The Red Bull Music Academy is on tour, visiting some of the most vibrant, exciting and most musical cities on the planet. After Cape Town, Paris and Berlin, the latest tour stop is in Detroit, USA. Our insider Ryan Hooper offers us an essential guide to the Motor City…
Detroit’s history is no blank canvas. First, it was the birthplace of the American automobile industry. Then it was the invention of a new type of sound – Motown. Today, international urban planners, architects and artists have descended on the city to see what can become from the more blighted selections of the city’s past.
Sure, Detroit isn’t a city that begs you to fall in love with it but once you get a taste for the blue-collar culture and arts scene, you’ll be hooked. Dozens of music venues, adventurous dining spots and a Midtown in the throes of a revival have put the former ‘Paris of the Midwest’ back on the radar.
Some of the best offerings are underground treasures waiting to be discovered, we offer up a die-hard guide to the city that drives you, fills up your iPod and never fails to find a way to reinvent itself.
Heidelberg Project (3600 Heidelberg St.)
Nearly 25 years ago, local artist Tyree Guyton took a look around his neighborhood and didn’t like what he saw – burnt down houses and lots of trash. He decided to turn the entire block into an art project. Since then, thousands have travelled to see Guyton’s matchless masterpiece.
Campus Martius (800 Woodward Ave.)
Tagged as “Detroit’s meeting place,” Campus Martius sits in the heart of the city’s business district and offers a uniquely European experience.
Home to Movement, Detroit’s annual international electronic music festival, this concrete jungle is nestled right on the river and offers access to the city’s multi-mile river walk.
The Detroit Institute of Arts (5200 Woodward Ave.)
At one time, Detroit was one of the wealthiest cities in the nation. The Detroit Institute of Arts is a result of such wealth, boasting one of the deepest collections of art throughout the US.
The Guardian Building (500 Griswold)
One of the only Art Deco skyscrapers ever built in the United States, the stunning interior of the Guardian Building in the heart of downtown rivals some of Europe’s most historic and visually stunning structures.
Five Famous Detroiters
This bona fide rockstar has since moved on to Nashville, but before he was fronting the White Stripes or racking up wins at the Grammy’s, he was a pale dude in southwest Detroit upholstering furniture. Still, White often makes appearances at random concerts and happenings in the city.
Francis Ford Coppola
Little known fact – the man behind The Godfather and Apocalypse Now was born to a flautist for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra before heading for Queens, New York. He received his middle name after the inventor of the automobile Henry Ford.
Major known fact – the man who sold more records than any other artist in the past decade is from Detroit. If you have any doubts, refer to the movie 8 Mile.
Reeves didn’t exactly do hot when she held a seat on Detroit City Council, but as the Martha of Martha & the Vandellas during the Motown explosion, she produced more than a dozen hit singles including Jimmy Mack, Dancing in the Street and Heat Wave
Born in New Orleans, the prolific author moved frequently between the Big Easy and Detroit. So we’ll claim him. Leonard’s knack for painting vivid, cinematic imagery in his novels has led to a clutch of major motion pictures adaptations like Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (based on Leonard’s Rum Punch) and Out of Sight. Leonard has called metro-Detroit his home since 1934.
Best Local Acts
Into off-the-wall, schizophrenic pop melodies more closely related with a carnival freak show than a day hanging with the Beach Boys? Meet Prussia.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Looking for something a bit more accessible? So is the rest of the world. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. are definitely the Motor City’s hotness at the moment thanks to infectious vocal harmonies with a sprinkling of electronic whiz and whir. The duo signed to Warner Brothers Records nearly a year ago and has wrapped up several national tours since then.
Let your funk flag fly free with Will Sessions, a gang of highly talented musicians with a pension for playing late-night funk raves and teaming up with Detroit’s signature rappers like Guilty Simpson and Black Milk.
Techno is -- and always will be -- one of Detroit’s signature musical stylings alongside Motown and the garage rock revival. Kyle Hall is personally seeing to it. This wunderkind toured the world before he could legally drink in the States and has received blessings from old school heavy hitters like Carl Craig.
Just Boyz have been quiet since releasing their debut EP, "Sorry Ladies," nearly two years ago (you can still download it for free over here), but its impression still lingers in the local scene. "Sorry Ladies" takes psych-folk storytelling away from the campfire and into the studio where keyboards, samplers and an array of vocal stylings can continue to push the boundaries of weirdness.
Best Spots For Live Sound
PJ’s Lager House (1254 Michigan Ave.)
Just above the “hole in the wall” standard seal of approval, PJ’s Lager House is one of the cheapest places to see a show, cheapest places to enjoy some good bar food and one of the cheapest places to drink at. To boot, the capacity of the sound system is always a pleasant surprise.
The Majestic Complex (4120 Woodward Ave.)
The Majestic Complex is undoubtedly the most well-known live music haven in the city of Detroit. Boasting three music venues in one building -- a lounge, a mid-sized venue and a full-fledged theatre – as well as two restaurants, the nation’s oldest bowling alley and phenomenally greasy slice of pizza, it’s hard to find something not to do at the Majestic.
The Fox Theatre (2211 Woodward Ave.)
If you’re looking for breathtaking architecture and sublime acoustics, look no further than the Fox Theatre. Host to live music, theatre and more, the Fox is the closest thing to a musical venue wrapped inside the ornate décor of a palace.
Old Miami (3930 Cass Ave.)
If you’re looking to be surprised by the sounds that take the stage, check out the Old Miami. This veteran’s bar is like hanging out in buddy’s basement with billiards and lots of old couches, but the backyard is like an urban oasis with a small fountain and fire pit.
Atlas Bar (2363 Yemans St., Hamtramck)
Hosting both local and national acts, the Atlas Bar is in the heart of Hamtramck -- the Polish city within the city of Detroit.
Five For An Upscale Evening
The Centaur (2233 Park Ave.)
Simply put, the Centaur offers world-class bartenders, striking views of the city and an attractive clientele.
V Nightclub (1777 Third St.)
Looking for something a bit more active and hot? Venture to the MGM Grand Casino in downtown where V Nightclub is sure to spark up an interesting night.
Cliff Bell’s (2030 Park Ave.)
Cliff Bell’s is the classiest jazz bar in town with a packed schedule and an array of signature drinks made to impress.
1701 Executive (140 Cadillac Square)
For the distinguished gentleman with a flare for fine cigars, 1701 Executive Cigar Bar is the only destination you need to worry about.
Pulse Lounge (156 Monroe St.)
Relaxed and friendly, Pulse Lounge is known for its martinis and overall atmosphere.
Late Night Binge Eating
Café D’Mongo’s (1439 Griswold)
Looking for authentic Detroit barbeque and a conversation? Squeeze into Café D’Mongo’s if you can and ask for Larry, the storytelling owner of the joint. You’ll never experience anything like it.
Foran’s Grand Trunk (612 Woodward Ave.)
14 taps all with Detroit and Michigan brews, 30+ bottles of the same and a diverse menu loosely based on Irish fare all set inside an old ticketing station in downtown Detroit.
Bucharest Grill (2040 Park Ave.)
Every city offers their late night sloppy foodie treat. Detroit offers Bucharest Grill, a tiny joint by the sports stadiums famous for packing their shawarma sandwiches with seasoned curly fries – a delectable combination.
How To Head Home
This is the Motor City. And while things are rapidly changing in terms of residents’ attitudes towards mass transit, the current situation can be a little dire. You can rely on the spotty bus system. But your best bet is hailing a cheap cab, which never seems to fail.
The Best of Detroit On A Budget...
How to spend $5
Use your Lincoln wisely and indulge in a Coney dog from Lafayette Coney Island and a bag of Better Made Chips. Both are uniquely Motor City. Will we ever know who boasts a better dog between Chicago and Detroit? You decide.
How to spend $50
It doesn’t matter if sports were never your thing. For years, Detroit has been touted as a hot bed for sports fandom and culture. In the past decade, the Detroit Tigers (MLB) and the Detroit Red Wings (NHL) have been perennial playoff mainstays. We can’t vouch for the Lions (NFL), but this could be the year. Buy two tickets and enjoy the loud, drunken and unforgettable experience whether they win or lose.
How to spend $500
Downtown Detroit has built its one-of-a-kind skyline on the Detroit River, which also hugs the Canadian border and the growing city of Windsor. Head to Belle Isle – Detroit’s floating Central Park – which the Detroit Yacht Club calls home and charter a boat. Enjoy ravishing views of the two countries on both port and starboard.