Are you a journalist who wants real food instead of three days of catered bullshit? Or are you a visiting enthusiast who wants to have a good time in Detroit without being robbed? If you're in town for NAIAS, here's an honest guide to having fun outside of Cobo Hall — besides meeting the Jalopnik staff, of course.
So, the Motor City, right? Where's all the automotive history?
If you want something to see, head to the Detroit Historical Museum for the region's largest collection of classic cars. It's in Midtown and across from two of my other favorites: The Detroit Public Library's main branch, a gorgeous older building, and, of course, the Detroit Institute of Arts. Yes, all of the art is still there. No, it has not been sold.
If you want something to read, then go to my favorite underappreciated automotive history collection in the city: The Skillman branch of the Detroit Public Library downtown (it's right off a People Mover stop), which houses the National Automotive History Collection. Do you want a repair manual for your 1936 Packard? It's there. Were you looking for press photos of the Pontiac Aztek concept? You weren't, but they're there. Nearly every documentation of the automotive industry, from dealer-training materials to press releases to product guides to mechanics' codes, is there.
If you've got time and the weather permits, you could also head 40 minutes out of town to visit Ypsilanti, an auto town in its own right. There, you can visit the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum, home to the largest collection of Hudson automobiles; the Michigan Firehouse Museum, which has a fantastic collection of old fire trucks; and Model Cave, a great store in downtown Ypsilanti which has a ton of model kits, new and vintage.
But I want to see the Packard Plant!
No, you don't. Why? Someone owns it now. You might get arrested. Or die. No, you really might die; there was a body found there last month. If you want to see an actual, working automotive plant with people that are alive, try the Ford Rouge Factory Tour in Dearborn.
Fuck it, I just want to do some real touristy shit where I don't have to move my car and not look at abandoned buildings.
Oh, just take the People Mover directly to Greektown (the automated voice says "Greektown!" when you get there), where you can gamble at Greektown Casino, get some decadent sweets at Astoria and get barbecue at Red Smoke without having to wait in line. If it's warm enough, a street artist can do one of those funny pictures of you.
Every bar to match your personality is in Greektown. If you want upscale Greek with good wine, head to Santorini Estiatorio. If you're a bourbon/whiskey-type with leanings toward indie sounds, go to Firebird Tavern. If you want to do an Irish car bomb and watch ESPN, go to the Old Shillelagh. If you want a margarita and a crawfish quesadilla, go one block from the People Mover stop over to Loco's.
And if you've been drinking too much and need something to either prevent or cure your hangover, go to Plaka Cafe and order a ton of cheap food.
Speaking of hangovers...
Your best bets for big breakfasts: The aforementioned Plaka Cafe, Clique Restaurant on East Jefferson (it's attached to a motel, yes, but prepared for a wait if it's a weekend because everyone loves it; get the chorizo omelette), the Hudson Cafe on Woodward; and Detroit One Coney Island on Woodward. If you sleep in until lunch, go to Mudgie's in Corktown, get a giant sandwich and get your life together.
I'm lazy and I'd like to get a drink within walking distance of Cobo. What's out there?
A new place called The Jefferson House just opened in the Crowne Plaza Hotel just across from Cobo that I fully endorse. It's upscale (the manager told me that they're trying to avoid becoming just another hotel bar) but — here's what you care about — the drinks are unlike any other bar and top notch. They've got a whiskey-based sangria that's better than the frat party jungle juice you've been drinking all this time.
If you're not into champagne and horse divers, head over to the downtown staple Anchor Bar which is a local journalists' favorite. They've got must-try Detroit and Michigan beer for you out-of-towners. Please, please, please try the "totchos" — tater tot nachos which are exactly what they sound like.
If you're up for a half-mile walk, try some of the offerings in the Book-Cadillac hotel: The 24 Grille and Roast are your best bets, but be prepared to spend. If you absolutely must be all I went to Detroit and survived! during your trip, American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island are also within that half-mile radius of Cobo.
The reception sucks in Cobo and Grindr isn't working. Where are the gays?
I'd recommend Pronto in Royal Oak if you want good food, good drinks and a chance to meet good people. It's a typical stylish gay bar with video screens and guys that sneer at you if your hair and abs aren't perfect, but it's big enough to accommodate big crowds during busy seasons.
Since city boosters and Model D readers will mob outside my front door if I don't recommend spending money within the city limits, you could also try Menjo's on the border of Detroit and Highland Park (and since I know you're going to ask, they have secure parking) or The Woodward in New Center (also has secure parking). Both are a reasonable drive from Cobo, but both can be pretty dead on non-weekends.
Almost everything you've listed is in downtown and Midtown and you've said before that Detroit is more than those areas, so what gives?
Well, I was trying to make it easy for you since I know how busy NAIAS can be, but if you want something auto-specific that's away from downtown, try these.
Head east on Jefferson Avenue all the way into the Grosse Pointes. Try not to be too shocked after crossing Alter Road, but do know that the Jefferson-Chalmers area is being redeveloped and there are hidden subdivisions off Jefferson beyond the blight. Once you get into the Pointes, check out the beautiful mansions along the Detroit River shoreline and make your way to the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House on Lake Shore Drive.
The other big, old-school auto-baron neighborhoods are Indian Village, just a few miles away from downtown and Boston-Edison, which is a straight shot up M-10 (The Lodge) from Cobo Hall. Boston-Edison has a detailed list of who lived where on its website.
I like to show people solid proof that Detroit is on an upswing and there's evidence of this in the Palmer Park area, where historic apartment buildings are under construction. Take Woodward straight up, past Midtown, New Center, Boston-Edison and Highland Park (but the Model T plant, the birthplace of the assembly line, will be to your right) and you're there. You probably don't want to look at apartment buildings under construction, but you might be in the mood for eats, like the fine Italian dining at La Dolce Vita or the best doughnuts in the city at Dutch Girl Donuts (bring cash). A little further north on Woodward is Palmer Woods, which, in my opinion, has even better-looking big, old mansions than the aforementioned Pointes.
If you're absolutely skeptical about doing anything in the city limits, go past Palmer Park and Palmer Woods and go to Ferndale, everyone's favorite suburb that people can justify living in when they don't want to live in the city. A few places in Ferndale to check out: Rust Belt Market, an artists' market inside an Old Navy store with lots of handmade goods; The Oakland, a place that serves fancy, $15 drinks and all you need is one to get soured; Valentine Vodka, a vodka (and now whiskey!) distillery with a must-try cucumber vodka drink that goes down like Sprite; and One-Eyed Betty's, which has one of the region's largest beer selections and a top-notch food menu to match.
I live in Detroit and my favorite place isn't listed. How could you forget about ______?
That's what the comments are for. Did I miss anything? There's so much I wanted to list, but isn't that the great thing about Detroit? That there's so much to offer that you can't list it at all? It's kind of like Detroit is a real city, right?
But seriously, leave your suggestions below.