Little Black Book

What's Old Is New: The Essential Guide to Classic Detroit

by Meghan McEwen
Eastern Market, home to some classic Detroit spots. Photo courtesy of Eastern Market.

Don't let the newcomers distract you from the old-time institutions that made the city what it was long before it became cool again. Meghan McEwen, the innkeeper behind Honor and Folly and a longtime local, reminds us of the classics.

DETROIT – Before the arrival of all the new coffee shops, cafés, restaurants, and fantastic little design shops, there were longstanding institutions that made Detroit Detroit.

No-Frills Brunch

The Clique is an Eastside breakfast institution. A diner connected to the Shorecrest Motor Inn with a no-nonsense menu, hell-yeah portions, and a sun-drenching atrium. Everything from a short stack to chicken wings and eggs.

Bert's Mural Detroit

A mural of famous Detroit musicians at Bert's. Photo courtesy of Bert's Marketplace.

Only in Detroit

Bert's, a dive-y BBQ joint that sets up an alfresco drinking patio and Motown karaoke on Saturdays at Eastern Market.

Land of Dive Bars

Detroit is dialed in when it comes to dive bars, but my favorite, for sentimental reasons, is LJs (2114 Michigan Ave; +1-313-962-0013). On a good night, the owner Sue used to sing "Turn the Page" a cappella.

Drop-In Bloody Mary

With decades-old laminate tables and a stained glass awning over the bar, Vivio's is the official go-to for a bloody Mary. A little bit peppery and served with a pickle spear, lime, and a beer sidecar. I always get oysters, too.

Classic Hat Shop

Detroit loves Henry the Hatter: the facade with its cursive neon sign, the scrolling roster of ardent clients (including Kid Rock), and a history that dates back to 1893.


La Gloria (3345 Bagley St; +1-313-842-5722), the bakery in Mexicantown with old-fashioned wooden pastry cases filled with flaky empanadas, tarts, cookies, churros, homemade tortillas, tamales, and unmatched tres leches. I particularly love the help-yourself style: tray, sheet of wax paper, tongs.


The name changed a few years back from R.J. Hirt, but Eastern Market's DeVries is still the same small, family-owned grocer and cheese shop dating back to 1887, where your selection is cut and wrapped with butcher paper at an old-fashioned wooden cheese counter.

Sports Bar Institution

Baseball legends like Hank Aguirre and Al Kaline used to frequent Nemo's after making history a block away at old Tiger Stadium. Signed newspaper clippings and photographs plaster the walls to prove it. The menu consists of burgers and fries exclusively, but that's part of the charm.

Best Coney Island

This is where real Detroiters, who like their hot dogs slathered with chili sauce, chopped onions, and mustard, draw a line in the sand: American Coney Island, or Lafayette Coney Island right next door, fueled by their longstanding epic sibling rivalry. Try both?

Old-School Italian

Of all the old-school Italian joints in Detroit, Vince's is my favorite: frescoes of Venice, lacey tablecloths, and homemade lasagna as big as the plate.


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