Oh my friends, it has been a lazy month of blogging for me, but I just needed to pop by and share about my birthday weekend in Detroit! This was my first birthday back in the USA and I really wanted to use it as an excuse to get my friends together in one place. However even among my American friends, we are spread out all over the place! A couple months ago I got my wheels turning about a good location that could be a halfway point for everybody and I settled on…. Detroit! Luckily, when I pitched it to my friends, they were keen too, and the plans for my birthday weekend in Detroit began.
Why spend a weekend in Detroit? …Is it safe?
You may or may not be surprised that I grew up in Michigan but never actually went to Detroit (apart from the airport, or the art institute right on the outskirts). I’m sure everybody remembers the great recession, but it hit us particularly hard here in Michigan because we are the seat of the automotive industry. If your parents didn’t lose their jobs, then your friends’ parents did or someone else in your family did. No city was hit harder than Detroit, which is the largest municipality in the USA to ever declare bankruptcy. I grew up 1.5 hours out of Detroit, hearing horror stories about the gang violence, abandoned buildings, arson, and people having to wear bullet proof vests under their clothes to work. Looking back now, I know that a lot of these stories were sensationalist, and this kind of negative media may have hurt Detroit in even more lasting ways than the recession itself did.
But Detroit is making its resurgence, and in 2018 Lonely Planet even named it the #2 city in the world to visit. I decided it was high time to visit Michigan’s largest city. Here’s a bit of what we got up to!
Weekend in Detroit: Fridays are for art & walkies
- Catching up at Sister Pie: After picking up Liz from the airport, who flew in from NYC for the weekend #goodfriendaward, our first stop was Sister Pie. This pie shop on Detroit’s east side is an institution, which serves up good pie and gives back to the community. Luckily they even have gluten free buckwheat chocolate chip cookies (yummmm) and the salad was gluten free. And Liz approved of the glutenous pies, too. We had a little catch up here before heading to…
- Exploring Heidelberg Project: I absolutely love this place and it will eventually be getting its own blog post, I am sure! Thirty years ago Tyree Guyton transformed his east Detroit neighborhood into a community art installation. We met his sister Melody (who lives on Heidelberg Street) when we visited, who told us they ‘didn’t want their street to be like all the other Detroit streets in their neighborhood… full of abandoned buildings that anyone would come and burn down.’ They wanted their street, their home, to be something special, so they made it so!
- Strolling the Riverwalk: Detroit created a community pathway along its river front back in 2007. We headed over to the free parking and went for a stroll. Lots of people don’t realize how close Canada is from Detroit. It’s just on the other side of the river as you walk along the riverwalk! We also popped into the GM Renaissance Center during a rainstorm which had a beautiful design, and went to the Milliken State Park and Harbor.
- An afternoon cup at Astro Coffee: With the rainstorm and a couple hours til my other friends were scheduled to arrive, Liz and I headed to Corktown’s Astro Coffee, a cute specialty coffee shop in a very popular Detroit neighborhood.
- Dinner and drinks at Seva: Liz, Julia, Mary and I all met at Seva for dinner. Seva is a fabulous 100% vegetarian restaurant (that also has a location in Ann Arbor!). It’s also great for gluten free… Mary and I shared the gluten free pad thai which was sooo good. It was a really lovely dinner, not just for the food but for the company as well. Liz and Julia are friends from college, whereas I grew up with Mary. So it was a bit of a collision of two universes, but everyone got along like we’d all been friends forever 🙂 It was kind of crazy how normal it felt to all be together, actually! After dinner, it was pretty late at this point so we headed back to the Airbnb to gear up for the next day!
Weekend in Detroit: Saturdays are for markets & dancing
- Brunch at Gather: After a lie in, we drove over to the famous Eastern Market, but our stomachs were rumbling and demanded a proper brunch before any market exploration began. We consulted the market map and found a nearby place that sounded interesting (and I vaguely remembered from my internet searches on gluten free friendly Detroit restaurants): Gather! We had an amazing, locally-sourced brunch (that did indeed have GF options!), did some coloring like the mid-20s kiddos we are, and enjoyed a thoroughly ‘hipster’ Detroit establishment.
- Thrifting at Boro: After brunch, we wandered (waddled) down the street, but before we could return to Eastern Market we had to pop into a very cute thrift store called Boro. Now, I’m really not one for clothes shopping, unless I’ve been given about three months to consider the expenditure before buying it online. (Forreal all my money is spent on travel and food). So that gives you some insight when I say all four of us bought something! Personally, I got a super cute Urban Outfitters sweater, and some $12 sunglasses that I’m OBSESSED with. Boro is definitely a curated thrift shop and one of my favorites I’ve ever been in.
- Wandering through Eastern Market: Finally we made it back to Eastern Market – an outdoor farmer’s market spread over six “sheds” (they’re massive so a better word might be “pavilions”). Eastern Market is a Detroit institution, the largest outdoor farmer’s market in the USA, and a wonderful social enterprise that offers its own form of (super healthy, locally sourced) food stamps for Detroit residents. We of course had to grab some hot apple cider, and Liz and Julia snatched up some warm cinnamon donuts. It was after the market that we said goodbye to Mary who had to head back to Chicago.
- Gobbling hipster gluten free pizza at Pie-Sci: After exploring the market we were pretty wiped out, and it was pouring rain, so Julia, Liz and I returned to our cute Airbnb to chill (and watch Sabrina on Netflix… if you haven’t seen it do it now!!). After a few episodes, we ventured out again, this time to a nearby pizza place. Pie-Sci is not just any pizza place, though… they offer both gluten free (!) and vegan pizzas (and you can combine them if you want a GF vegan pizza). They also have suuuuper unique toppings. I got a gluten free pizza with figs and honey on it and it was a party for my taste buds.
- Drinks and dancing at Marble Bar: After recuperating from the pizza, my other friends Lydia and Liz (I’ve got lots of Lizes in my life what can I say) arrived, and we pulled on some costumes. Our original plans to go to Punchbowl Social for drinks/dancing/karaoke were dashed by the super-cool cashier at Boro that morning. Apparently Punchbowl Social was kinda lame but she did suggest an alternative: Marble Bar. Anywhere that was going to let me wear a Halloween costume had my approval, so off we ubered to a very-cool bar (that, upon leaving at 2am, I realized was just on this random corner in a residential neighborhood…. very-cool but also very-strange?!). Anyway we enjoyed Marble Bar for drinks/dancing and I’d recommend it for anyone looking for the same!
Weekend in Detroit: Sundays are for traumatic parking garages & brunching
- Hudson Cafe…. almost: After waking up on Sunday and clearing out of our Airbnb, we had one goal in mind: BRUNCH. I mean, brunch is always the best meal of the day, but especially so when you’re with a big group of friends in a new city the morning after staying up til 3am dancing around dressed like a pirate. Unfortunately, Hudson Cafe (which I’d heard had GF french toast) had a wait list of 1.5 hours. Also unfortunately, it was a Detroit Lions home football game and the streets were packed, making driving in downtown Detroit even more of a nightmare than it usually is. And the MOST unfortunate, we somehow ended up in a parking garage that nightmares are made of. Specifically, my nightmares (I may or may not have had post-parking nightmares). I mean, this thing was two stories tall and each story was about as tall as my car itself. The ramps were extremely narrow with a big hand-painted sign on the wall proclaiming: ‘HONK IF YOU’RE GOING UP’ (and as you drove up the ramp, more repetitions of hand-painted ‘HONK’ ‘HONK’ ‘HONK’… you best be sure I honked my little heart out). Anyway, my car and everyone survived the experience and we are minutely stronger for it. As for brunch, we crammed into the best place we could find and it turns out… brunch is always good no matter where you go 🙂
Details for a weekend in Detroit
Planning your own weekend in Detroit? Birthday or otherwise? Here are some of my tips:
How to get to Detroit: You can fly into Detroit Airport, drive to Detroit, or take an Amtrak train or Greyhound bus. If you are coming from Canada, book via the Canadian Greyhound website.
Getting around: Detroit doesn’t have great public transport (minus the People Mover streetcar but that is only useful if you are staying only within the downtown area). You will want to use uber or your own vehicle to get around Detroit, if you can.
Where to stay in Detroit: For a group of 6, we stayed at Rambler’s House on Airbnb which was really perfect for everything we needed. It was really well decorated, spacious, lots of free on street parking. Airbnb is perfect for a big group like ours.
Check out TripAdvisor for the best rates if you’re more into hotels.
Final thoughts on a weekend in Detroit…
I’m so glad that I finally made it into central Detroit, a city that a lot of people have strong opinions about. There are a lot of abandoned buildings about, and a fair amount of potholes in the roads, but no city is perfect, is it? Overall I was impressed with how clean the downtown was, how many unique and thriving businesses there are (and how many of them were social enterprises), and how friendly and passionate the local Detroiters were that we met. I felt safe during our stay, even going out to a random bar til 2am, and staying in a residential neighborhood. (Probably the most dangerous thing I did was try and park in that garage downtown #livingontheedge). I hope my experience can assuage any fears you might have to venture into Detroit.
As for my birthday, like I said earlier, it was a bit like two worlds colliding with my college friends and my high school friends all finally in one place! But I was so happy to share my birthday with some of my favorite people.
Detroit is a city that gets under your skin, I think. I can’t wait to explore it more when I go back with Dan in a couple weeks!! Stay tuned for more Detroit posts after that trip, including a gluten free guide. Have you been to Detroit? Would you?
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