Entering Detroit via the border crossing from Windsor, Canada, we become a little worried after our conversation with the border guard.
He asks “Your reason for entering the USA?”
“We are going to Detroit for the weekend.”
“Just to check it out. We haven’t been before.”
“Welcome to the murder capital of the world.”
Our turn to say “Really?”
He didn’t answer. Instead he asks “Where are you staying?”
“In an Airbnb in Corktown.” We give him the address.
We don’t have an answer.
Then he asks, “You mean to tell me you are going to stay in CORKTOWN with people you have never met?”
“Uh, yeah!” This is the point where we get worried.
After some paperwork, we are told, “Welcome to the USA.”
Mmmm , not sure if we want to be here now. Corktown looks deserted and downtrodden. Certainly not the kind of neighborhood we are normally drawn to stay in.
After settling into our lovely digs and meeting our down to earth, non-murderous looking hosts, who are full of information about the neighborhood including how up and coming it is around these parts and how much they love where they live, we set out to explore.
It’s quite late so we decide to go to a little pub our host recommended, St.Cee Cee’s. We get to the address, there is an old building but no sign of a pub, or even a sign saying there is a pub. We walk around the back and realize that it is indeed a pub. And, it’s lovely. The service is great and our server is very friendly. The food is delicious. I strongly suggest the honey brussel sprouts. There is a mix up with my main meal. After it is sorted, the server comes over to say how sorry she is for the mix up and hopes we enjoy a round of drinks on the house. Mmmm, Corktown is not so bad at all. Customer service is alive and well in Detroit. Oh yeah, the sign is there, it’s just on the corner of the street instead of near the building where one might expect it to be!
Detroit has seen some bad times having experienced a steady decline in residents since it’s heyday in the 1950’s. The population has dropped by over 60% with the biggest drop between 2000 and 2010 where it plummeted by over 25%. This mass exodus is evident, the desolate area’s of the city common.
An eerie feeling of emptiness pervades as one travels through the different sections of the city. Ghosts of thriving businesses haunt empty buildings, empty sidewalks and empty roads. Beautiful architecturally designed houses, high rises and historic looking buildings, many with windows smashed, others are all boarded up, specters of the grand days of the Automobile industry in the US. Eerie silence and visual overload underline a sense of despair, broken dreams and emptiness.
Unexpectedly, hope and vision peers out from the barren past. Detroit – optimistic, on the up.
The birthplace of Motown does not disappoint as we stumble upon one mans artistic dream.
A shining diamond amongst the desolation is MBAD/ABA. An incredible African bead museum with a vast selection of beads from all over Africa.
It is not just the beads, but the art surrounding the museum that draws one in. The exterior of the museum is an art installation in itself. We meet storyteller Dabls, the artist, visionary, curator and master at turning any object into art. Everywhere you look is creativity. The museum, the adjacent vacant lot covered in art installations, the building next door, art objects in themselves. Dabls’s idea is to keep building. His art includes vast amounts of abandoned technology, broken glass and rusting equipment, but you won’t find any broken dreams. He is hoping to obtain the building next door. The church across the street with three parish members? Why not? Dabls has a love for Detroit that is infectious. His vision has even reached the arts section of the New York Times. Dabls is the epitome of Detroit’s optimism, meeting him has made our day.
On the suggestion of our wonderful Airbnb host, we decide to have dinner at an iconic dive bar, Nancy Whiskey. This bar has 110 years of history, we have to give it a try.
Sitting at the bar, we are two of about eight patrons inside with a few outside on the back patio. After all, it is Sunday night. We ask whether the kitchen is open, the bartender answers that it is. He proceeds to take our order – the food is very cheap on the menu -, he walks into the kitchen and makes the food! Oh dear, what are we in for? Al has fish and chips, I have a vegetarian burger with no bun. We watch as both of our meals come out of a package. It was good, really good! The drinks are cheap and the bar is steeped in history. The bartender, Dan, is happy to share some of that history with us. This bar is a survivor somewhat like Detroit itself. The bar has endured prohibition and a fire in 2009. It has many claims to fame; one being that is was Jimmy Hoffa’s favorite bar. He used to call it his second office!
With two good size dinners, two cocktails, one beer and one whiskey our bill is $31.00. If you haven’t been before, put Nancy Whiskey on your list and be sure to let the bartender know you are a first timer. He will take care of you!
Okay, it turns out that Detroit really does have a high crime rate. Don’t let that or a border guard who needs some tourism lessons, keep you away. It is estimated that between 65-70% of the crime is drug related. It is Flint Michigan, not Detroit that has the highest murder rate!
Detroit has soul and optimism. Detroiters have a love for their city that is infectious. The cheap housing is attracting lots of young people, wanting to make a new life there. The mix is promising. We found everyone very friendly.
At first sight Detroit looks abandoned, scorched, in ashes. But it has vision, real people who are daring to dream. Detroit is full of new beginnings and deserves to be on your bucket list!
Where African Town Begins
6559 Grand River Ave, Detroit, MI
313 898 3007
2644 Harrison St, Detroit. 313 962-4247
ST CeeCee’s Pub. Drink now Repent later
1426 Bagley Ave,Detroit
313 962 2121
Detroit – optimistic, on the up