Detroit is on its way back from the brink and its revival is being led, in part, by the food and wine industry. Don't let the reputation scare you: It's one of the most vibrant, interesting and delicious places I've visited in years. The largest municipal bankruptcy in American history and the flight of half its population haven't been kind. It can look scary, but the city is now stable, clean and much safer.
It's not just big players like Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert who are working to revive downtown; it's also entrepreneurs with less cash who are buying and creating throughout the city limits. Deals for restaurant spaces, often done with the city, can be negotiated in the $20,000-$35,000 range—or sometimes just in exchange for covering back taxes. Even the city's great skyscrapers are up for grabs.
Corktown, the terrific group of coffee shops, restaurants and distillers, rightfully gets most of the press. Here and throughout the city, out-of-the box thinkers are dreaming up wine bars, eateries and breweries. Add access to great ingredients and a palpable sense of good will, and born-again Detroit might just make Copenhagen, Portland and Williamsburg seem staid by comparison.
Katoi: On a forlorn stretch of Michigan Avenue is the chicest and possibly the best Thai restaurant in America.
London Chop House: In the heart of downtown, this Old World steak house competes with the best but ultimately wins by having a truly great wine list at fair prices.
Rose's Fine Food: A symbol of the revival. Is it the best diner in America? Yes. It's also one of the best restaurants. Local fish, farm fresh eggs, Michigan asparagus, strawberries and more.
Selden Standard: A foodie's dream. A great industrial space, a cool 'hood and the food, bar scene and garden are spot on.
Wright & Co: In one of Detroit's oldest buildings, the handsome long bar has the best cocktails in town.
Motor City Wine: It looks forlorn on the outside but go in and you'll find experts on every wine, a wonderful party space and a cool outdoor patio with great eats. Where the cognoscenti hang.
Townhouse: In the heart of downtown close to the Cobo Center and GM, this restaurant offers a little bit of everything. The world-class bar up front is a smart way to get your bearings.
Cafe d'Mongo's: The last of Detroit's infamous speakeasies. It's no longer a real one, but the drinks and vibe are first rate.
Hotels: If there were ever a city that needs a few boutique hotels, this is it. The Book-Cadillac and Aloft get the job done but that's about it. Consider staying at the Detroit Athletic Club if you have reciprocal membership or a friend who can get you in.
Getting Around: Not surprisingly, Detroit is a car city. The long avenues radiate from downtown and parking garages are covered up to look like apartment buildings. The downtown People Mover monorail is cute, but there's little public transport to speak of until they finish the tramway that will connect downtown to the midtown area, where much redevelopment is happening.
Take a Tour: Besides the auto companies, which all have tours, Detroit was known as the "Paris of the West" for its city plan, which includes the Olmsted-designed Belle Isle Park and refurbished areas along the waterfront. Architecture fans will find tours of Frank Lloyd Wright houses, plus sensational mid-century designs from Eero Saarinen, Minoru Yamasaki and Mies van der Rohe. The Detroit Institute of Art has the best selection of Diego Rivera murals and much more. Don't miss them.
Eastern Market: It's the largest in the U.S. and rivals Paris for quality. Detroit's wealth and industry stem from access to The Great Lakes and prime farmland in every direction. The Market is surrounded by good restaurants and bars such as Supino Pizzeria, the more grown-up Antietam and Detroit City Distillery for drinks. Check the website for opening times; it pays to go early.