44 hours in Detroit

My boyfriend and I recently spent two days in Detroit, with his brother and sister-in-law C & N. It is about four hours’ drive from their home in Toronto, Canada. They’d been to Detroit several times before and had some great recommendations for us. Now, I’d like to share them with you!

After an agonisingly long wait at border control, where time seemed to stand still and it felt like we’d died and gone to purgatory, we escaped the soul-sucking, power-tripping border control officers and drove into Detroit. We stayed in this Air B&B on 23rd street, which was decorated in an attractive Victorian style, had a record player and lots of Motown records! After dropping our bags, we headed out for drinks.

Our first stop was Mudgie’s. I really liked the outdoor seating area & the Tiki bar. Their cocktails were good, the sandwiches delicious! My boyfriend & I shared ‘The Brooklyn’ and ‘The Gutty’. The former: brisket, smoked bacon, beer cheese and caramelised onions. The latter: salami, pastrami, corned beef, smoked bacon, smoked brisket, Cheddar cheese and romaine lettuce. How good do they sound? I was in carnivore heaven! Check out the rest of their menu here.

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We moved onto the Sugar House for cocktails. Mine included bubblegum flavoured vodka with a garnish of candyfloss – fancy!  While waiting for an Uber to take us to our next bar, we stopped off at a White Castle branch for some deep-fried clams and fried gherkins. The night ended at Green Dot Stables, where we shared lots of sliders. They were quite small so, between two, we had fried chicken with Caesar dressing, pork loin with ham & cheese, Korean beef with peanut butter & kimchi, pork belly with Asian chilli glaze, catfish and Philadelphia steak and cheese. If you visit, order the venison chilli fries, they were incredible! The restaurant/bar is very popular – due to the low prices and tasty food – so be prepared to wait for a table.

On Friday morning, we went for brunch at Parks & Rec diner. I really recommend it, we all enjoyed our meals. I asked for a half portion of the biscuits & gravy (as recommended by C & N). I was a little unsure – buttermilk biscuits, sausage gravy and a poached egg? Would it work? Well, turns out it was really, really tasty! By ‘biscuit’, it is more like a savoury English scone, than what us Brits think of as ‘biscuits’. I also had a half portion of crunchy French toast, which was served with jam. Others in my group ordered ricotta pancakes (with lemon curd & jam) and burrata with pesto, roasted vegetables and tomato marmalade.

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After brunch, we drove around the city centre, stopping at Comerica Park, the stadium for the Detroit Tigers, which had enormous tiger statues outside it. Then onto the Henry Ford museum of American innovation & Greenfield Village – Detroit’s biggest tourist attraction! Both the museum and village are in the same place but it would be overambitious to do both in one day. As we had limited time in Detroit, we decided to only visit the village as it sounded really interesting and unlike anywhere we had been before.

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Just like stepping back in time! Greenfield Village was created by Henry Ford and opened in 1933. Ford chose historical buildings from around the world that he particularly liked and either had them reconstructed in Greenfield or had the actual buildings shipped over and rebuilt, brick by brick. These buildings included the house Ford was born in, the courthouse in Illinois where Abraham Lincoln practised law,  Thomas Edison’s laboratory, the Wright brother’s bicycle shop and home, houses from the Cotswolds and various shops and factories. On-site were information guides and actors in costume demonstrating farming, sewing, glass-blowing, pottery and other tasks.

On Friday evening, we did the Two James Spirits distillery tour, which was $15 per person (booking required). It wasn’t so much a tour as a tasting. Production takes place in a large room in the distillery, and staff let us sample the company’s gin, whiskey, absinthe and rum. More unusual drinks included a white whiskey and oak-aged gin (along with many others). It was not the most detailed tour I’ve done but it was fun and we all got tipsy! After the tour, we had dinner at Mercury Burger Bar, where I had a good burger and tried ‘tater tots’ for the first time (aka mini hash browns). Mercury also do adult milkshakes – I had peanut butter with a shot of vanilla vodka!

Saturday was a half-day as we were driving back to Toronto for a birthday party. We had brunch at the Hudson Cafe, where I had the ‘Voodoo’; homemade corn cake, chorizo mince and ranchero sauce (with an unnecessary side of gloopy, cheesy grits, should have ordered the potato waffles instead! Or the healthy mixed fruit salad side dish). A bonus point to the cafe – they gifted us with a free portion of the French toast (with fresh berries, berry compote and banana cream cheese ) because the kitchen made an extra order by mistake. Much appreciated!

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Next we visited the Heidelberg Project. It is an imaginative, bizarre outdoor art project and you can read more about it here.

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After taking lots of photos, we drove to Eastern Market, which had an enormous variety of fruit, vegetables, flowers and products made by local suppliers. In the area, there was lots of street art and some cool clothes shops. We had lunch at Bert’s,which is a very popular ‘entertainment complex’ (restaurant, bar, karaoke venue) which also serves really good BBQ. We chose ribs (with lashings of BBQ sauce).

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So what are my impressions of Detroit? Well, it’s a strange city; extremely wide streets with hardly any cars and even fewer pedestrians. There are not many street crossings, occasionally you have to cross four lanes of traffic – so the lack of traffic is a good thing! On the streets, you pass abandoned vehicles and run-down buildings. Looks can be deceiving – inside modern, lively and stylish bars are hiding, with great cocktail menus.

It is well-known that Detroit has suffered economically and many people have left the city. There’s even a Wikipedia page aptly named ‘The decline of Detroit‘. We drove/took Ubers throughout the city and I didn’t feel unsafe the times we walking around, but perhaps it would have been different if I was travelling alone. After all, Detroit has a high crime rate (compared to other cities in the US) and the level of unemployment and poverty was apparent. Despite this, I really enjoyed my time there. Thanks to C & N and prior research, we went to really good bars & restaurants. There was good service everywhere we went and we visited some cool neighbourhoods and a very unusual tourist attraction. Finally I would like to share are some of my favourite examples of Detroit’s street art:

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We used Airbnb to book our Detroit accommodation. You can receive a €29 discount on your first stay with Airbnb by using this referral code

Ciao for now!

The Curious Sparrow

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20 comments

  1. All so familiar to a girl from Ontario – I lived a few hours from Detroit and we often hit the border to go shopping in the US which has so much more choice than my hometown. One recommendation for Detroit next time you must check out Mexicantown its so awesome.

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  2. This looks like a very foodie filled trip you had. I’d totally love to try the bubblegum flavoured vodka with a garnish of candyfloss! Also the buttermilk biscuits and poached egg sound de-lish!

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  3. I’m glad you got a chance to visit my city! I’m especially glad that you visited the Hudson Cafe, as it’s one of my favorite places to eat. I grew up with Detroit being nothing more than a punchline for late night hosts, so it’s always nice to see people visiting and seeing what it has to offer.

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  4. This all sounds like you had a great time, and most importantly you ate all the time. There is nothing better than going from eatery to eatery when you travel 😀 Now I really wanna travel there!!

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  5. The only memories I have of detroit is the Bus Station, when crossing from Toronto to Chicago. If I see this I wished I had left the bus station and went out to explore. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. I’m envious you got to visit the Eastern Market while it was open! Not going to the market on Saturday was my biggest regret of during my visit to Detroit! Looks like there’s so much more to do that I didn’t even check out, too! I plan to return in the future to see what I missed 🙂

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  7. This post was so helpful! I’ve had layovers in Detroit SO MANY times but I’ve never had a chance to explore the city. It’s a short, cheap flight from my home base so my boyfriend and I are thinking about hopping up there for a weekend this summer and I’ll make sure to bookmark this to help with the planning!

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