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How to meet people IRL in metro Detroit 

click to enlarge You’ll meet some colorful characters at Detroit’s Santo Santo yoga and dance studio. - KRISTIN ADAMCZYK
  • Kristin Adamczyk
  • You’ll meet some colorful characters at Detroit’s Santo Santo yoga and dance studio.

In 2001, the White Stripes sweetly assured us that we and Suzy Lee were going to be friends. Jack White sings of dirt and worms and playing ball, painting friendship in tender strokes of innocence and permanence. “I can tell that we are going to be friends,” he sings. White wouldn’t lie to us, right? Wrong. Dead wrong. Why’d you have do us like that, Jack?

Fast-forward a few years later and the dreamy schoolyard described in the song transformed into a digital playground. MySpace gave us a chance to pick a Top Eight, as in only eight elite friends (and maybe MySpace Tom!) would make the cut. And yes, drama ensued. Later, there was Facebook. What was originally intended to connect college besties has since devolved into a corrupt corporate pre-apocalyptic wasteland (remember poking?) where your Aunt Becky has the freedom to comment on your every fucking post with some pro-Trump glitter graphic. Of course, there’s Twitter, where followers are not your friends, just pundits, celebrity PR reps, and clickbait bots all with quippy takes on things no one cares about. And then Instagram happened: a place ruled by tiny validation hearts and photos of your best food, best times, best selves, and even better friends. But guess what: it’s all a lie. Like, seriously. You’re reading way too much into the fact that your ex watched your IG story.



Anyway, if one thing has been made actually more complicated by coexisting on these digital playgrounds, it’s the one thing they claimed to make easier: making new friends.

Lucky for us, living in metro Detroit offers plenty of opportunities to meet people the old-fashioned way. We know it can be scary going out into the world and immersing yourself in the unknown, but we think that by participating in real life you might just have a chance at something meaningful and long-lasting — just like, say, the White Stripes’ White Blood Cells.

Visit a karaoke night and find a duet partner

Music is always a fine place to start when it comes to finding common ground with some strangers, and singing in front of strangers is a fine way to shake off any social — and vocal — cobwebs. Detroit is speckled with karaoke opportunities to fit whatever your comfort levels may be, and you’ll soon come to discover that each karaoke DJ (Jen David, Polish John, Shan Beste, Natalie Gersabeck, Robby Rob, and others) has, dare we say, their own “vibe.”

Feel most comfortable when belting it out on a proper stage like the superstar of your teenage dreams? Well, you’ve got options. Look no further than Sunday night at Corktown’s UFO Factory (2110 Trumbull Ave., Detroit; ufofactory.com). The resilient concert venue and gourmet hot-dog spot (they offer vegan dogs, too!) has been hosting karaoke for a few years, and makes use out of its projector, which might just blast old episodes of The Gumby Show while you try out your best Whitney, Celine, or Dolly. Oh, and UFO Factory has a photo booth so you can document your new friendships.

There’s also Thursday nights at Hamtramck’s Ghost Light, which also has a substantial stage, and is just one of the performance spaces within the Planet Ant venue complex (2314 Caniff St., Hamtramck; 313-365-4948; planetant.com). Maybe you’re feeling sheepish and want to keep it casual? Try making friends and sing some Sunday night tunes at Trixie’s, also in Hamtramck (2656 Carpenter Ave., Hamtramck; 313-316-5376), where things are a little less flashy and where you can absolutely feel comfortable dropping a request for some rare Bowie B-side. And Mutiny Bar in Southwest Detroit (4654 Vernor Hwy., Detroit; mutinybar.com), which doesn’t have a stage but makes up for it with tiki kitsch aplenty so you can get chummy with a fellow Parrot Head over some boozy island drinks.

In Ferndale, there’s the true hole-in-the-wall experience at Sneakers (22628 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-545-8243; sneakerspubferndale.com) where the drunker the better is the karaoke key, and you’ll likely meet someone in the bathroom, as the stalls are separated by shoddy shower curtains. (For the ladies, you get to step over someone doing their business, which is the fast track to friend town.) There’s Midtown’s Third Street Bar (4626 Third Ave., Detroit; 313-833-0603), which offers up vegan fare from Street Beet and is one of the bigger spaces dedicated to karaoke shenanigans, and perhaps the only karaoke spot where you’ll escape judgment, should you want to launch into “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey or a Kid Rock classic. Perhaps the most unique karaoke experience is at Southwest Detroit pizza joint Pizzaplex (4458 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit; 313-757-4992; pizzaplex.com), where host Cole Davis offers what they refer to as “Haireoke.” Davis, a visual and performance artist and comedic emcee, has more than 30 wigs for singers to choose from, as well as wig caps, hair accessories, and bubble and smoke machines.

If privacy is more your bag, you can warm up to some folks at the bar of Punch Bowl Social (1331 Broadway St., Detroit; 313-749-9738; punchbowlsocial.com), which offers access to private karaoke rooms seven days a week. The same can be said for 168 KTV Bistro (32415 John R Rd., Madison Heights; 248-616-0168; 168karaoke.com), which is basically that one scene from Lost in Translation every damn day of the week. KTV is a full-service karaoke spot that offers rooms for rent during the week and opens its doors to the public on weekends and, yeah, they have a sushi platter menu.

Detroit’s newest karaoke addition is Sid Gold’s Request Room (1511 Broadway St., Detroit; 313-444-4653; sidgolds.com), which comes by way of New York City. Sid Gold’s, which was created by Beauty Bar founder Paul Devitt and former Psychedelic Furs keyboardist Joe McGinty, landed in downtown Detroit last year and is wedged between the Siren and Element Hotels. The beauty of Sid Gold’s is that all karaoke is performed with a live pianist, doing away with the cheesy, midi karaoke version of your favorite tunes (although we totally love those, too). Like, how cool would it be to sing Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” accompanied by a real-life piano man or woman? OK, so maybe an uncool song choice, but you get the idea.

Catch a comedy show or, better yet, be in one

Metro Detroit has some strong comedic roots. Lily Tomlin, Tim Meadows, Keegan-Michael Key, and Tim Robinson are among some of the notable comedians that called metro Detroit home. But you don’t have to be famous to get in on the funny times to be had around town. In fact, visiting one of the area’s comedy clubs might just crack the code on the impossible art of making new friends.

In Ferndale, Go Comedy! Improv Theater (261 E. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-327-0575; gocomedy.net) has something for everyone with a funny bone. Though improvisation is their bread and butter most nights — including Friday and Saturday when they host All-Star Showdown, an interactive short-form improv game show that serves as a great entry into the art of improv — Go also puts on non-improvised sketch shows, musical improv performances, and, on rare occasions, stand-up acts and workshops. (Kids in the Hall star Kevin McDonald is a friend of the show and has been known to lead them.) Maybe you’ll like what you see and will get the guts up to sign up for one of their educational series, which is not only a great way to make friends but also to embed yourself in a community? (What a concept!)

And if community is what you’re after, then there’s the previously mentioned Planet Ant (2357 Caniff St., Hamtramck; 313-365-4948; planetant.com), a beloved nonprofit community theater. Hamtramck’s Planet Ant started out as a coffee shop in 1993 before transitioning into a small black-box theater three years later, and, as of 2020, is a sprawling campus of multi-use venues for performers across all disciplines with a strong focus on improv comedy. The Ant (as you’ll soon call it) hosts Monday Night Improv, which features the Ant’s home team and a guest troupe; Thursday Night Live, a comedy variety showcase; and Saturday Night Improv. Also, at the Independent Comedy Club, the Ant’s newest internal venue and stage, welcomes local and national stand-up acts each week. Wanna get in on the fun? The Ant hosts year-round classes in improv, screenwriting, sketch writing, and musical improv, with special workshop opportunities sprinkled throughout the semester.

There’s also comedy stalwart Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle (310 S. Troy St., Royal Oak; 248-542-9900; comedycastle.com), which hosts comedy classes and open mics. At Detroit Shipping Co., Midtown’s shipping container food hall (474 Peterboro St., Detroit; 313-462-4973; detroitshippingcompany.com), there’s a free weekly stand-up performance presented by 313 Comedy. And the female-led comedy collective Honorary Mentions produces stand-up showcases through metro Detroit, many of them free at venues like Sneakers in Ferndale and Trixie’s in Hamtramck. (And usually includes free pizza, because isn’t that what friendship is all about?)

Get physical!

Fuck your anti-social (and fascist) Peloton bike, which probably cost you the equivalent of a down payment on a home or car, because who doesn’t need a glorified stationary bike with an iPad attached to it? While the latest home workout trend is basically a bike connected to a competitive social media platform, nothing beats the real thing when it comes to sweating it out. And metro Detroit has an abundance of workout classes, so the first step is to determine what type of activity you’re most interested in and know that you’ll be surrounded by like-minded folks who are at a similar experience level as you are. (Pro tip: use something like the Mind Body app, which can help locate nearby drop-in classes for a variety of activities.)

Thanks to J.Lo’s pole-arizing Super Bowl halftime show and literally everything singer and master pole dancer FKA Twigs has put out recently, pole dancing is now being considered for Olympic sport designation. The ladies over at PoleFIT Revolution (1037 W. 12 Mile Rd., Madison Heights; 248-246-2222; polefitrevolution.com) are leading the way with reasonably priced, fun, and accessible beginner and advanced pole classes. Though you can attend drop-in classes as you wish, if you stick with a full set of classes, you’ll be able to master an entire routine and, who knows, you might find yourself motivated by a twirling pole-mate to twerk a little harder.

If more performative workouts get your heart rate up, Detroit’s Santo Santo (8700 Mack Ave., Detroit; santosantodetroit.com) might be a good fit. Described as a “counter-culture” yoga studio, Santo Santo opened in a formerly abandoned car wash in 2019 under the instruction of Samantha Jameson. Classes are broken into four class categories: Move, a high-energy practice; Rest, which offers restorative yoga; Buti (a blend of tribal dance, yoga, and plyometrics), and Kirtan Mash-up, which pairs benefits of ancient Eastern chants, movement, and breathwork. Also setting it apart from corporate mainstream Western yoga practices are the four-color-changing LED light strips that run across the studio’s ceiling, which instructors can change to create color combinations to enhance sessions with color therapy. If, in the past, you’ve been successful in making new friends at dance clubs, Santo Santo also offers pre-game dance nights on Fridays, complete with a DJ — but without drugs or alcohol.

OK, OK, maybe making friends is hard for you because you’re what some people might call “an uptight asshole.” But even the most high-strung, anxious workaholics deserve friends outside of their coworkers. Instead of “namaste,” how about going nine rounds with your own bullshit stress at Jabs Gym in Detroit’s Eastern Market (2501 Russell St., Detroit; 313-344-1272; jabsgym.com). This boxing gym is a high energy cross-training facility for folks of varying levels of experience. But no matter which class you select, expect to sweat. Like, a lot. In addition to boxing fundamentals, Jabs also offers high-octane kickboxing, cross training, which is a class-to-class full-body cardio workout, as well as BOYO, which combines kickboxing and yoga poses.

“Let’s play,” said no adult ever. This might be the problem when it comes to making friends as grown-ass adults with mortgages and 401ks. Let’s take a leap with body-positive Detroit Fly House Circus School (1321 Watson St., Detroit; 313-674-6424; detroitflyhouse.com), which throws inhibitions, and a fear of heights, to the wind with its expansive acrobatic, aerial, condition, choreography, and contortion classes. You may not be vying for a spot in the circus, but Detroit Fly House not only teaches you how to swing with the greatest of ease but also with confidence, discipline, and teamwork, rather than competitive B.S.

Stick it to the man and give back

It could be argued that the best way to meet people is to define a common enemy. If that sounds cynical, it is and it isn’t.

Here in Michigan, we’re not only a battleground state when it comes to politics, but we have some deeply unique issues that only we can fight for and against, which is why one of the best and most productive ways to make friends is to align yourself with an organization you can stand behind and, when the time comes, march alongside. Be it veteran resources, LGBTQ+rights, climate change, animal welfare, women’s reproductive rights, environmental injustice, children’s advocacy, prison reform, or voter and union rights, there’s a local organization, or at least a localized chapter of a national movement, in need of your voice and activism. If front-facing activism feels a bit scary, there’s always volunteering, which, like protesting and participating in marches, is rarely done alone. In fact, most progress is done by working together. (See, that’s not cynical at all!) Visiting sites like volunteermatch.org may help you narrow your focus and pair you with a cause that fits your interests and physical, mental, or time-related limitations.

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April 8, 2020

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