24 Hours in Detroit, MI

 

TL;DR

  • Stay
  • Eat/Drink
    • Slows BBQ, 2138 Michigan Ave, Detroit, MI 48216
      • Brisket Coney Fries, Pork and Beans, Mac-N-Cheese, Cornbread. And you’ve not even reached the mains yet. Add beef brisket, baby back ribs, and some beers to make this an epic dinner
    • Sugar House, 2130 Michigan Avenue, Detroit, MI 48226
      • If you’re seeking a fine cocktail, you need to come here. Outstanding brown liquor selection and an entertaining list of season cocktails. See if you can make one of the bartenders sing or dance
    • Shake Shack, 660 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48226
      • Okay okay okay, calm down. Before you all subject me to a hail of gunfire and arrows, let me just note that we don’t (yet!) have Shake Shack in San Francisco, and I simply love this chain
    • Roast Steakhouse, 1128 Washington Blvd, Detroit, MI 48226
      • Only came here for drinks, since it was in our hotel. Comfortable and friendly staff
  • See
    • The Heidelberg Project, 3600 Heidelberg St, Detroit, MI 48207
      • Part outdoor art project, part political statement, and what you should definitely see if you come visit Detroit. Drive your car through here, see the art, and then you’ll have a better understanding of the city

 

Trip Background

In my job at LinkedIn, I occasionally prepare and deliver training for some of my colleagues. While our main American offices have been in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Omaha, and Carpinteria (southern California), last year we opened up an office in Detroit and based several dozen salespeople there. Back in January of this year, my manager reached out to me to see if I would be interested in/able to put together a training for my peers – and I leapt at the chance. I’d flown into Detroit only once back in 2008 so I could visit a friend and explore the business school at the University of Michigan, but Ann Arbor and Detroit were clearly nothing alike. I wanted a chance to explore the city more and thankfully one of the sales managers took me and two colleagues on a tour of the city before we got to work.

Day 1 (March 5, 2018): Memorable Dinner and Drinks

My day began at the lovely time of 3:30 in the morning so I could get up and to San Francisco International Airport for my 6 AM flight. The schedules were a little tough since SFO-Detroit is not the most common flight and because I still hold a grudge against United for a litany of past transgressions. In retrospect, I should have flown Delta given how much I have come to respect their service, the quality of the in-flight product, and their reputation among the big three American airlines.

After connecting in Phoenix, I arrived in Detroit around 4:30 PM and quickly caught an Uber to my hotel. My colleague Jake texted me and asked me if I would like to join him and my two colleagues from New York for a brief tour of the city before dinner and I excitedly responded that I would love to join. I stepped outside of my hotel and while I waited for Jake to arrive, I was immediately impressed with some of the local arts projects, including murals on the building across the street. He picked me up and then our colleagues before we headed off north into the city.

Jake wanted us to first see the Heidelberg Project, an art project created in 1986 by artist Tyree Guyton. Guyton commented that upon returning to his neighborhood after his military service that ‘the surrounding neighborhood looked as if “a bomb went off”.’ This was a particularly gut-wrenching moment for me because as someone who’s grew up in San Francisco and traveled to a variety of places, I have an image of what urban America should be like. To see this neighborhood in a state of more than just disrepair was jarring.

At this point, the winter sun was setting and we decided to get some dinner and drinks. Our table at Slows BBQ was not yet ready so we walked next door to Sugar House for a drink. This was a gem of a bar based on the variety of whiskey and this classic on the seasonal drink menu:

“DONNIE DANCES TO “TOXIC” BY BRITNEY SPEARS – $19″

Perplexed, I asked who Donnie was. The bartender pointed over his shoulder at one of the three other guys. While tempted, I was also there on work and wasn’t sure if this was an appropriate drink to order so I decided instead to just order an Old Forester 1870 whiskey with a single rock. After our drink, we moved back to Slows for dinner and we completely overdid it.

  • Brisket Coney Fries.
  • Pork and Beans.
  • Mac-N-Cheese.
  • Cornbread.

And then we ordered mains. Beef brisket. Baby back ribs. And some beers. Lordy.

Our final stop of the night was at Lager House in Corktown. We expected a dive and we got exactly what we were looking for — and then some. After ordering our beers, we sat down at a table and noticed that in the next room (in full sight of everyone at the bar) was a huge group of people doing yoga or meditation. Hey, to each his own, but damned if it wasn’t loud in there.

After a half hour, our entertainment of the night came in the form of a bar fight between a short hipster and a drunken bar patron. The hipster crowd, sporting their thick rimmed black glasses and tight jeans could have been pulled from any episode of Portlandia or satirical sketch roasting the gentrification of American cities. They had their dude’s back. The drunk guy was apparently defying the bartender’s orders to leave and kept coming back in. He and the hipster traded words, followed by punches. And after drunko got knocked down, a bunch of people dragged him out into the street. The hipster clan high-fived their dude and everyone went back to drinking. As my colleague enthusiastically cheered on what happened, we finished our drinks and returned back to our hotel for a night of rest.

Day 2 (March 6, 2018): Work work work work

My only real day in Detroit began early with some work over breakfast and then giving a day-long training in my company’s office in the WeWork space downtown.

At the end of the day, I stopped into the Shake Shack (we still don’t have one in San Francisco!) to grab some dinner and took an Uber to the airport where I was delighted (note: sarcasm) to find out my flight to Chicago was delayed. But thankfully the customer service agent at the airport helped be resolve my routing and after a slight detour to Dallas (in which I literally sprinted as hard as I could for several streaks), I made it home that night.

Final Thoughts

My time in Detroit was incredibly enlightening.

Prior to this trip, I was woefully undereducated on what Detroit was like. I knew it as the home of Motown, the big three automakers, and the fictional Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy’s famous character in the Beverly Hills Cop movie series), but little else. I have a couple friends from Detroit or the surrounding suburbs, but nothing could have prepared me for the wonderful spirit I met in the locals.

What I took away from my limited time in Motor City was that this is a city on the up and up. It has made some wonderful strides in the last few years and there’s a renewed optimism in the voices of its residents. And that makes it worth visiting all by itself.

Side note: For some fascinating (and head-shaking) reading, head over to this Wikipedia article on the “Decline of Detroit” to read about the confluence of the de-industrialization of a city, the race tensions, the flight to the suburbs, and the important of critical city functions (notably a public transportation system, which crumbled in the face of investments into the constructions of automobile expressways).

 

 

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