge steel or stitch coats that double as sleeping bags for the homeless.

Contributed photo

Contributed photo

Downtown, tour Detroit’s art new and old (with the group or on your own) via stops at the Z Garage and adjacent alley and the Guardian building’s art deco, Mayan Revival grandeur. The garage may be the only one in the world covered completely by colorful graffiti (by intention), a project expanding to an alley in which street art is also framed and rotating and there are now restaurants and daiquiri machines in nooks that once housed trash. It’s in direct contrast with the the building designed as a cathedral to finance during an era when Detroit was the country’s richest city. Look up when outside the Guardian, too, at the way the brightest Pewabic tiles were situated to be visible by car. 

Time to shop? In Midtown, browse the made-in-Detroit journals, watches and bicycles of Shinola; record your favorite album (or own voice) on vinyl at Third Man Records; and at City Bird, consider a pendant from the company Rebel Nell. The nonprofit makes jewelry from graffiti paint as a way to help youth and women out of poverty.

Evening: Dine at Chartreuse, the Detroit Free Press “Restaurant of the Year,” to see what the buzz is about as you sample food in which “fresh and local” might mean Michigan shrimp curry or a salad of frisee and twice-cooked egg. Chartreuse is the centerpiece of the cocktails and decorating scheme in which even the art’s alive — made of plants growing from the canvas.

Stay: The sustainable El Moore Hotel crafted beauty from disrepair, repurposing old wood from a Depression-era boarding house into gorgeous walls and furnishings to create an urban lodge with a stunning city view (elmoore.com); or find classic architecture, updated, in the Aloft Detroit at the David Whitney, a Daniel Burnham design (aloftdetroit.com). 

Kim Schneider

The author, Kim Schneider, was named Mark Twain Travel Writer of the Year by the Midwest Travel Writers Association. A University of Michigan graduate, she writes from a home base in Traverse City.