By Sally Kohn
Every guidebook to America’s Motor City tells you to eat a hot dog at Coney Island, visit the Motown Museum and take in the stunning collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts. But do you know where to see watches being handmade in Detroit? Get custom jeans? Eat finger-licking-good barbeque? And buy discount Girl Scout cookies? Here’s the insider guide to not-to-be-missed local joints in Detroit.
The new generation of Made in Detroit: Shinola
See firsthand the incredible detailed craftsmanship that goes into watchmaking. (Shinola/Facebook)
You’ve heard the saying “You don’t know sh-t from Shinola,” right? Well, now you can answer back to that statement with authority. The old shoe-polish brand lent its name to Shinola, a watch company and lifestyle brand now headquartered in downtown Detroit. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (844) 744-6652 to get a tour of the company’s watchmaking factory in the historic A. Alfred Taubman Building (485 W Milwaukee St.). See for yourself what “handmade” really means — all the intricate steps that go into assembling the first watches to be made in America in generations.
Treat yourself to beautiful handmade watches and more at Shinola. (Shinola/Facebook)
You can then head over to Shinola’s Detroit storefront (441 W. Canfield St.) to pick out your own watch (prices start at $475) or browse the brand’s other gorgeous products, including a line of journals also made in the United States (starting at $6.75). At the store, you can watch Shinola bicycles being assembled right behind the checkout counter. Want to bring a bike home or even hang one up as art (which customers have been known to do)? Prices for bicycles start at $1,950.
Detroit’s SoHo: Cass Corridor
Hip, locally produced items abound at Willys. (Willys/Facebook)
The Shinola store anchors a budding neighborhood of hip new shops called the Cass Corridor (named for nearby Cass Ave.). Willys (441 W. Canfield St.) is a Shinola-run shop that curates other hip “Made in the USA” labels from around the country. There are leather-strap-and-canvas market bags made by the socially responsible brand Apolis ($58) and custom sweatshirts by the Detroit brand Smplfd that have a large cream-colored felt initial on the front, available in every letter of the alphabet. They are what would happen if an old letterman jacket mated with a hoodie ($100).
Related: How to Shop Like a Local in Seoul
These handmade Detroit notebooks are miles above the standard gift-shop fare. (City Bird/Facebook)
Across the street is City Bird, a collection of crafts and goods all from Detroit makers. In the jam-packed store, perfect for finding a piece of Detroit to bring back home, my favorite items were the pencils — vintage-looking navy pencils that read “City of Detroit” on the ends or a set with the names of all the great lakes (five for $5).
It’s hard to believe that this idyllic walkway used to be little more than a bunch of trash and weeds. (travelingmcmahans/Flickr)
Wander around the Cass Corridor and you’ll find other gems, including Detroit’s first “green alley” (off 2nd Ave. between Canfield and Prentis, just behind Motor City Brewing Works) and Hugh, a shop that focuses on barware, home décor, and other essentials for “the bachelor pad” (4240 Cass Ave.).
Souvenirs: High end to low end
Everyone deserves at least one really good pair of jeans, and the quality of those coming out of Detroit Denim Co. is tough to beat. (Detroit Denim)
If you’re looking for a way to take the hard work and determination of Detroit and wear it every single day, schedule a time to stop by Detroit Denim Co. The small company makes gorgeous and hearty jeans out of the last remaining selvedge denim woven in the U.S., as well as copper rivets and buttons also made in the USA. At $250 a pair, the jeans aren’t cheap, but if you go to the store and the off-the-shelf style doesn’t fit you perfectly, the staff will make a semi-custom pair just for you for the same price. The company doesn’t make women’s jeans yet, but the men’s styles would fit most women. The company also makes a line of denim bags and aprons. Based in Ponyride, a collaborative entrepreneur space, Detroit Denim often works with other startups in the building, such as selling a leather belt with hand-forged copper buckles made by the metalsmith on the floor below.
Every now and then, you just need to step away from the Kindle and support a local bookstore. (Source Booksellers/Facebook)
At the other end of the spectrum, stop by Source Booksellers, an independently owned anchor institution in Detroit (4240 Cass Ave.). With all that’s happening politically in (and to) the city of Detroit, a trip to Source is a great way to learn a bit about the city’s past and present while supporting a business that is part of the activist fabric of Detroit. At Source, consider getting a copy of A Detroit Anthology ($20), a powerful book of essays edited by the local writer Anna Clark. The book can serve as a great orientation at the beginning of your trip or a way to reflect on it afterward.
Shopping can make you awfully hungry
Don’t be fooled by the word “deli” — the Russell Street Deli, a Detroit favorite, serves much more than sandwiches, including some serious breakfast. (Mike/Flickr)
For breakfast, you can’t get more down-home Detroit than the Russell Street Deli (2465 Russell St.). Located across from the well-known and worth-checking-out Eastern Market, the city’s bountiful Saturday farmer’s market, Russell Street serves breakfast every day of the week except Sunday. It’s best known for its egg “scrambles” — I had a divine one with onions, tomato, cheese, and local Srodek’s smoked sausage. And when the waitress tells you that the breakfast potatoes are the best ever, believe her — they’re seasoned with salt and nothing else, and pan-fried to perfect crispiness. Not to be missed.
Stop by Slows for a taste of the South way up North. (Michigan Municipal League/Flickr)
For lunch, locals swear by Slows Bar B Q (two locations: 2138 Michigan Ave. and 4107 Cass Ave.). The baby back ribs and pulled pork, plus sides like extra-cheesy mac-and-cheese and sweet potato mash, will have you oohing and aahing like a Motown backup singer.
Fried chicken is just one of Craft Work’s many crowd-pleasing dishes. (Craft Work/Facebook)
For dinner, a hidden gem is Craft Work, a new restaurant and bar in Detroit’s historic West Village (8047 Agnes St.). The menu is creative New American cuisine with locally sourced ingredients and generous portions. The evening I went, my group couldn’t stop talking about the appetizer of warm chickpeas with crispy shallots and lemon and the fried chicken entrée that came with mashed potatoes and a honey drizzle. A vegetarian red beet and cauliflower entrée with tahini, lentils, and raisins was also surprisingly wonderful, though strict vegans might want to check out Detroit Vegan Soul, located next door to Craft Work. Either way, make sure to leave time before or after your reservation to wander around. This out-of-the-way neighborhood is worth checking out.