Everyone who visits Detroit wants to tell you about the city’s continued resurgence; perhaps even more so than the residents living through it and making it happen. Much of this fervor comes from the fact that the Motor City houses so many interesting bars and restaurants. And even the more conceptual ones—a macabre speakeasy or multimedia art installation and music venue, for example—deliver on quality. Aside from the exquisite cuts at Prime + Proper, this isn’t a food scene that caters only to steak-and-potatoes appetites. Experimental cuisine crops up on menus all around town. There’s a vibrant emphasis on locally produced ingredients. And regarding design, which now receives its own dedicated month of events, even the most future-forward establishments nod to the city’s illustrious past. In fact, Detroit garnered UNESCO’s first-ever City of Design title in America as much for what’s happening right now as what happened during the automotive boom.
From the exquisite Aloft Detroit at The David Whitney—a well-priced luxury hotel occupying several floors of the iconic David Whitney building, built in 1915—we were able to walk to almost every place on the list below—as well as the famed Russell Street Deli and delectable Detroit City Distillery, both in Eastern Market. Downtown, Midtown, Corktown and beyond—we explored much of these neighborhoods on foot. And while we can’t go into everything we love (sorry Bronx Bar) and didn’t get everywhere we hoped (next time, Castalia at Sfumato), our 10 selections make for a comprehensive start. Really, there is so much to be excited about.
Wright & Company
Perched on the second floor of the Queen Anne-style 1500 Woodward building, Wright & Company typifies old space repurposed successfully. Between the large windows and brick walls sits a row of tables, several large red banquettes and a lengthy bar top. There’s always room to breathe, even when the space is filled—as it frequently is. Executive Chef Marc Djozlija has been acknowledged for his seasonal menus, nationally, by the James Beard Foundation among others. And the signature cocktails stand among Detroit’s best (unsurprisingly, Wright & Company owner Dave Kwiatkowski also created Corktown’s acclaimed The Sugar House cocktail bar).
Lady of the House
Another James Beard semi-finalist, chef Kate Williams‘ Lady of the House unfurls unprecedented creativity in every corner of the Corktown body shop-turned-restaurant. From the no-waste, farm-to-table menu to careful sourcing of local ingredients, so many dishes surprise and delight. Defiant of genre, the menu includes items like shrimp carpaccio with pistachio, blackberry and shallot, and a whole roasted chicken with maitake, challah migas and parsley. Expectations are surpassed—a statement that also applies to their beverage program, which features vermouth and sherry on tap, a superb wine list and craft cocktails. Head in for brunch, or happy hour.
For all the nuance to Grey Ghost‘s dinner menu (miso-cured cabbage and fried bologna with jalapeño and cheddar, for example), there’s nothing quite like the burger, which might just be the city’s best. There’s a meat focus to many dishes from Chef John Vermiglio, but substantial attention has been paid to vegetarian options that titillate, as well as vegan and gluten-free dishes that impress. (The bread and butter should be ordered regardless.) Before or after drinking one of Grey Ghost’s potent cocktails, it’s easy to head over to their brand new digs across the street, known as Second Best Bar. Here, 40 oz of Miller High Life can be purchased for $12 and kept cold in a champagne bucket. It’s funny—and easy to share.
Another vision from Lady’s chef Kate Williams, Candy Bar commits to its extravagant theme wholeheartedly and succeeds in doing so. In top-to-bottom pink—with plush curtains and cushioning everywhere—it’s really a feast for the eyes. But this petite, tucked away speakeasy over-delivers on the cocktails. For instance, one begins (when we visited) with a milk-washed earl grey tea amuse-bouche—and it’s phenomenal. Candy Bar is an escape into a sensory wonderland that’s as playful as the name suggests.
Gold Cash Gold
One can’t even approach Gold Cash Gold without wondering about its past. That’s because the thoughtful New American (southern-inspired) bar and restaurant sits inside a former pawn shop—and it’s noticeable. Inside, one finds magnificent design touches from a repurposes high school basketball court floor to a whimsical colored-glass entryway. The menu’s creativity manifests in everything from duck confit dumplings to king crab-stuffed avocado. Here, there’s also a startlingly comprehensive back bar with so much to love—and an extensive custom cocktail list. Its patio also makes for a favorite stop in Corktown.
Rose’s Fine Food
We’re quick to mention we were some of the first guests ever served at Rose’s Fine Food, when they opened their doors during Culture Lab Detroit in 2014. We continue to return to this “ultimate diner” because the quality of the food truly is fine. From their fare wage system to their reliance on seasonal, local ingredients, everything inside this restaurant has been stirred up with care. It also happens to be quaint—and the dishes are delicious and filling.
There’s a storied history to Takoi, a Thai-and Southeast Asian-inspired restaurant that serves up dishes family style. From a James Beard nomination to a name change to starting over again after closing due to arson, the destination has seen its fare share of drama (both good and bad), but at the end of the day the food speaks volumes. Executive chef Brad Greenhill tantalizes. This is a place for true palate provocation. And everything is served up in an environment that feels much like science-fiction.
Breakfast has never tasted so good. At FOLK, an artisanal Australian-inspired café, the emphasis is on utmost freshness. From the basic brekky to the Tigress Aussie Meat Pie, guests find plates of humanely raised meat, local and organic produce and eggs and heirloom grains. The vegan and gluten-free options were developed with just as much thought and flavor. It’s FOLK’s infused milks—Tumeric, Rose or Matcha—that make it a must-stop destination. Each is delectable beyond expectation and unlike anything found elsewhere in the city.
Bad Luck Bar
With the evil eye ever-present and snake iconography manifesting unexpectedly, Bad Luck Bar embraces the macabre. It’s a dark destination—and beautifully so. Aesthetic stimulation aside, this very, very tiny speakeasy has arguably the best drinks in all of Detroit. Here, things get truly experimental. And while their cocktail list is one of true invention, the capable staff can whip up anything anyone likes—and do it well.
Twice we saw art duo FAILE‘s “Deluxx Fluxx” exhibit before it settled in Detroit—where it now encapsulates a subterranean bar and music venue. Black lights glow from every corner of the space. One slender side room also features numerous arcade games that FAILE reprogrammed into escapades that are more Detroit-centric. From its neon glow to the dance floor-driven programming, it’s a real work of art—literally.