Dotted with the ruins of abandoned buildings and dilapidated houses covered in colorful graffiti, the landscape of Detroit looks good in the viewscreen.
The city’s gritty feel and faded beauty translates well to film, whether you choose to evoke nostalgia with shots of empty iconic buildings, or to document the slow decay of an industrial city in a post-industrial age with images of factories long forgotten.
Michigan Central Station is one of the city’s most recognizable monuments. It’s illegal, though not unusual, for photographers to slip inside to capture the crumbling opulence of its interior.
Art in Detroit is everywhere. In fact, spurred by ridiculously low home prices (the city average was $11,533 during the worst part of the recession), artists may actually be the only people moving to Detroit right now. Both the Detroit Artists Market and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, housed in a converted graffiti-covered warehouse, host internationally acclaimed exhibitions of visual, performing, and multimedia arts.
The world-class Detroit Institute of Arts has one of the largest collections in the world, with works from Monet, Degas, van Gogh, Matisse, and Picasso, and a series of murals (depicting Detroit factory workers) by Diego Rivera.
Wander an open-air art installation at the Heidelberg Project, a street of abandoned houses covered in polka dots, stuffed animals, and scrap metal that resembles a twisted Wonderland, or just take in a showing at restaurants like Cass Café and The Majestic.
From Motown greats like Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross (whose careers are among those commemorated at the Hitsville USA Motown Museum) to rock darlings the White Stripes, Detroit has a long tradition of fostering musical talent.
See the next Detroit Cobras or Dirtbombs — before they hit it big — at intimate clubs like the Old Miami, the Magic Stick, the Lager House, and Cadieux Café. The Detroit Electronic Music Fest, held every Memorial Day weekend, features some of the best DJs and electronic music producers in the world.
Detroit’s a drinking town, and no matter what you fancy you’ll find it here. Drink with the city’s elite at the bar at the stately Whitney mansion, or rub elbows with war veterans in the casual backyard of the Old Miami. Sip cocktails and dance in your club couture at Deluxe, or rock out to the jukebox at the dark, divey Bronx Bar. Or just relax with a microbrew at one of the city’s three breweries, such as Motor City, home of the Ghettoblaster Ale.
An influx of immigrants from around the world means Detroit is the place to come for some of the most authentic Polish, Mexican, Greek, and Middle Eastern food this side of the Atlantic. Head to Mexican Village, Polish Village, or Greektown for their respective cuisines, or take a short drive to Dearborn for Middle Eastern.
If you’re in the mood for something a little more local, check out Union Street for American comfort food with a twist or head to newcomer Slows, which churns out Detroit’s best barbecue and a killer bourbon lemonade (just come prepared for a long wait).
And of course, no visit would be complete without tasting the ubiquitous Detroit Coney dog.
Economic woes for residents equal rock-bottom prices for visitors. Detroit has always been cheap, but deteriorating financial conditions mean even more discounts and deals. Dollar drafts and 2-for-1 drinks at happy hour? Check. A filling and delicious meal for under $10? Check. Free museums, no-cover live music clubs, and ample free parking? Check, check, and check.
It’s easy to live large in Detroit on a small budget, and thanks to discount bus company Megabus, low rates on Amtrak, and cheap fares into Northwest’s hub, it doesn’t cost a lot to get here either.
As the butt of countless jokes, it’s easy to kick Detroit while it’s down. But if you’re a sucker for a lost cause, you may just be charmed by the city’s unwavering community pride in the face of such depression.
The people of Detroit understand their city has problems, but many are choosing to rally their neighbors and fight for change rather than sit idly by and watch the city decay further. Detroit’s refusal to let go of the past is immediately evident, but when you look a little deeper you also see a small — but growing — ray of hope for the future.
This article was originally published on June 26, 2009.