It wasn’t until I read the eye opening article in Food and Wine magazine about the culinary culture shift in Detroit and the number of full of flavor cafes and restaurants popping up in Detroit’s southwest side. As I thumbed through the 3-page piece I started to undergo a sense of enthusiasm and wanderlust. As a quasi native of Detroit (I grew up North of Detroit and lived in Detroit Metro for a brief time in the mid 2000’s) this article came as an amiable disclosure. I read about this extraordinary coffeehouse called Astro Coffee, an incredible BBQ joint called Slow’s Barbecue and a savvy cocktail bar who makes their own bitters called Sugar House, my curiosity was unquestionably peaked. Was this a shifting deluge for the Detroit we have all written off and considered befallen to ashes and dust with no resurgence in sight? Yup, you betcha!
After reading the article I began a mad mission to comprehend more about this urban resuscitation in the country’s most economically distraught city. I started to ascertain what others were saying about this revival to be true, Fast Company Magazine wrote an extraordinary article about Detroit echoing these same sentiments, then it was National Geographic’s Travel magazine’s article, a segment on NPR singing the same song, “Detroit is the next big boom-town and tech start up city”. Being the curious individual I am, I had to see this all for myself and come to my own conclusions. So headed home to Detroit, to see my family and allotted myself 3 days in Detroit.
My younger brother bought a house in the exceptionally sought after and now up and coming progressive Detroit neighborhood of Ferndale. Ferndale nestles neatly on the 9 mile and Woodward Avenue corridor. It is chock full of cafe’s, bars and boutiques, it is also considered Detroit’s gay neighborhood, unlike the Castro in San Francisco it definitely has more of a neighborhood charm and buzz unlike its condition 10 years ago. It has developed into something Royal Oak was only capable of accomplishing. The restaurants have certainly upped their ante to 4 star qualities with culinary genius and creativity. Considering its close proximity to 8 mile, the Ferndale neighborhood is humming with creative buzz with its cleanliness, renovated neighborhoods with reconditioned bungalows, donning crisp green lawns, with sheltering mighty great oaks peppering their landscape. My brother bought his house right before the financial crisis in 2008 for $42,000. He chose wisely as the current market has risen enormously in his favor. These are things you are not reading about in your Wall Street Journal’s and New York Times. This is the real Detroit, the one that is emergent and becoming a viable, habitable city once again.
After exploring Ferndale, I headed into downtown Detroit to capture some urban renewal photography. Mind you, it has only been a couple of years since I’ve been in downtown Detroit, as I am frequent lover and supporter of this misrepresented city (my favorite haunts: Magic Stick, DIA, Greektown’s, MotorLounge, Pegasus’ Tavern, St. Andrew’s Hall, City Club & DEMF).
I exited off I-75 onto Warren Ave. drove past the DIA (Detroit Institute of Art) and hooked a left onto Woodward Avenue, Detroit’s “main drag”; as I am driving I noticed people on the streets, walking, on bicycles, there are cafe’s, coffeehouses, bars lining the avenue, the shiny new Whole Foods with a gleaming Starbucks beacon directly adjacent to it. As I crossed into the threshold of downtown closing in on Comerica Park on my left and the Fox Theater on my right I couldn’t believe my own eyes as I was stunned by the dramatic physical transformation of the city; the trash-less, vagrant-less streets, refreshed boulevards, flower boxes, green space, clean parks, a City Square with an active fountain and outdoor performing arts stage, people walking on the street, sitting on park benches, riding bikes. Where there were once vacant skyscrapers, there are now gleaming restaurants, such as the 5 star Westin and it’s 5 star restaurant Roast accompanying it beautifully. A handsome
Ernst and Young modern glass building dons the city center with a pinnacle Hard Rock Cafe, city center fountain with flowers and green space, a well manicured park across the street coupled with the beacon of corporate hope, the Quicken Loans building which has recently taken up headquarters in the downtown Detroit and at the 1001 Woodward Avenue building a striking example of change, a sign that assert “Outsource To Detroit”! I turn right onto Michigan Avenue and head toward Corktown,Detroit’s Oldest Neighborhood home of the original Detroit Tigers Stadium (now reduced to rubble) and the oldest neighborhood in Detroit (est. 1834).
The boulevard is clean, trash less (unlike it’s state 4 years ago), I see Astro Coffee, Slow’s BBQ and of course one of my favorite Detroit icons, the vacant Central Station Train Station and Hotel, an architectural masterpiece
and also the center of the hotly debated topic of removal for years. I drove into the neighborhood of Corktown, feasting my eyes on clean neighborhoods and beautiful graffiti art and an artist painted building sign that says “Welcome to Corktown!”
This is not the Detroit I grew up in, and it most certainly is not the Detroit that is being nationally depicted. This is the NEW Detroit. This is far from anything that is being proclaimed in all of the downbeat media surrounding Detroit. However, the Fast Company, Food and Wine and NPR articles were all correct in their appraisal of Detroit, as it is clearly undergoing an impressive metamorphosis that needs to be shown to the world .
After snapping various pics of Corktown and the iconic train station, I opt to head to Brush Park, which at one time was one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Detroit, and became a ghost town over night following the 1967 riots. Since, Brush Park has been an iconic run down dangerous area, with vacant and abandoned brownstones taken over by vagrants and squatters. Over time, gradually, the city has removed some of the broken down homes which has now opened up the opportunity for more green space and city lots for re-purposing and rebuilding. As I pulled onto Brush Street I saws something beyond belief, life. Someone was actually mowing their grass and the homes that are remaining were stunning, renovated back to their original state, complete with crisp manicured lawns, flowers coupled with restored original
coach houses and wrought iron fencing. This is the Detroit many do not get to see nor know exists, but I’ve seen it at its absolute worst and now during its renaissance. The proximity to downtown is marvelous because you can literally see Comerica Park and the Towering Renaissance Center towers. Just when I didn’t think it could get better I decide to peruse Cass St., the main drag of Wayne State University – Cass is on block west of Woodward Avenue. This neighborhood has always been suspect for years and not a place a young female photographer should be flashing her expensive camera. Cass Street was striking, amazingly well groomed and updated. Restaurants, pubs,
bakeries and cafes lined the street. Renovated brownstone apartment buildings gleamed, as did the neighborhoods they sit in. I pulled into a bakery off of Cass St. to chat with some locals. ON this street there was a bakery, dry cleaners and hair boutique as well as a newly built loft apartment building with brownstone apartment buildings being renovated across the street. I sat with one of the locals briefly and asked if he lived in the neighborhood as I imagined he did with his Detroit Tigers T-shirt and very large German Sheppard at his side. He said “yes I live in these lofts right here, my partner and I moved here 3 years ago wanting to be a part of this movement” I asked him about the cleanliness and lack of vagrancy in the city and how this was happening given the financial state of the city he said “the city has nothing to do with this, we the people of this movement are creating neighbor associations and cleaning up the city, making it livable again. When we have an issue with something that might involve the police we call Wayne State University Police Department who usually respond within 2-3 minutes; but we usually do not have many problems that warrant the police, they are few and far between.” He directed me to check out the Canfield Historical Home District just a block over and Mario’s Italian Restaurant, both Icons of Detroit.
I drove to 2nd St. to check out Mario’s, I never even noticed this before it had been here since 1948 and as I drove through the historical district of West Canfield(Detroit’s first official historical district) the cobble stoned street led me to a beautifully unimaginable gem, reconditioned brownstone mansions, with once again, clean manicured green lawns, renovated coach houses with 100 year old oak trees lining the yards and streets, I felt as if I had stepped back into to time. It was a site, one that most will never see even Detroit natives, had someone not told them about it, it was a side of Detroit I had never experienced.
When I left Detroit I felt a sense of purpose as an entrepreneur. I began to feel like I wanted to be a part of this infectious movement, a movement that is being defined by the people of the city of Detroit, the people that are literally moving there to help rebuild this once incredible city. It is exciting to see Detroit progress into this urban revival that cannot only be defined by what is going on but more by what has already been set into motion, change, BIG change. When you hear about companies like Quicken Loans moving their offices to Detroit, you can’t believe it until you see why. “If you build it they will come”, and let me tell you, they are coming and they are coming from everywhere!
Le Nouveau Detroit is coming!