Metro Detroit: Under the radar

There is no shortage of lists promising you the best sights, bites, scenes, and greens (like parks and whatnot) in metro Detroit. And all of these places are great and definitely worth your time to explore – after all, the D.I.A., Cranbrook, The Henry Ford, Belle Isle and the Detroit Riverfront, and Comerica Park are all part of your mandatory metro Detroit bucket list, especially if you live here.

But for those who have been there done that, what else is there? Plenty! In no particular order and with no claim to being definitive, here are places, events, and other random finds that you may have missed. 

Events

The Fifth Annual Three Corpse Circus International Horror Film Festival, Ann Arbor, October 3-5 
Horror film fans, this festival is for you. Featuring horror films from 13 countries as well as local filmmakers, 3CC kicks off with a "walk of the dead" led by the A2 Zombie Walk and Southern Michigan Zombie Squad and will close with a macabre puppet show. 

October Historic Cemetery Walking Tours, Detroit, October 4-November 1
Some of the best greenspaces in Detroit happen to be cemeteries. Don't believe it? Then don’t miss the annual historic cemetery walking tours led by Preservation Detroit. Marvel at the marvelous architecture of the mausoleums and majestic headstones, some dating back hundreds of years, as well as the beautiful landscaping that includes rolling hills, magnificent trees in full fall color, and calm ponds filled with ducks and geese – right smack dab in the middle of the city (though you would never, ever know it). Hanging out in cemeteries isn't just for goth kids anymore. 

Detroit Oktoberfest at Artist Village, Detroit, October 4
Not quite the same kind of "Oktoberfest" you would experience at the Dakota Inn Rathskeller, the Black Bottom Brew Club is hosting their third-annual community benefit arts benefit concert and art show showcasing Detroit-area bands and artists at Artist Village on Lahser. This year's program includes "1592", Bambuti featuring Efe, Desolation Angels, Wood Zombie, Telco, Pierre Anthony, Omawale, African drumming group and more, with over a dozen area artists displaying original works of art and live art performances on canvas. Enjoy authentic "Detroit-style" German food provided by the Motor City Java & Tea House.

Romanian Festival of Greater Detroit, Southfield, October 4-5
You already know metro Detroit is a wonderfully diverse (if segregated) place, with strong communities of cultures from all over the world. Translated into White People Speak, this means a whole lot of really great food festivals. You already know all about Polish and German and Arabic and Mexican cultural events and food festivals – now eat your way through Romanian culture with homemade sausages and seasoned burgers, cabbage rolls, cheese dougnuts, crepes, nut rolls and other pastries, and Romanian wines. There will also be tours of the cathedral, Romanian music and dance, and traditional Romanian costumes. 

Halloween in Hollygrove, Holly, October 10-26
This year the Michigan Renaissance Festival won't end the first weekend of October. This year, for the first time, it will remain open and be transformed into a Halloween-themed attraction with a zombie 5k obstacle course and Phantom of the Opera feast.  

The Ringwald Theatre, Ferndale, October 11-December 22
We've written about the Ringwald Theatre in downtown Ferndale enough times that readers should already be plenty familiar. But just in case you're not, or if you simply haven't yet paid them a visit, here's a friendly reminder: the Ringwald Theatre is the best independent theatre experience in southeastern Michigan. The end. Probably best described as "fringe" theatre, the Ringwald stages a variety of major-name and miniscule shows alike, ranging from highly serious theatre pieces like August: Osage County and Angels in America to campy comedies like Evil Dead: The Musical and Mommie Queerest. The 2014-2015 season includes Are You There God? It's Me, Carrie (a musical mash-up of Judy Blume's and Stephen King's classics), October 11-November 3; Stupid Fucking Bird, celebrated playwright and director Aaron Posner's take on Chekhov's The Seagull, November 14-December 8; and David Sedaris's The SantaLand Diaries & Season's Greetings, a now-annual performance without which there would be no Christmas, December 19-22. 

Southfield Mid-Century Modern Architecture Tour, Southfield, October 12
Sure, the city of Detroit is known for its impressive architectural stock, but office park-heavy Southfield? Really? If you think the city of Southfield is a barren wasteland of cube farms, think again and check out this tour of Mid-Century Modern architecture by some of the twentieth century's leading architects presented by the Southfield Historical Society and the Detroit Area Art Deco Society. 

Theatre Bizarre, Detroit, October 17-18
For over a decade the annual Theatre Bizarre Halloween party (but ohhhhh so much more than that) has been the stuff of local legend. Recent years have seen the event moved from its original home on State Fair Rd. to its new home at the Masonic Temple, but there have been plenty of other changes aside from the move – like the new preview gala held the night before the main event, a black tie, masks-mandatory masquerade affair that includes a strolling dinner, an open bar, and a very limited number of tickets, held last year for the first time. If the crowds during the general event are too much and you find yourself frustrated as you wander from room to room missing all the performances you wanted to see, the preview gala – a truly decadent, sumptuous masked ball that feels like something plucked straight from Poe – is the most awesome, in the traditional sense of the word, and rewarding Halloween experience you will find anywhere. This is not a party for the basics who buy their costumes the day before at Party City. This is for the true believers. Hail Zombo! 

DAMNED VII, Detroit, October 30-November 1
DAMNED is sort of the Dirty Show meets Theatre Bizarre – an annual fine art show celebrating the erotic and the macabre. Three nights include a VIP preview and artist reception with an absinthe tasting and experimental performances, an evening of fire dancers, and a masks-mandatory masquerade ball with cirque-style performances. 

Detroit Urban Craft Fair, Detroit, December 6-7
"Crafts." Ew. Right? WRONG! In this age of Etsy, crafts are cool, and the Detroit Urban Craft Fair is a celebration of urban alternative crafts…in other words, the same kind of cool shit you would find at the Rust Belt Market, and more of it! For unique, handmade gifts for the holidays, look no further than the DUCF. 

Salt & Cedar Book & Bread, Detroit, December 13
If you like the idea of old-timey letterpress studios and Eastern Market as a growing arts and design hub, then you'll want to check out Salt & Cedar and attend one of their workshop events – like their almost-monthly Book & Bread, during which participants will enjoy dinner prepared from ingredients sourced in the market and leave with their own hand-sewn soft-cover journal. The Book & Bread scheduled for December 13 is an extra-special winter solstice edition (with wine, which makes it extra-special). 

Bars, restaurants, pop-Ups, and social groups

Detroit Drunken Historical Society 
If you like Detroit history, and also drinking, this is the group for you. Led by some of Detroit's preeminent drunken historical scholars, the Detroit Drunken Historical Society hosts regular events history talks and tours. And drinking. It's how history should have been taught in college. 

Eastside Tavern, Mt. Clemens
There is not nor will there ever be a better bar burger than the one at East Side Tavern. Located in the tiny basement of a farmhouse in a residential neighborhood, Eastside Tavern opened in 1909 and operated as a blind pig during Prohibition. It is still, to this day, the quintessential neighborhood bar

James L. Crawford Elks Lodge, Ann Arbor
Okay so soul food and jazz music aren't exactly strange bedfellows, and while the combo is always fun, it's hardly unique. But man, there's something about experiencing it at the Elks Lodge in Ann Arbor. And it's an Elks Lodge, fercryinoutloud. It’s the equivalent of partying at a VFW hall. And the fried chicken? Shut UP. Don't talk to me about Chicken Shack anymore. 

Little Vietnam, Madison Heights
There has been a smattering of trendy, and not so much traditional, Asian-style noodle shops that have popped up in recent months around town. None of them hold a candle to "Little Vietnam" in Madison Heights, with pho shops lining John R and Dequindre roads between 12 and 13 Mile. None of them are fancy (noodles are not fancy), and every last one of them is in a strip mall, and it's pretty much the closest thing we have to a real, bonafide, legit Chinatown (which are universally divey and strip-mall-y) anywhere in Michigan. So why doesn’t everyone go there all the time? Because OH MY GOD SUBURBS GROSS, apparently. Sigh. 

Loui's Pizza, Hazel Park
Thrillist recently asked area chefs what their favorite Detroit-style deep dish pizzas are. The answer was not Buddy's. Instead, it was resounding praise for Loui's Pizza in Hazel Park, the old-school Italian joint with wicker-covered bottles of Chianti hanging from the ceiling. It's a dive and also a local institution. AND IT BEAT BUDDY'S.

The Royal Eagle, Harper Woods
We're going to take a moment to quickly break the fourth wall here: I don't even know how to explain this place to you. You just need to go. This Eastern European restaurant is located on the six acres of land that is home to the St. Sabbas Orthodox Monastery and is only open on Thursdays for dinner and is often fully booked and NO CHICKEN PAPRIKASH FOR YOU. The place doesn't even look real (are we in Russia? 200 years ago? Where is The Doctor?). It looks surreal, and the cost of your meal goes towards keeping it that way.

Rustic Cabins, Grosse Pointe
In the more, let's say "thinky," cities of the world, tour guides, visitors bureaus, and pamphlet-pushers like to tout the names of literary giants who once warmed the stools of various historic local bars. We, um, don't really so much have that going for us in Detroit (cars!), but we DO have Rustic Cabins, and Jack Kerouac DID once drink there, and with enough regularity to warrant a mention. It is an almighty dive bar among dive bars.

Stockyard 
It's a food truck. It's a supper club. What started as a regular pop-up supper club event in Pontiac has evolved into a full-time food truck and more sporadic supper club based almost exclusively in Detroit. The food truck is already a local favorite but for those of you going through Guns + Butter withdrawals (or are just curious about the whole pop-up dinner experience ever since you saw it on Bourdain), keep your peepers open for Stockyard's next supper club event. 

Yemans Street, Hamtramck
It seems that Hamtramck is now the hub of non-traditional/permanent pop-up/revolving restaurants. First there was (revolver), which offers a communal supper club experience with an ever-rotating roster of chefs, both professional and amateur, offering new, unique prix fixe menus at pre-sold seatings each weekend. The brand-new Yemans Street is, for all intents and purposes, the exact same thing, though in an arguably prettier space. 

The Zenith, Detroit
Enough with the stamped tin ceilings and reclaimed wood bars, you guys. The Zenith just opened earlier this year inside the Fisher Building and it wins our vote for best new thing about Detroit. It is a Mexican-meets-Southern soul food restaurant decorated with vintage EVERYTHING including a creepy clown room, a Polynesian tiki lounge, and a soon-to-open heavy metal karaoke bar in the basement filled with religious iconography. Once again, goodbye fourth wall, I really just don't know how mere words can do this place justice. 

Nicole Rupersburg is a freelance writer extraordinaire. She is primarily known for her former blog, Eat It Detroit.
Signup for Email Alerts