Detroit’s Corktown district is the city’s oldest neighborhood, originally settled in the 1850s by Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine. The neighborhood’s name comes from those first settlers; most of the Irish came from County Cork, thus “Corktown.” In previous generations, visitors would descend upon the area for two of its now-defunct icons: Michigan Central Station and Tiger Stadium. Later, there was a time when these landmarks stood as a symbol of the neighborhood—rundown, past its prime, and forgotten.
But something happened. Today, the area is garnering a lot of attention as one of Detroit’s hottest neighborhoods. Many of the things putting Detroit on the national cultural map are centered in Corktown, perhaps most famously (1) Slow’s Bar-BQ, which kickstarted the neighborhood’s revitalization. Opened in 2005, Slow’s transformed a strip of derelict storefronts on Michigan Avenue, and its national recognition and popularity has spurred development in the surrounding area. Today, you can see young professionals walking or riding their bikes down Michigan Avenue, and many recently opened local businesses are buzzing with patrons eager to welcome in the neighborhood’s renaissance. Not long ago, Awesome Mitten swung by Corktown to see what all the hype is about. Here’s our report on what to drink, eat, see, and where to stay on your next visit.
Where to Stay:
The tiny inn (2) Honor & Folly, only has two rooms, so be sure to make your reservations early. Situated above Slow’s Bar-BQ, the inn is located at the central hub of the neighborhood. A loft-style apartment jam packed with all sorts of locally made goods and decorations, Honor & Folly is perfect for those who love great design and the urban experience.
Can’t book Honor & Folly? Or maybe you’re looking to save some cash. (3) Hostel Detroit, located in North Corktown, opened in 2011 as a way to provide travelers with a safe, warm bed in a city often maligned as dangerous. In addition to offering a cozy place to stay, the hostel also has an “Ambassador program” which links hostel-goers with locals passionate about the city and eager to show outsiders around.
For those who like to wake up early and get a full breakfast in, stop by (4) Brooklyn Street Local, a diner specializing in foods with local organic ingredients. Weekday breakfast-goers can chow down on a menu that features scones, poutine, banana walnut pancakes, and more. Saturdays and Sundays include an expanded brunch menu until 3 pm in case you can’t peel yourself away from your bed until late.
If you need your coffee fix, (5) Astro Coffee is pouring some of the best in town. Sourced from several of the best roasters in the country, Astro’s coffee lures the hipster crowd from around the city to its Michigan Avenue location. The atmosphere is bright and modern, and the counter is always serving up organic baked goods and sandwiches in case of hunger pangs.
What to Do, Pt. 1:
Sure, Detroit might be the Motor City, but lately the city’s seen a surge in the popularity of another wheeled vehicle: the bicycle. With more and more bike riders populating the streets, it’s become increasingly clear that the new way to get around Motown is on 2 wheels. If you’re looking to get on a bike and ride, look no further than Wheelhouse Detroit, where an average cycle rental costs between $10-15. While located outside of Corktown, Wheelhouse still shows up on this list primarily because of their Corktown tour which showcases the neighborhood’s Victorian houses and notable historic buildings.
Bring your own bike to Detroit? Nothing can derail your planned cruise like a mechanical failure. If your bike breaks, call up (6) Corktown Cycles, who have a Mobile Bike Repair unit you can call to come fix that flat in no time. A new storefront is in the works to better serve local bike lovers.
All that pedaling is sure to work up an appetite, so it’s a good thing (7) Mudgie’s Deli serves up some big sandwiches. Not only are the sandwiches—which use meats roasted in-house—big, they’re award-winning. Named Hour Detroit’s Best Sandwich in 2012 and Metro-Times’ Best Deli in Wayne County 3 years running, you know you’re getting something good when you sit down at Mudgie’s. For those picky eaters out there, they even offer an option to create your own sandwich.
Perhaps you’re not really feeling sandwiches. Maybe you’re thinking something more…French? You’re in luck! (8) Le Petit Zinc is a creperie and café located on Trumbull Ave. and calls to mind a French café. It’s tiny and well lit inside, with a charming ambiance. There is also an outdoor patio for warm days when you wish to imagine yourself whiling away the day at a Parisian café while enjoying their fantastic sandwiches and crepes.
What to Do, Pt. 2:
Not necessarily known as a shopping destination, Corktown does have its share of great little shops. A stop by (9) Hello Records is necessary for anyone who still buys physical copies of music (and shouldn’t that be everybody!?). While its inventory might be smaller than other record stores, that doesn’t mean there aren’t fantastic finds in a multitude of genres, such as rock, jazz, soul, funk, and much more. The staff is more than happy to chat, lending the place a friendly vibe.
Records not your dead medium? Bibliophiles rejoice, for Corktown is home to (10) John K. King Used & Rare Books, Michigan’s largest used & rare books dealer and one of the largest bookstores in the country. The place is so big, it actually consists of two buildings—the regular four-story bookstore and an additional building that holds offices, storage, art books, and a Rare Book Room.
Any sports lovers looking to pick up some Red Wings, Tigers, Lions, or Pistons gear should head over to (11) Detroit Athletic Company. This Detroit institution, situated near old Tiger Stadium, has been putting jerseys on fans’ backs for over 30 years.
Hungry for a great burger and some beer? (12) Nemo’s grills up a mean burger and pours some good brews to go with it. Voted the 3rd best sports bar in America by Sports Illustrated in 2005, Nemo’s still pulls in the sports crowd despite the Tigers’ move to Comerica Park in 2000 by providing shuttle service to Lions, Tigers, and Wings games.
If you’re still looking for a burger without the sports bar crowd, try (13) Mercury Burger & Bar, where they offer 13 different burgers, ranging from The Juicy (regular burger stuffed with American cheese) to the SW Detroit (burger topped with a chorizo slider, jalapeños, münster cheese, tortilla strips, avocado, and zanahorias [pickled spiced carrots] with salsa on the side) to the Eastern Market (black bean burger, lettuce, tomato, onion, münster cheese, avocado, whole grain bun). If you’re not in the mood for a burger, Mercury also offers up sandwiches, salads, and hot dogs for some pretty modest prices.
If it’s fancy artisanal cocktails you desire, (14) The Sugar House sports décor that brings to mind cocktail bars you might see in an episode of Mad Men, with its dark wood, low lights, and various taxidermy scattered along the walls. While you’re taking in the surroundings, the bar is pouring from a rotating menu of craft cocktails sure to impress even the most discerning of drinkers. Of course, if you’re going to be hard to please, have a chat with the knowledgeable bar staff who will be more than happy to come up with a drink that will leave you smiling and your head buzzing.
When you’ve got a thirst only a dive bar can quench, (15) Nancy Whiskey has you covered. In existence since 1902 and home to one of the oldest liquor licenses in the city, this neighborhood spot is a great place to grab a cheap pint and get rowdy with the locals.
After a late night of drinking, you’re going to need something to soak up the alcohol (and perhaps knock a couple more back). I’ve already waxed poetic on the virtues of the greatness that is (16) Green Dot Stables, but return visits have cemented one thing in my mind: this place is amazingly good for surprisingly little. Their slider menu is a thing of beauty, with their creative spins on the tiny sandwich ranging between $2 and $3. Ditto with their drink menu, where you’ll find local brews for the cost of what other places charge you for a Miller Lite.