10 Things To Like About Detroit Now

Detroit is like an empty lot down the street that’s sat vacant for years. Some people in the neighborhood doubt it will ever be put to good use. Then one day, you notice that the rubble is being carted away, and there are actually some green shoots popping up from the newly cleared ground. Somebody, it seems, thinks they can make something of it.

That’s what’s happening with the Motor City these days. Despite wrenching financial problems (it’s this close to Chapter 9 bankruptcy), deteriorating city services and endless political wrangling over its future, the empty lot is seeing life.

Entrepreneurs, some civic minded, others out to make a buck, are snapping up long abandoned properties and sprucing them up. The ground swell of activity is attracting younger residents and empty nesters to the downtown neighborhood. National brand names are starting to appear next to local businesses, with more on the way.If you aren’t familiar with the city, you not might think it’s very full, and that’s because it isn’t. Detroit is sized for 2 million, and only about 670,000 live there now. You don’t find the critical mass of neighborhoods and pedestrians in New York or Chicago or parts of New Orleans.

Detroit has also big, wide avenues built for the kind of traffic that’s only seen after Tiger games let out, or there’s a festival downtown. Don’t let that daunt you: there’s plenty going on, it’s just that you’ll have lots of space around you as you’re exploring.

Here are 10 things to love about Detroit now.

1) and 2) Eat a crepe, munch a cookie. One of the most charming aspects of Detroit’s revival is that it has been led by crepes. You’ll find crepe places in main parts of the city, but the best known is Good Girls Go To Paris, a few steps from the Detroit Institute of Arts on East Kirby in Midtown. Get there early for a good seat and be prepared to share a table. The 50 varieties of crepes start at just $7, and can easily be shared. The “O” (feta, spinach, kalamata olives and Greek dressing) is ideal for salad lovers.

Skip a dessert crepe (although they’re delicious) and head nearby to Avalon International Breads. Avalon has grown from its original storefront in Detroit’s tough Cass Corridor to a thriving company whose breads and cookies are found in shops and restaurants all over the Detroit area. Its cafe is the centerpiece of an “agri-urban” movement it’s trying to foster, by focusing on local ingredients in a city environment. Try a Dequindre Cut trail mix cookie, chock full of cranberries, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, which has been known to double as a breakfast on early plane flights.

3) Cocktails in Corktown. The Corktown neighborhood, west of downtown, is the oldest in the city. It boasts cobblestone streets and some of the hippest renovated housing. There’s also been a flurry of new restaurants and bars, some of which have had various degrees of luck in staying open. One that’s enduring is The Sugar House, a 1920s-style craft cocktail bar on Michigan Avenue.

Detroit played a major role in prohibition. Stories tell of a legion of bootleggers running cases of whiskey across the Detroit River from Windsor, Ontario, late at night, and landing on the city shores to be loaded into unmarked trucks. The Sugar House, like other bars here, brings that era back to mind. There’s punch service, for groups of three or four, and plenty of vividly named drinks. It’s not a big place, and when seats aren’t available, you’ll have to wait to get in, so time your visit.

4) Eye-catching colors. Southwest Detroit, home to the city’s growing Latino population, has undergone a metamorphosis in just a few years. Once, it was only a few streets, with tourist-focused Mexican restaurants. Now, Southwest Detroit, which some people call Mexicantown, sprawls along West Vernor Highway. There are shops, bakeries, taquerias and restaurants, and most notably, a series of murals.

The eyes of Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera gaze out at passersby on the Bagley Street pedestrian bridge. Kahlo and Rivera lived in Detroit while he was painting his own murals inside the art institute, long a favorite tourist attraction. Nearby sits The Cornfield, on a wall at Ste. Anne and Bagley Streets, with its vivid imagery of Mexican farmers. There are enough murals to take an afternoon of art gazing. The murals are often being touched up, so feel free to chat with the painters while they are doing repairs.

5) Melting pot. Eastern Market, on Detroit’s near east side, is the oldest continuously operating public market in the United States. Every week, up to 40,000 people trek here for produce that is trucked in from Michigan, Ohio and Ontario. One of its biggest days of the year comes up May 19, when the annual flower market takes place. That’s when local gardeners lug home the flats they’ll plant for summer color.

Eastern Market underwent a renovation over the past few years, and its customers are a lively mix of Detroit residents – black, white, Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern. There’s a wholesale market that supplies many area restaurants and produce shops, and permanent stores and restaurants around the market’s perimeter. One favorite shop is the Rocky Peanut Company, which has been at the market for 110 years. You’ll find dried fruits, nuts, chocolate covered goodies and seasonal specialties.

6) Jump on a bike.
You might not think of the Motor City as a good cycling city. But those big wide (and often empty) streets are ideal for bicycling, and Wheelhouse Detroit has capitalized on that to offer two-wheeled tours of the city. From now until October, Wheelhouse offers trips every weekend and sometimes during the week. Its guides will take you to spots like Eastern Market, Belle Isle, the island park designed by the creator of Central Park in New York and to Hamtramck, the Polish enclave surrounded by the city.

There are architecture focused rides, a tour that looks at the city’s automotive heritage, visits to historic neighborhoods and more. Wheelhouse offers rentals of city style bikes, touring bikes, trek bikes, tandem bikes, and it rents child carriers as well. The company can create tours for groups and also can custom design a tour if your interests fall outside its regular categories.

7) Put a lid on it. There’s finally been some hustle and bustle in Detroit’s downtown retail district after a long spell in which stores stood empty. One place has stuck it out since 1893, however. Henry the Hatter is Detroit’s pre-eminent shop for men’s hats. Every man of distinction in the city has bought a hat at Henry’s. It has fedoras, caps, Borsalinos, straw hats, fishing hats. And given how many stylishly dressed men there are in the city, that’s a lot of hats.

Henry’s is a great place to hear conversations about everything that happens in the city, from the Detroit Tigers to Mayor Dave Bing (a hat wearer) to the latest place to eat. Given the vast selection, you’ll probably walk out with more than one chapeau. Because let’s face it, a man needs a hat.

8) Music and prayer. Detroit’s black churches have held the city together in its toughest times and one of the most important is the Greater Grace Temple on the city’s northwest side. Far from just a church, Greater Grace is the centerpiece of the $36 million City of David, a 19-acre complex that includes a conference center, media production facilities and a school. The church itself seats 4,000, serving a congregation of nearly 6,000.

There are two services each Sunday (one in the summer), providing an opportunity to meet Detroiters, listen to gospel music and hear a sermon by its eloquent senior pastor, Bishop Charles H. Ellis. Dress is business casual, but a number of women churchgoers use services as an opportunity to wear their newest hats. Many are purchased from local milliner Luke Song, the maker of Aretha Franklin’s inaugural chapeau.

9) The past and future. Detroiters are super sensitive about ruin porn. That’s the practice of photographing crumbling buildings, which some artists have turned into a livelihood. To be honest, Detroit offers plenty of opportunities to see the remains of its past, and it won’t overcome that hurdle until more renovation has taken place. But there’s one building in town where everyone wants to pose. It’s Michigan Central, the empty shell of the railroad station and office tower that was the line’s headquarters. Michigan Central, once the tallest railroad station building in the world, closed in 1988.

For years, the building (just off Michigan Avenue west of downtown) sat as a hulking reminder of Detroit’s past, its windows broken, its interior trashed. Threatened with demolition, the building was finally cleaned up in 2011. Now, there is active discussion about how it could be reused and a preservation society is seeking ideas. In the meantime, the building has become the city’s most famous backdrop and Roosevelt Park out front is a popular meeting spot. Realtors have even begun advertising apartments with a view of Michigan Central.

10) Batter up. Unless you hate baseball, there’s no excuse to visit Detroit and fail to see a baseball game. Given that Detroit made it to the World Series last year, you might think tickets would command steep prices. But deals abound, especially until the weather reliably warms up this summer. The Tigers are offering upper level box seats in May for $13, half the normal price.

Those cheap seats provide an opportunity to get the most out of a visit to Comerica Park. Arrive before game time, and stroll the concourse, which has a carousel and a Ferris wheel. Visit the statue of Ernie Harwell, the legendary broadcaster. There’s also a booth behind Section 134 on the third base side where the Tigers sell authentic souvenirs, such as uniform jerseys, autographed balls and even bases.

[Photo credits: Austin Stowe and Micheline Maynard]

Why Is Marriott Sponsoring A Jackie Robinson Movie?

“Does Marriott have a minority problem?”

There’s an interesting story over at Marketplace.org about a new movie coming out about Jackie Robinson and its corporate sponsor. Marriott, the worldwide hotel chain, is partnering up with Warner Brothers, the producers of “42,” to be the official hotel sponsor for the film.

But why? In a film about baseball that took place far before Marriott was a household name, why would a hotel need to sponsor a movie? Marketplace’s host, Kai Ryssdal and Wesley Morris, a film critic at Grantland.com lob a few theories back and forth during this interview, but the only conclusion they can resolve is that the move targets attention from minorities. If that’s the case, it’ll be interesting to see what they sponsor next.

The Southern Road: Ty Cobb Lives On

I have been a fan of the Detroit Tigers since I was old enough to hold one of the big, fat, orange pencils that they used to sell at Tiger Stadium. Through the years, I’ve heard plenty about Ty Cobb, the famous, supposedly mean slugger who set records that still stand. Since his nickname was “the Georgia Peach,” I knew he was from Georgia.

So, when I spotted a sign for Royston, Georgia, on Interstate 85 on the way from Greenville, South Carolina, to Chattanooga, of course I had to stop and find the Ty Cobb Museum. Along the way, I saw other signs for the Ty Cobb Healthcare System, which I thought was amusing, and which I soon learned is one of Cobb’s greatest legacies outside baseball.

Cobb wasn’t lucky in love, and two of his three sons died young. Left somewhat adrift, Cobb donated $100,000 to build a hospital in Royston, and he donated almost $1 million in today’s dollars to set up a scholarship fund for Georgia youngsters.

The Ty Cobb Museum is housed in a clinic that is part of the medical system. The gift shop, which sells the Ty Cobble-head and some snazzy fleece tops, is also the clinic office. Once you pay $5, you can enter the museum where there’s a film, and exhibits that include Cobb’s Detroit Tigers uniform, and his spikes, which he supposedly turned on every opposing baseman.

It’s a tiny memorial to someone who’s still talked about in baseball, a century after he played. But the bigger legacy is obviously in what he did for Royston.

These US Hotels Are Helping Guests Celebrate America’s National Pastime With Baseball-Themed Packages

As the weather gets warmer, Americans are getting ready to enjoy their favorite national pastime: baseball. To help bring your love of the game with you on your travels, these hotels around the United States are offering baseball-themed packages.

The Ritz-Carlton, Denver
Denver, Colorado

The Ritz-Carlton, Denver is helping guests root for the Rockies in style. Their “Sports” package includes two tickets to a Colorado Rockies’ game at Coors Field, a $50 credit to the hotel’s signature restaurant, Elways Downtown, a keepsake gift upon arrival and overnight valet parking.

Rates begin at $369 per night during the weekends for a Deluxe Room. Package valid until December 31, 2012. Call 303-312-3800 to book.The Cheshire
St. Louis, Missouri

To help Cardinals fans enjoy the game while traveling, the Cheshire is featuring a special package. Guests will get Cardinals’ tickets in outfield box seats, a complimentary upgrade to a superior king room and two complimentary drinks at one of the onsite restaurants or bars.

Package rates begin at $259 per night plus tax, and must be booked at least 14 days in advance. Call 314-647-7300 to book.

Mandarin Oriental, Miami
Miami, Florida

Marlin fans will have the chance to experience the team’s brand new Marlins Park, while also staying in world-class accommodations with the Mandarin Oriental, Miami‘s “I Love Marlins” package. The deal includes two nights accommodation in a luxury suite, a chauffeured transfer to and from Marlins Park, two Marlins baseball jerseys and caps and two spa treatments.

Package rates start at $2,450, based on double occupancy. Valid during home games from April to September, 2012. Call 305-913-8383 to book.

The George, a Kimpton Hotel
Washington, D.C.

If you’re a Washington Nationals fan, you’ll love the “Grand Slam” package being offered by The George, a Kimpton Hotel. Guests who opt for the deal will receive two tickets to a Washington Nationals’ game, transportation to the game and valet parking.

Package rates begin at $179 per night through October 3, 2012. Bookings must be made at least 48 hours in advance. Seats are located on the first baseline, section 109, row RR and seats between 23-26. Call 202-347-4200 and say promo code GSLAM to book.

The US Grant, a Luxury Collection Hotel
San Diego, California

The US Grant, which is conveniently located a few blocks from Petco Park, is helping San Diego Padres fans cheer on their favorite team. The hotel’s “Baseball and Brews” package includes accommodations, two Padres’ tickets with seats located behind home plate, a 6-pack amenity of Mission Brew Blonde Ale and complimentary overnight parking.

Package rates start at $269 per night. Reservations must be made five days in advance, with the package being valid through October 6, 2012. Call 866-716-8136 and use promo code LAPKG1 to book.

Hotel Commonwealth
Boston, Massachusetts

Located near Fenway Park, which is turning 100 this year, Hotel Commonwealth is celebrating baseball season with two themed packages this summer. First there is the “100th Anniversary” package, which includes accommodations for two in a Fenway Room overlooking Fenway Park, two tickets to the official 50-minute historic Fenway Park Tour, and a welcome basket of Baby Ruth candy bars, old-fashioned glass coke bottles, boxes of Cracker Jacks and stacks of baseball cards. For those who want a more upscale experience, there is the “Luxury 100th Anniversary” package. This promotion gives guests all of the above-mentioned amenities, although it includes an upgrade to the Baseball Suite, a luxurious space with 30s and 40s baseball decor. This promotion also includes a copy of “Fenway Park: 100 Years,” the Fenway Park 100th anniversary official definitive coffee table book. The book includes 256 pages of history and insight, with a forward by Stephen King and remembrances by Ben Affleck, Paul McCartney, Carlton Fisk, James Taylor, Conan O’Brien, Peter Gammons, Carl Yastrzemski and more.

Package rates start at $339 per night and $599 per night, respectively, and are available during the Boston Red Sox season from April to October, 2012. Call 617-933-5000 to book.

Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort and Golf Club
St. Petersburg, Florida

The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort and Golf Club is helping baseball fans enjoy their passion while traveling, with their “Grand Slam Baseball Getaway.” The promotion includes round-trip transportation to Tropicana Field, two souvenir seat cushions, a Spectator Survival Kit with a tote bag filled with classic baseball snacks and breakfast for two.

Package rates start at $209 per night, and are valid until September 26, 2012. Call 800-228-9290 and use promo code SPE to book.

Affinia Hotels
New York, NY

Baseball addicts will love staying at the Affinia Manhattan, the Affinia Shelburne, the Affinia Gardens, the Affinia Dumont and the Affinia 50 this sports season. Their New York properties are each offering a “For The Love Of The Game” package, which includes a complimentary room upgrade, late check-out, the choice of a 6-pack of beer or bottle of wine and a NYC Metrocard to help guests easily get to Yankee Stadium or Citi Field.

Package rates start at $253 per night. Call 866-246-2203 and use promo code GAMES to book.

Nittany Lion Inn
State College, Pennsylvania

To help guests celebrate America’s favorite pastime in Happy Valley, the Nittany Lion Inn is offering a “Home Run” package. Guests will receive overnight accommodations, a breakfast buffet for two, two tickets to a State College Spikes’ home game and complimentary transportation to Medlar Field. No need to worry about the game being rained out, as the tickets are good for any home game during the season.

Package rates start at $155 per night, including taxes and gratuities. Valid for home games from July 1 to September 2, 2012. Click here and use promo code VILSPORT to book.

A Short Break From The Road In Oklahoma City

Seeing the recovery underway in Joplin, Missouri was an end point to a chapter of my trip. I’d done the Great Lakes, the East Coast, the South and, now, the Midwest. As I drove out of Missouri, the great expanse of the West loomed, a monstrous stretch of America to cover in the less than two weeks that remained in my trip.

I wasn’t looking forward to it. After eight weeks in the car, on the road, sleeping on floors, in tents, in anonymous hotel rooms and cozy bed and breakfasts, I could feel the end of the trip creeping closer, my end goal of Los Angeles in sight, if more than 2,000 miles away by the sinuous route I’d plotted. But first, I’d spend the night in Oklahoma City.

Traveling the American Road – Oklahoma City Baseball

After passing through Tulsa, with a quick stop for lunch at the Dilly Deli and coffee at DoubleShot, it was on to Oklahoma City. Like Atlanta, it’s a place much changed since the ’90s, when Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people with a truck bomb at the Murrah Federal Building. A beautiful and contemplative memorial to the dead now marks the site, its reflecting pool shimmering in the scorching August heat.

In the sixteen years since the attack, the downtown neighborhood of Bricktown has developed into the city’s preeminent nightlife and entertainment district. Anchoring it, at least for someone fascinated by baseball as a cultural touchstone, is RedHawks Field at Bricktown, the home of the Houston Astro’s AAA affiliate club. I was determined to see a game despite the triple-digit heat and bought a $15 ticket that would park me right behind the home team’s on-deck circle. I was in the second row.

I didn’t know it at the time, but it would turn out to be the last ballgame of the trip. There was too much road to cover, too much to see in Texas and New Mexico and the vast spaces of the American Southwest. It was a bittersweet game, this last minor league battle, a sign that my trip would soon be over, even if I had thousands of miles yet to go.