Lauren Hoffman gives some travel recommendations if you are wanting a Detroit “staycation.”
In a mostly futile effort to infuse novelty into a year in which almost every day has looked the same, I’ve taken to exploring Detroit as if it is a city I am visiting. And since this has escalated into an increasingly elaborate “staycation,” I thought I’d share a bit about how you might get your travel fix in – all while operating within CDC and state health guidelines, and all within the city of Detroit. Think of this like a New York Times “36 Hours In” article, but adapted to the surreal dystopian present in which we all suddenly live.
A brief disclaimer on my risk tolerance: I am in my twenties, healthy and without comorbidities, living alone and working from home, and thus am not exposed to others who are at high risk of carrying COVID. I have not had COVID and do not, to my knowledge, have antibodies against it. That said, I’m pretty cautious: I am in a pod with my partner, who also lives alone. We don’t go inside friends’ homes or, really, anywhere indoors. We go grocery shopping or pop into restaurants to take out food, always with masks. We don’t eat at restaurants indoors or outdoors, ever. Other than the occasional Lyft (masks on, all windows open), we drive everywhere. All of this is to say: this article is based on what I am comfortable with, but please don’t take my personal choices as medically sound recommendations! They are only travel recommendations – and if you take them, please do so calibrated for your own risk profile. Alright, ready? First things first:
Book yourself an escapist evening (or two) somewhere that feels very far from home.
For this, I recommend the Shinola Hotel. The boutique hotel, curated by the familiar lifestyle brand, is even more elegant than its watches. The property is immaculate, and they are applying the same level of detail orientation to their COVID precautions (temperature check at the entrance, mandatory mask compliance among their staff and in all public spaces, wellness kits featuring gloves, a mask, Emergen-C and a sanitizing wipe on every nightstand, gym temporarily closed) as they did to the finishes. Those finishes are what make the hotel so special – from the art on the walls to the inlaid flooring patterns and midcentury accents to the semi-private libraries outside some of the suites, the hotel is a fully immersive exercise in class. My favorite detail, and perhaps the most unique, is that in some rooms you can call the front desk and have them send up and set up a Shinola record turntable – there’s a well-stocked record library in the lobby from which you can borrow classic jazz and recent releases alike (Rooms starting at $191/night right now).
Bring along your favorite things
Pack anything but your work. Leave your laptop at home, if possible. Save the space for books and magazines – extra points for bringing a good novel. Add in: a bottle of wine, snacks, bubbles for the bubblebath you can and should take in the massive marble bathtubs in some suites. If you’re feeling virtuous, pack your sneakers and running gear – the Riverwalk, Dequindre Cut, and Eastern Market are all near enough for a brisk and scenic run, if that’s what you’re into, or you can log into a live virtual Citizen Yoga class from the comfort of your room.
Pop over to the seasonal pop up shops
Curated by the real estate developers and ground floor gurus at Bedrock, a smattering of pop up shops can be found around downtown, some of which will stick around through March. Check out the Playground Detroit art gallery pop up on Farmer Street (the original gallery sits on the east side of the city), where a selection of prints from the artists they represent are on display, along with quirky and colorful design items and gifts.
Order extra special take out
Detroit’s exploding food scene has had a tough year, but the resourceful, talented chefs behind old and new favorites continue to deliver – now curbside or to your home. I’ve had a lot of takeout in the last few months, and can therefore vouch for some of the best plating and portioning in the city. Flowers of Vietnam’s Fried Tofu comes with a pile of tomatoes and crispy onions that you cannot make at home, on a bed of soft black rice. Ima’s Forest Udon and rice bowls travel surprisingly well, as do Poke Poke’s super fresh, mix and match-able bowls. Yum Village will deliver abundant portions of all their vegan offerings: maafe with jollof rice, ginger curry chickpeas, plantains, brussels sprouts, and African cheesy bread.
An obvious disclaimer: I eat dairy out. For those who only eat from heckshered restaurants, you can grab carryout on your way downtown or pack a picnic to enjoy in your hotel room. If you’re ok with strictly vegan or vegetarian restaurants, I highly recommend (respectively) Detroit Vegan Soul and Seva.
Or, grab an Igloo if you’re up to it
Depending on your risk tolerance, book an outdoor pod with the members of your pod. San Morello, on the ground floor of the Shinola hotel, has tiny greenhouses and open seating with patio heaters set up to book for your party – their service is A+ as ever, now just behind masks. The Tartufo pizza bianca, Sheep’s Milk Ricotta with hot honey and garlic and soft, fresh bread, and Mushroom Risotto will help you stay warm (They also have very nice salads, but when in Sicily…).
Or book yourself a private dining suite!
The Foundation Hotel and their lobby level restaurant, The Apparatus Room, have brilliantly converted suites to bookable private dining rooms for you and your pod. For $50 you can rent a thoroughly sanitized room for your pod and call down to have food and drinks delivered right to your door. The Roasted Carrot Hummus with dates, pistachios, and fresh sourdough bread is spicy and savory, and the Pumpkin and Parmesan Risotto -buttery, lightly acidic, and with unbelievably creamy pieces of pumpkin- cannot be missed. It’s hard to say which is better: the consistently excellent food or the luxuriousness and sense of being truly out.
Pretend you’re in the Paris of… Europe with the best coffee and pastries in town
Coffee culture in Detroit has exploded in the last few years, and a few new-ish bakeries are rounding out the options that would make even a francophilic snob go back for seconds. Grab a coffee at Detroit’s outpost of the Grand Rapid’s homegrown favorite, Madcap (the knowledgeable baristas can talk you through the pros and cons of each globally sourced bean). Or venture up to Milwaukee Caffe in the Milwaukee Junction neighborhood, a tiny walk-up espresso counter that nods to a neighborhood joint in Italy. For pastries (and a very decent cappuccino), try Cannelle by Matt Kino – also a great place to pick up an almost-too-beautiful-to-eat tart. And for the absolute, hands down, I’ve-tried-them-all-and-it-cannot-be-beaten best almond croissant in the state, go to Ochre Bakery. The minimalistically-designed bakery also sells excellent breads, thick slices of perfectly soft, not too sweet cake, and some groceries. While you’re there, you can grab a coffee from the Astro roastery next door and explore the Grand River Creative Corridor District, with its visually distinct Quonset huts and many murals – on billboards, buildings, and overpass bridges.
Drop by the DIA
If you like your art indoors, consider this your reminder that we have a national treasure in our backyards. You need to reserve tickets and a time slot in advance, because the museum is strictly limiting occupancy. The mask requirement, temperature scan on the way in, and cavernous rooms make you feel quite safe. One can go to the DIA hundreds of times and still find new things on each visit, but now is an especially good time to stop by: the cars on display in the Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City 1950-2020 will impress and transport even those – like myself – who don’t know a thing about cars (through June 27, 2021).
Whether you choose to do any or many of these activities, the real takeaway from my very enjoyable weekend of “immersive research” was a reminder that this city is full of small wonders, and that half the fun of travel is the planning. It may only take you twenty minutes to get downtown, but be sure to book ahead: we can all use something to look forward to these days, and the anticipation of an adventure – even a little, local one – makes it all the sweeter.