Detroit Hustle: The Best Bars and Restaurants in Motor City

Grey Ghost is one of the best bars and restaurants in Detroit
Grey Ghost / Photo by Samantha Denman

Modern-day Detroit would confound the Iroquois who originally inhabited the land, as well as the French fur traders who arrived in 1701. Once driven by automotive prosperity, the city has endured hard times from deindustrialization and political miscalculation.

But over the last decade, low rents have lured chefs, artists and innovators of all kinds, including urban farmers and winemakers, whose venues have sprouted across neighborhoods. Here’s where to find fresh ideas in Motor City. 

Detroit Vineyards is one of the best bars and restaurants in Motor City
Photo by Detroit Vineyards

City Sips

Grey Ghost excites with fashionable cocktails, Michigan beers and a tightly edited wine list. Downtown, owners of House of Pure Vin assemble Champagnes and still wines with the aid of Claudia Tyagi, MS. Sample flights at Vertical Detroit, a wine bar, restaurant and retail shop in historic Paradise Valley. Urban winery Detroit Vineyards produces local wine and mead out of an old Stroh’s Ice Cream factory. Grapes are sourced statewide and also from small plots across the city. Urban vineyards reclaim empty lots and supply neighborhoods with income. Indeed, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac established a vineyard in Detroit in 1702.

Chartreuse is one of the best bars and restaurants in Detroit
Photo by Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails

The namesake liqueur may get top billing at Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails, but you’ll also find plenty of organic and biodynamic wines from around the world plus offerings from Detroit-area distilleries. At Evening Bar in the boutique, faux-vintage Shinola Hotel, staff whip up sexy cocktails, pour American wines and serve small plates made by Andrew Carmellini.

Detroit-Style Dining

The city has developed its own distinct style of cuisine: New American combined with various immigrant influences. It leans on local ingredients matched with serious wine lists.

Kate Williams, the chef behind Lady of the House, nabbed numerous accolades soon after she opened this seasonal American restaurant. Swing by for dinner and tuck into juniper lamb sausage and a glass of Michigan Pinot Grigio by the crackling fire.

Lady of the House is one of the best bars and restaurants in Detroit
Lady of the House / Exterior Photo by Jenna Belevender, Interior Photo by Michelle Chris Gerard

Set inside the Detroit Foundation Hotel, The Apparatus Room reconceives American classics with heartland ingredients. Find warm house-baked heritage wheat bread slathered with pimento cheese, farm chicken basted in Jura wine sauce and a broad wine list. Marrow, a hybrid butcher shop/ restaurant, showcases inspiration from the founder’s childhood in Singapore alongside wines from Europe and California. At SheWolf, Anthony Lombardo leads diners on an Italian sojourn, highlighting specialties from Piedmont to Campania. After patrons tackle the Italian-heavy bottle list, they can explore what may be the city’s best vermouth collection. Selden Standard looks to Michigan suppliers for ingredients like factory-cultivated mushrooms, flour for its breads and pasta, and fruit for shrubs used in cocktails.

Winding Through Wine Country

Though most of the quality wine grapes grow near the shores of Lake Michigan and about four hours north of Detroit by car, opportunities to taste local juice are scattered around the outskirts of the city. In Ray, 20 minutes north of Detroit, Youngblood Vineyard produces wine from more than 20,000 vines of 100% estate-grown fruit with a focus on cold-hardy hybrids like Marquette and Frontenac Blanc. Though a retail shop, Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room staff members line up tasting flights curated from what may be the largest selection of state wines and cider available in one place. For a day amid vines, drive toward Jackson to pick up the Pioneer Wine Trail. The winery to find: Chateau Aeronautique Winery, owned by a Delta Airlines pilot.

Youngblood Vineyard is one of the best places to go in Detroit
Photos by Youngblood Vineyard

Going Green

Detroit is awash in cyclist-friendly green space. Rent from bike-share program MoGo. For a glimpse of America’s urban future, breeze over to Eastern Market, where you can taste local produce while supporting the nonprofits mission of access to nutritious foods and incubating local business. Next, pedal to Dequindre Cut Freight Yard, where locals morphed a stretch of derelict rail line into a pleasant 1.65-mile path bedecked with colorful graffiti and murals.

Dequindre is one of the best places to go in Detroit
Dequindre Cut Freight Yard / Photo by Nick Hagen

During the summer, DJs, retail shops and artists operate out of a stack of shipping containers called the Hub. Wrap up a cycling tour at Lincoln Street Art Park, another illustration of how local artists convert vacant spaces into creative installations. 

Published on February 17, 2020
Topics: Travel