Where to Get Quirky in Detroit

by  Connie Hum | Aug 5, 2015
Z Garage
Z Garage

Detroit is no stranger to economic downturns, but in true Motor City spirit, Detroit never took it lying down -- and it has no plan to start now. If anything, these challenges have only provided a fertile landscape for artists and other creatives to make a splash in Michigan’s most populous city. The end result is something inspiringly inventive, truly unique, and disarmingly unorthodox. Here's where to go for a quirky dose of art, history, and -- of course -- food and drink in Detroit.

For Art:
Only in Detroit would you have a drive-through art gallery. The concept at the Z Garage is changing the face of urban parking lots, with its vibrant, colorful murals in the heart of downtown Detroit. The entire parking lot -- including the entryways, lobbies, and elevator banks -- are filled with stunning street art from 27 international graffiti artists. Each level has its own unique look and feel, providing the perfect backdrop for an impromptu photo shoot. The adjacent alleyway, coined “The Belt,” features a rotating series of pop-up art exhibits. Also located at the Z Garage is the Liberty Street Collective , a hip modern art gallery that focuses on artists who developed their craft in public spaces.

While unique artist collective Ponyride, in Detroit’s Corktown District, isn’t always open to the public, they do offer weekly tours and a number of events and workshops in their sprawling 30,000-square-foot warehouse. (The space offers rock bottom-priced workspaces to more than 25 organizations, businesses, and individual artists.) During open public hours, visitors can explore the dynamic building and get to know the various entrepreneurs and their distinctive products.

Cafe D'Mongo

For Dining & Drinking:
Detroit may have a storied past from the Prohibition Era, but the old-fashioned speakeasy is still alive and well with the help of Cafe D'Mongo’s Speakeasy. No longer illegal or a well-kept secret, Cafe D’Mongo’s still maintains an intimate and welcoming atmosphere despite being packed floor-to-ceiling with Detroit-specific antiques, a live jazz band, a diverse clientele, and the occasional Hollywood star -- Ryan Gosling and Mark Wahlberg are frequent visitors.

For an eclectic dining experience, head over to Traffic Jam and Snug, where you can sample a delicious menu that ranges from Ethiopian to Mexican to German to Southern cuisine. Decorated with an extensive collection of customer-donated antiques and random memorabilia, the multi-level restaurant is also home to an in-house bakery, microbrewery, and dairy that churns out homemade cheese and ice cream. There’s even an observation deck to check out their unique process.

Greenfield Village

For History: 
The imposing Guardian Building is a stunning 40-story skyscraper that was originally built in 1928. The cavernous lobby features incredible architecture that includes a blend of art deco style, Native American-themed mosaics, and murals painted by Ezra Winter. The lobby is open to the public and houses quite possibly the most impressive Bank of America location, as well as a coffee shop and several retail outlets.

To experience something unexpected and out of place, travel 20 minutes outside of Detroit and go back through time at Greenfield Village, where 300 years of Americana comes to life. Almost 100 historical buildings were moved to this makeshift village -- including the Wright Brothers’ bicycle shop and home, the Logan County courthouse in Illinois where Abraham Lincoln practiced law, and Henry Ford’s prototype garage where he built his Ford Quadricycle. Costumed interpreters and actors can be found around the grounds, performing period-appropriate tasks, and are extremely knowledgeable should you engage them in conversation. To make the most of your time travel, go for a ride in an authentic Model T or steam locomotive.

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