Rich with culture and a strong queer identity, Detroit rocks as a gay destination


DETROIT ROCK CITY | The 73-story GM Renaissance Center is an icon of the Detroit skyline and home to the upscale Marriott Detroit. (Photo courtesy Andrew Collins)

As the cooler weather of early autumn settles in, southern Michigan becomes a particularly enchanting spot for a vacation. The scrappy and culturally rich Detroit makes an appealing weekend destination, with its slew of friendly gay bars and stylish restaurants and some of the Midwest’s most acclaimed cultural attractions. The country’s 18th largest city is difficult to get a full grasp of on a short visit, but a couple of days is enough time to see one incredible city.

For art lovers, a must-see is the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), whose central foyer contains spectacular Depression-era frescoes by Diego Rivera. The museum holds 65,000 works and anchors the Cultural Center district near Wayne State University. Such notable attractions as the Detroit Historical Museum and the Motown Museum, which celebrates the careers of such R&B legends as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and the Jackson 5, are conveniently nearby.

Walk along Woodward Avenue, downtown’s main drag, to a stellar theater district, including the fantastical 1927 Fox Theatre; the Bonstelle Theatre, where Lily Tomlin got her start; Orchestra Hall at the Max M. Fisher Music Center, home of the Detroit Symphony and the impressive Detroit Opera House.

Northwest along Woodward Avenue is Ferndale, a formerly working-class community that’s become something of a gay stronghold over the years. West 9 Mile Road, has a few hip boutiques and vintage stores, as does Royal Oak, a bastion of more cool dining and retail spots. See the recently renovated and expanded Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills designed by architectural legend Eliel Saarinen, whose nearby house is open seasonally for tours.

Head west to Dearborn, the heart of the America’s auto-manufacturing heritage, to tour the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, a fascinating 81-acre complex of historic homes and structures moved here from across the country as well as an incomparable museum that traces the development of American technological innovation over the generations.

When it comes to dining, metro Detroit has a number of highly regarded options. One of the most famous is Opus One set inside a former taxi garage built by Kimbell Museum designer Louis Kahn in 1916, and serves superb contemporary food. A funky eatery on the edge of the Cultural Center, the Majestic Cafe scores high marks for art exhibits and eclectic comfort food, while lesbian-owned Avalon International Breads is renowned among foodies for its fine coffees, artisan breads and delicious sandwiches and salads. Royal Oak restaurant notables include the dapper Town Tavern and the charming Cafe Muse, which serves a delectable grilled cheese good enough to be featured in Esquire Magazine.

Fans of clubbing will find plenty of options in Detroit. Popular spots include Royal Oak’s gay video bar Pronto; Ferndale’s sophisticated yet friendly SOHO lounge; and Detroit mainstays such as Menjo’s Complex, where Madonna used to party in her early days, and Gigi’s, with its stable of hot male dancers.

For lodging options, consider the upscale Marriott Detroit, which is set inside the soaring 73-story main tower of the GM Renaissance Center, and the more moderately priced Courtyard Marriott. Also excellent is the sleek Atheneum Suite Hotel. All of these are close to Detroit’s festive Greektown neighborhood and the popular Greektown Casino.

— Andrew Collins

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2011.