What to see

Apr 1, 2009 at 12:00 am

From poets to PR types, from musicians to a marine engineer, we sought advice; "What would be your personal Final Four of local sites a visitor needs to see?" We tallied the recommendations, and here's what we found.

THE WINNER: DETROIT INSTITUTE OF ARTS: One of the city's jewels, the DIA completed a $158 million expansion a year and a half ago, giving the institution renewed vigor and Detroiters a renewed appreciation. Not to be missed: Diego Rivera's murals depicting the auto industry near its peak.

THE HENRY FORD: This new name of the last few years hasn't completely taken; all its admirers in our poll used its older name: the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. The Dearborn shrine to the industrial revolution that began as Henry's private collection still captivates in the Internet Age. With Rosa Parks' bus, Thomas Edison's lab and, as radio host Peter Werbe notes, the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile.

CLIFF BELL'S: "Stepping into Cliff Bell's is to arrive in another era," our restaurant reviewer Todd Abrams wrote last week. Specifically, it's a trip down art deco lane. Originally opened in 1935, the downtown club was reopened in 2006 just in time for the Super Bowl. Nightly music, most often jazz, with detours for post-modern vaudeville and other delights.

BAKER'S KEYBOARD LOUNGE: The world's oldest jazz club continuously (more or less) operating in a single spot, Baker's kicks off its 75th anniversary celebrations this month, sadly as the economic downturn and other woes cloud its future. Long a showcase for the biggest stars, this edge-of-the-city spot is now a place to hear great local musicians (the group Giant Steps this weekend) while dining on great soul food.

EASTERN MARKET: The current renovation work is a temporary drag — only two of four sheds are in operation just now, but you can still get the vibe of this unique public produce market near downtown. Great shops — antique joints, restaurants and more — remain at full retail force.

LAFAYETTE CONEY ISLAND: The phrase "one with everything" gets you the right hot dog, slathered with the right chili, sprinkled with the right chopped onions and painted just so with a line of yellow mustard. Sounds simple, but it's gotta be done right and experienced at this downtown institution. (There's another Coney institution next door ... but that's another Detroit story.)

DETROIT RIVERWALK/ RIVER-FRONT: It's only been in the last three decades that Detroiters have claimed the riverfront as a public space, and that movement continues to accelerate. The newest element is the still-expanding RiverWalk project; 1.5 miles of it are accessible downtown from behind Cobo Center, past the Ren Cen, heading east toward Belle Isle. Advises Channel 4 reporter Paula Tutman: "Take a bag lunch, a beverage and a friend."

MAGIC STICK/GARDEN BOWL: Part of a one-of-a-kind Midtown complex, Majestic Theatre Center, two music spaces, billiards, bowling, pizza and more-upscale dining. Motor City Rock Revue is at the Stick on Sunday with Detroit-bands-on-the-rise Deastro, the Muggs and the Silent Years.

WOODBRIDGE PUB: This small corner tavern serves Detroit's hip Woodbridge neighborhood, a quaint mix of older Victorian houses and 1920s duplexes near Wayne State University. Though the neighborhood endured for years without a local eatery, the pub's appealing mix of the historic and the modern draws an eclectic crowd, from the vicinity and beyond.

AVALON BREADS: Bread that reminds you why it's called the staff of life. It's also the stuff of community. In fact this little shop has helped bring life to a once-dreary Cass Corridor/Midtown block. Poet Jessica Care Moore advises checking the whole stretch, including art gallery and shop Spiral Collective for unique gifts.

MOTOWN MUSEUM: The little house on Grand Boulevard still impresses half a century on with displays of glittery outfits, gold records and such, but it's the opportunity to squeeze into the studio where history was made that is most impressive. Exults Detroit rock renaissance man Matt Smith: "The world's most magical studio ... still intact!"

THE HEIDELBERG PROJECT: Where several blocks of dilapidation and abandonment have become the ultimate project of recycling, reclaiming and reimagining through public art. "Ever changing, always amazing," says Diana Frank, marketing director of Live Nation, Detroit.

CAFE D'MONGOS SPEAKEASY: How to explain this sight to a stranger. Maybe: "New Orleans bordello grasping desperately for where jazz kitsch and organized crime movies meet." Or so a friend of our food writer Jane Slaughter put it. This Friday night-only downtown soul food restaurant has primed a see-and-be seen scene.

GREEKTOWN: Plenty of choices for Greek dining (even a Greek-style pizza at Nikki's) along with such non-Greek places as Pizza Papalis (upscale pizzeria), Fishbone's (specializing in New Orleans fare and sushi, we kid you not) and more. Non-dining attractions include Greektown Casino, the only casino on its side of downtown, and Second Baptist Church, the oldest African-American church in the Midwest with a storied history in the Underground Railroad.

HAMTRAMCK: "The Brooklyn of Detroit. Authentic Polish, Middle Eastern and Indian food, plus a ton of cool bars!" was the way Melody Baetens, the proprietor of Small's, one of those bars, described this inburb surrounded by Detroit. Once a Polish enclave, now a multicultural pocket.

ROYAL OAK: Start at the kink-shop Noir Leather for a sense of perspective on how this suburb's original little corner of hip capital boomed into a chic retail-dining-entertainment district. Also home to the Detroit Zoo.


Paula Tutman, WDIV-TV correspondent and author

1) J. Alexander's at the Somerset Collection has the best Pomegranate martinis in the world!

2) Henry Ford Museum. You can get lost in all the cool stuff to see.

3) Bunchy's Biscuits across from Greektown Casino on Randolph Street. You haven't lived until you've tried their Corny Corn and rolls … the chicken is really good, too.

4) A simple stroll along the Detroit River on the RiverWalk; it shows the resilience of an area willing to improve and beautify its most amazing natural resource and make it available to all. It's really cool to see the beautiful water and to be able to see another country from where you stand. Take a bag lunch, a beverage and a friend.

Peter Werbe, host of Nightcall on WRIF

1) Baker's Keyboard Lounge: Historic jazz club which advertises itself at the "world's first." Inexpensive soul food accompanies good music.

2) Detroit Institute of Arts: Get a lunch or dinner of surprisingly cheap, but good museum cafeteria food, and then go upstairs to view the Diego Rivera four-wall "Detroit Industry" murals depicting U.S. auto manufacturing near its apex.

3) The Henry Ford: Dearborn's science and industry museum, where you can walk through Buckminister Fuller's all-aluminum circular house, see the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, and watch a movie in Imax.

4) Windsor: Really want to see Detroit? The city's skyline is visible from our Canadian neighbor to the south (yes, south!) from its waterfront, which includes a mile-long sculpture garden and a peace fountain.

Matthew Smith, musician

1) Buddy's Pizza (on Conant at McNichols) Essential pizza joint, a Detroit landmark — the film-noir atmosphere remains unchanged after many decades.

2) Motown Museum: The world's most magical studio … still intact!

3) The Detroit Institute of Arts: You can spend hours looking at stuff … a first-rate collection.

4) Armando's (in Mexicantown): You can go there really late and it's usually open … and there's a security guy to make sure no one breaks into your car.

Jessica Care Moore, poet

1) Woodbridge Pub: Great atmosphere with good energy, a great spot to have a local beer and eat some healthy, inexpensive food, jukebox.

2) The entire Willis and Cass strip: Spiral Collective (for unique gifts and great books), Avalon (for coffee), Flow, Goodwell's (for lunch), Revolution Books.

3) Eastern Market: All day Saturday! Great spots for lunch (Taste of Ethiopia, Russell Street Deli). This is the Detroit they don't show on the news.

4) Harmonie Park: Lola's, Detroit Fish Market, Spectacles (clothing store); this is an area you should check out for local retail — and if you like to dance and sweat to house music, Friday nights at Lola's is for you.

Chuck Stokes, editorial director, WXYZ-TV

1) Museum: The Motown Historical Museum is an absolute must-see! It's the heart and soul of our city. Just walk through the doors and you'll be snappng your fingers to the legends of Motown.

2) Restaurants: Detroit has too many good restaurants to pick just one so I'll bend the rules and suggest you pick "one" from these three. Seldom Blues is Detroit's premier jazz restaurant and supper club at the Renaissance Center. You'll love the hospitality and the view of the Detroit River as you look south (not north) to Canada. Breakfast House & Grill @ Merchant's Row on Woodward Avenue has the same owners as Seldom Blues, but this popular place is a lot lighter on your budget and you don't have to dress up to eat great waffles and catfish. The Roma Café is on Riopelle Street in the Eastern Market area, but you'll feel like you're in Little Italy! I recommend everything on the menu.

3) Dessert: The Mexicantown Bakery on West Vernor Highway in southwest Detroit is heaven for dentists who want to stay in the cavity-filling business. Also, bring a scale to weigh yourself after you devour their sensational cookies!

4) "Under the radar" Detroit gems: If you have some time to kill in between games, here are two great places to shop: Terry's Enchanted Garden on Livernois near Seven Mile Road may be small, but it has chic clothes and jewelry for the ladies, nice accent pieces for your house, and the best floral arrangers in town. John K. King Used & Rare Books on Lafayette downtown is not as commercially polished as Powell's Books in Portland, Ore., but if you can't find a literary keepsake here then you don't really like old books.

Evan Perri, guitarist, Hot Club of Detroit

1) Cadieux Café: Feather bowling and Belgian beer and cuisine

2) Ye Olde Tap Room: A quasi rocker bar with whiskey and hundreds of kinds of beer.

3) Cliff Bell's: Classic 1930s art deco jazz venue.

4) Roma Café: Probably some of the best Italian cuisine in town.

Jayne Bower, WWJ-AM

Since I live in Ann Arbor, I can only intelligently speak about my favorite haunts there …

1) Firefly Club (637 S. Main St.): Indubitably the best blues and jazz club around, with amazing local talent featured every night.

2) The Michigan Theater (603 E. Liberty St.): Historic movie house that features the best independent films and film festivals — and really good popcorn.

3) Fleetwood Diner (300 S. Ashley St.): Absolutely the best "Hippie Hash" and cheeseburgers in town, served with a side of Ann Arbor's best bizarre street people.

4) The Ark (316 S. Main St.): A never-a-bad-act house of music.

Howard Hertz, entertainment lawyer

1) A don't-miss spot in downtown Detroit (technically "Midtown") is the Magic Stick and Garden Bowl, a venue the White Stripes and many other Detroit bands have called home. On April 5, the "Stick" will be presenting the Motor City Rock Revue, featuring several national touring bands from Detroit, including Deastro, the Muggs and the Silent Years. At 4120-4140Woodward Ave., Detroit.

2) On Sunday, April 5, starting at 7 p.m., the Eighth Annual Acoustic Showcase presented by the Detroit Music Awards will be held at Memphis Smoke, a great barbecue and live music club in the northern Detroit suburb of Royal Oak. See many of Detroit's top up-and-coming musicians perform acoustic sets while you indulge in ribs, chicken or pulled pork barbecue. At 100 S. Main St., Royal Oak.

3) For a great dinner, go downtown to Vicente's Cuban Cuisine (1250 Library St., Detroit). There's not only great food but Salsa dancing weekend nights. Call 313-962-8800 for the schedule.

4) The Park Bar and Cliff Bell's are two great bars featuring live music, next door to each other in the heart of downtown, one block west of Woodward Avenue behind the Fillmore Detroit. The Park features rock bands in its upstairs venue and Cliff Bell's is a 1930s era art deco club in a building designed by the famous architect Albert Kahn. It's now a fabulous jazz club with entertainment nightly. At 2030 and 2040 Park Ave., Detroit.

Terri Koggenhop, Detroit International Jazz Festival, Detroit Music Awards

1) Five Peace Band at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, April 4.

2) The legendary Baker's Keyboard Lounge: In case it's gone the next time we have a Final Four.

3) Eastern Market: early Saturday morning breakfasts are great for hangovers.

4) The world famous and 80-year-old Guardian Building

Jerome Vaughn, News Program Director WDET-FM

1) The RiverWalk: A great place to stroll — or to sit and watch the freighters go by. (Had a great time discovering the little details with the family last summer.)

2) Palmer Woods: I always like to take visitors there. They always seem surprise that Detroit has houses with such grandeur.

3) Comerica Park: There's nothing like spending time at the ballpark. (I'll always have great memories of Tiger Stadium.)

4) Henry Ford's gravesite: For me, this puts everything in perspective: No matter how big you are — you aren't going to live on this earth forever.

Wallace "Dr. Opera" Peace, Michigan Opera Theater lecturer, counselor at Wayne County Community College

1) "The Elixir of Love" currently showing at Michigan Opera Theatre

2) Tutankamum: "Wonderful Things" from the Pharaoh's Tomb at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

3) The Whitney: Superb food … order the perch.

4) The Detroit Institute of Arts

Melody Baetens, local writer, musician and co-owner of Small's Bar (myspace.com/strangleholdbooking, myspace.com/smallsbar, smallsbardetroit.com)

1) Hamtramck: The Brooklyn of Detroit. Authentic Polish, Middle Eastern and Indian food, plus a ton of cool bars! Visit Small's (at Caniff and Conant) for great live shows April 2-4.

2) Caucus Club: Classic and classy, this restaurant has excellent perch and I hear Barbara Streisand performed there back in the 1800s.

3) MGM Grand: Swanky, great for people-watching and open 24-7. Go to the middle bar for the cheapest drinks.

4) Fishbone's Greektown: The best sushi you'll find in a creole restaurant (and my favorite in Detroit), and they also have the largest non-operational indoor waterfall in the world!

Baetens also gave us a second list:

1) Small's Bar: Hamtramck's premiere live music venue; we've got cool live rock and roll April 2-4, plus drinks and drinks!

2. Detroit Threads: Vintage clothes, killer records and the owner Mikel Smith can tell you anything you'd want to know about Detroit's '80s punk scene. (Yes, that's how he spells Mikel.)

3) Polish Village: It's like going home to grandma's. For less than $10 you can get a variety of Polish fare, plus an ice-cold boomba of draft beer.

4) Pope Park: Give the old Poper a high five, play some checkers and feed the birds. At Joseph Campau and Belmont, Hamtramck.

Amanda le Claire, producer, Detroit Today, WDET

1) Baker's Lounge or Café D'Mongos Speakeasy

2) People's Records

3) Lafayette Coney Island and Slows Bar-B-Q

4) The abandoned Packard plant

5) The Dequindre Cut, an old sub-surface rail line that's being converted into a bicycle path from southwest Detroit to Eastern Market

Ryan Hertz, Executive Director HOPE Hospitality & Warming Center

1) The riverfront and Eastern Market by bicycle: Explore the riverfront, then rent a bicycle from Wheelhouse Detroit and take the Dequindre Cut up to the market to shop and explore.

2) The Heidelberg Project

3) Earthworks Farm

4) The Detroit Institute of Arts and/or the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, depending on your mood.

Evelyn Ashenbrenner, author of A History of Wayne State University in Photographs, being
released next month

1) The RiverWalk: A merry-go-round with Great Lakes fish, ice cream and a bike rental place (Wheelhouse Detroit). I'm really curious to see how the construction is coming along — the last time I was done there, most of it was fenced off. And bike-riding along the Detroit River rocks. Seriously.

2) Preservation Wayne walking tour: Full disclosure: I've never been on one, but I really, really want to. The East Ferry Avenue or Downtown Skyscrapers tours sound particularly nifty. There's also a Midtown tour.

3) The Diamond Jack riverboat tour: It's cheap, it's on the water, and someone else does the driving. Plus, you can say you saw Windsor, without having to tangle with the border crossing.

4) The view from the bar in the top of the Renaissance Center at Coach Insignia: The drinks may be a bit pricey, but the view is totally worth it. Bring a camera and tip the bartender.

5) Ogling the newly renovated Book Cadillac would probably be fifth.

6) The Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle is interesting, but it's small, and has wonky hours.

Diana Frank, marketing director of Live Nation, Detroit.

1) Lafayette Coney Island: Go after a sporting event or on a weekend in the wee hours after the bars disgorge the drunks. Or chili dogs for breakfast? Why not!

2) Heidelberg Project: Ever changing, always amazing.

3) Eastern Market: On Saturday morning, look, see, haggle, taste. Get change back from your dollar.

4) Catch the Woodward Dream Cruise if it's happening. Unparalleled 8-cylinder eye candy!

Colleen Clement, executive producer at WXYZ-TV

1) Top of the Renaissance Center

2) Detroit Institute of Arts / Detroit Film Theatre

3) Motown Museum

4) Lunch or dinner in Windsor

Stephanie Chang, deputy director, Campaign for Justice

1) Avalon Bakery

2) Woodbridge Pub

3) The RiverWalk

4) Detroit Institute of Arts

Andy Groh, Grosse Pointe Park marine engineer

1) Bronx Bar: Sunday mornings for bacon and (after noon, due to state law) their Bloody Mary bar.

2) Cliff Bell's: The music and the venue come from Detroit's peak era.

3) Coach's Corner: The ideal model of a sports bar.

4) Henry Ford Museum: Blends mechanical, industrial and local better than anywhere in the nation.

Chris Ramos, owner, the Night Move

1) Avalon Bakery

2) Cliff Bell's

3) Cafe D'Mongo's Speakeasy

4) Pewabic Pottery

Dan Tarratian, owner, Showtime Clothing

1) El Barzón: Mexican & Italian fare.

2) Nancy Whiskey: A Corktown bar; go on a Thursday!

3) Cliff Bell's

4) Henry Ford Museum

Claire Nelson, owner, Bureau of Urban Living

1) Cliff Bell's or Baker's Keyboard Lounge

2) Guardian Building and the Rowland Café in its mezzanine

3) Good Girls Go to Paris Crêperie

4) Wheelhouse Detroit: bike rentals

John Linardos, owner, Motor City Brewing Works

1) Café D'Mongo's Speakeasy

2) The Old Miami (especially the back yard)

3) The Heidelberg Project

4) Detroit Institute of Arts

Jim Diamond, owner, Ghetto Recorders

1) Hitsville: The Motown museum

2) Park Bar and Bucharest Grill

3) Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village

Bill Hubenschmidt

"The Magic Stick for an inexpensive but usually good music venue. And also there is bowling. Club Bleu if you're into raving; they have a great sound system. The DIA for obvious reasons. And Detroit's Fabulous Ruins, because where the hell else are you going to see that kind of stuff in America."

Josh DeYoung

1) Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum

2) Detroit Institute of Arts

3) Boston-Edison Historic District

4) Detroit Zoo


1) Eastern Market

2) Belle Isle

3) Riverfront

4) Neighborhoods: Interesting, dynamic neighborhoods like Boston-Edison, Corktown and southwest Detroit.

Nicole Premo

1) Greenfield Village

2) Fox Theatre

3) Hockey at the Joe Louis Arena

4) Dinner in Greektown

James Stimpson

1) Detroit Institute of Arts

2) Greektown

3) Detroit sports (any of them)

4) The casinos

Sharlan Douglas, president, Douglas Communications Group (public relations firm)

1) Make the scene in walkable downtown Royal Oak: Younger visitors will want to hit BlackFinn, Fifth Avenue or Mr. B's; diners will want to try Town Tavern, Bastone or Sangria.

2) The Somerset Collection

3) East Dearborn: The Arab American Museum, Green Brain Comics (a hidden treasure) and falafel on every corner.

Ed, citizen of Wayne State

Ed says, "I live in the Cultural Center, and I think the fat cats who come should walk a lot, in museums (Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Historical Museum, Dossin Great Lakes Museum at Belle Isle) and on the Wayne State University campus.

Bill, a retail legend on WSU campus

Bill recommends Lafayette Coney Island as a place to go. "It's close to Ford Field and 'so Detroit'."