Gohomo: A Queer Travel Guide to Detroit
Put your hands up for Detroit! A lovely city. No really, it is! Anyone who tells you that Detroit has hit “rock bottom” hasn’t been paying attention. Despite its troubled past, the city has always been great. And a lot has changed since it famously filed for bankruptcy. Art (both inside and on the streets) abounds, and there’s a burgeoning restaurant scene, a legendary music history, stunning architecture, and lots of fascinating watering holes, all making it an adventurous, nearby, and affordable weekend destination.
// INSIDE SCOOP
Up is down and down is up
While Detroit belongs to our neighbours to the south, geographically it’s north of the Canadian border. Keep this in mind when navigating the streets.
Crossing the border
If you’re driving to Detroit, chances are you will cross over Windsor’s Ambassador Bridge or through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. The U.S. border guards are not fucking around. They are more often than not rather humourless, very serious, and ask lots of questions. Have your passports ready. Be prepared to be taken in for secondary inspection. And remember they can also check your phones, so put the locks on before crossing the border, honey.
Detroit’s unique street pattern
After Detroit burned to the ground in 1805, city planners took the opportunity to start from scratch. The city’s spokelike street pattern was devised by good ol’ Augustus Brevoort Woodward, a judge and the namesake of the city’s main thoroughfare, Woodward Avenue (akin to Toronto’s Yonge Street). From the city’s starting point at Campus Martius, streets jut out from every angle, creating a fun but hard-to-navigate pattern.
Getting around the Motor City
Detroit is not a walkable city by any stretch. (It IS the Motor City after all.) Sites are spread out, and some areas still aren’t safe enough to walk around, especially at night. While new bike lanes and transit lines have been added, it’s not enough for visitors to easily transfer around the city. And taxis here aren’t easy to flag down. We recommend having a car at your disposal, and Uber is very reliable.
Where to stay
Hotels are plentiful downtown (including some fancy new additions like Aloft, the hipstery Trumbull and Porter, and the stunning former firehouse, Detroit Foundation Hotel). There are also eclectic Airbnbs in Corktown, Midtown, and Hamtramck.
Detroit has a long history of violence, hence its old moniker: Murder City. Things have changed. The streets, especially downtown, are full of people once again (which might not seem like a big deal to us, but for decades Detroit was not a place you could walk around). Like any major city with economic disparity, crime is still a reality. Just use your head and stay safe, okay?
// THE CHECKLIST (must-sees/must-dos)
When visiting Detroit, these are our essentials. Also, remember: Detroit is old school, with lots of places closed on Sundays. Plan your itinerary accordingly.
There is nowhere better to spend a Saturday afternoon than one of America’s oldest year-round markets. Vendors sell produce, baked goods, and T-shirts. There are two silk-screen workshops, Signal-Return and Salt & Cedar. You can stock up on city merch at the Detroit Mercantile Company. And just across the street, on Gratiot, a strip has popped up with vintage, vinyl, coffee, and art.
One of the first areas to experience a recent resurgence, Corktown is where you’ll find Astro Café, Sugar House cocktail bar, Mercury Burger & Bar, and Eldorado, a funky little vintage shop. It’s also home to the crown jewel of abandoned Detroit, the marvelous Michigan Central Station.
The Heidelberg Project, the creation of artist Tyree Guyton in 1986, is probably the city’s most famous piece of art. The constantly evolving neighbourhood of houses-turned-art experienced a rash of arson fires a few years ago, but the area is still a sight to behold. For a less touristy experience, we recommend the grounds of the MBAD African Bead Museum. The museum itself is a worthy collection of hundreds-of-years-old beads from all over the African continent, but behind the museum is Olayami Dabls’s fascinating outdoor art exhibit, Iron Teaching Rocks How to Rust. Don’t miss this! While there are murals all over the city, those of the Cass Corridor and Murals in the Market in the aforementioned Eastern Market are some of the city’s best.
Detroit benefited from a boom during a great time in America’s architectural history. Here you will find some of the most ornate skyscrapers in the country, many of which you can explore. Our favourites: the vibrant Guardian Building, with its Art Deco and Native American influences; and Albert Kahn’s wondrous masterpiece, the Fisher Building, dubbed “Detroit’s largest art object,” for good reason.
Detroit Institute of Art
Who knew one of America’s most important collections of art was in Detroit. Diego Rivera’s 360-degree fresco, the Detroit Industry Murals, is worth the price of admission alone.
From Motown to rap, house to indie rock, Detroit’s musical legacy spans the genres. Baker’s Keyboard is, purportedly, the oldest jazz club in the world (still open and still in its original location). Inside feels like you’ve stepped back in time, and the soul food is pretty delish. The Motown Museum, the house turned recording studio, gives you a glimpse into the making of some of Motown’s biggest hits – with plenty of singing during the tour. And Movement is Detroit’s mega electronic music festival every May.
John K. King Books
We know what you’re thinking: a bookstore is a must-do? This one is! Four floors filled to the brim with a fascinating collection of used and rare books. If you’re the bookish type, spend a few hours roaming the aisles.
A beautiful island park, home to a historic aquarium, conservatory, beaches, and picnics.
// WINE AND DINE
// Gay bars
Unlike Toronto, Detroit doesn’t have a centralized gay neighbourhood. So nighttime revelling will mean sticking to one location, having a DD (and a car), or Uberring around town.
This is Detroit’s oldest gay bar, dating to the 1950s. Inside, you’d never know it. The place is rammed every weekend and a favourite of the city’s Black queers. The dance floor is wild and the drinks are strong.
Madonna used to go to this long-running dance club in the 1970s. What else do you need to know?
While its popularity has been waning, on the right night this go-go boy bar can be a sleazy good time. In Michigan, laws demand that strippers keep their underwear on if alcohol is served on the premises. So while you can’t see peen, you can at least grab a vodka soda.
This raunchy queer underground party happens semi-monthly at the Eagle of Detroit.
This is Detroit’s Black lesbian bar. We’ve only been here once, but it was good times!
In the 12 Mile suburb of Royal Oak, Pronto is a block-long collection of gay establishments: a restaurant, a gift shop, and a bar. The bar is Detroit’s answer to Woody’s, with lots of (mostly white) gay boys standing around chatting and flirting.
Don’t worry: Detroit’s gay sports bar also hosts Drag Race viewing nights and dance parties on the weekend.
Not ready to go home yet? Head to this strange little retro bar that’s open real late.
Detroit hosts three Pride events each summer. The biggest, Motor City Pride, is held in Hart Plaza in June. Ferndale, just outside the city limits at 9 Mile, hosts its own Pride, in June. And Hotter Than July is the city’s week-long Black LGBT Pride celebration – in July, natch.
// Other bars
Have to patronize some straight friends? These places oughta do the trick.
The former speakeasy was opened to only cops and lawyers back in the day. Inside it brims with memorabilia from its storied past, with live music crammed into its already tight space.
A cool, throwback, 1970s blues bar. Very Detroit.
Old-school bowling and pizza. Okay, fine!
Head to this black-lit bar/installation to take your Insta pic and get out.
A white-kid bar near the Wayne State campus. Ryan Gosling loves it apparently.
Girl’s gotta eat.
Looking for the perfect hangover breakfast? Go here for chicken and waffles.
Don’t listen to anyone who tells you to go to Slows for barbecue. This is the real deal. Plus, there’s amazing karaoke all afternoon on the weekends. It’s in Eastern Market and you’ll already be there!
Indicative of the “new Detroit,” this sleek, stylish resto serves Thai cuisine and some nice cocktails.
A favourite for their tiny burgers, from classic to the unusual (kimchi and peanut butter, anyone?), and house-made moonshine.
A trendy eatery in Corktown, with home-style brunch and dinner menus, located in an old loan office (thus the name).
Pop in for a slice at this long-loved pizza place in the Eastern Market.
// GRINDR/SCRUFF RATING
While we don’t have a ton of experience on the apps in Detroit, we can say this: because the city is so sprawling, you’ll be getting messages, woofs, and fire signs from guys all over the Detroit area. Given the city’s proximity to Windsor, you’re also gonna see a lot of Canadian and American flag emojis, indicating what side of the wall… er, border, guys are on. This being said, hooking up will be a lot easier if you have a car or a rental. We don’t recommend taking an Uber or Lyft to an unknown place far from where you’re staying. If you’re going to venture out on your own, send a pin drop to a friend in case!