From a historic blues club to a classy new corner hangout, Detroit’s best neighborhood bars offer a fine introduction to a city on the upswing.
Detroit is home to 675,000 people, which is relatively few considering its geographic size. By some estimates, Detroit’s population density—the number of inhabitants per square mile—is roughly one-sixth of New York’s and half of Chicago’s.
Fewer people means fewer bars. And while there’s no shortage of great options Downtown, a visitor hoping to explore some of Detroit’s historic but less commercial neighborhoods could wander for quite a while without finding a decent spot. But the hidden gems are out there and worth searching out—even if getting to them involves passing through some disused and expansive patches of real estate.
Like the city they call home, these places aren’t preening or pompous. For the most part they’re not “destination” bars. They’re just friendly, honest places to drink. From a historic blues club to a classy new corner hangout, a tour of Detroit’s best neighborhood bars provides a fine introduction to a city on the upswing.
Milwaukee Junction isn’t a neighborhood that gets much foot traffic. But since it opened last year, Kiesling has attracted Detroit locals and visitors alike with its style and ambience. In 2015, owner Carlo Liburdi bought the century-old building with the intention of creating a bar. He and his partner, Ashley Davidson, set out to create a spot that would be low-key on the outside but pleasantly “warm and human” on the inside. They nailed it—from the copper-railed bar and terrazzo floors to the painstakingly restored nature mural that adorns the wall opposite the bar. It’s hard to think of a nicer setting for a cocktail—or a shot and a beer.
Since it opened in the 1950s, Detroit’s unofficial “house of blues” has charmed visitors with good food and great music. Both are still on offer today, and they come coupled with an authentic all-are-welcome vibe. Located in Poletown East, the Raven Lounge is the kind of place that—even in its heyday—attracted people by word-of-mouth endorsement. The word today is the same as it was back then: the Raven rocks.
There’s a time and a place for a good dive bar. And Hec’s is exactly that—all day, every day. There’s a pool table. There’s a jukebox. There’s fried chicken gizzards if you’re hungry. And that’s about it. The original Hec’s was founded as a speakeasy during Prohibition and lasted for 65 years before losing its lease to a White Castle. Owner Bob Van Maele, 76, reopened at the current Nortown location. If you’re looking for a cheap drink without a side of pretention, this is your spot.
When it opened in the West Village in 2014, Craft Work quickly established itself as its neighborhood’s go-to bar for great food and even better drinks. Five years later and with a new chef, the place has only gotten better. If you’re looking for a weeknight martini and a bite to eat, you can’t do better in Detroit—or anywhere else.
This Mexicantown bar offers up affordable drinks and friendly service—and a bag of Better Made potato chips if you’re feeling peckish. And really, what else do you need? If you answered a TV to watch the ballgame and a nice outdoor patio for lounging on summer evenings, Giovanna’s still has you covered.
One of the oldest bars in Detroit, this Southwest favorite is the perfect combination of appealing kitsch and down-to-Earth bonhomie. Pat the bar’s resident mastiff on the head, order a beer, and settle in for an enjoyable night. The word “real” gets thrown around a lot, and often doesn’t mean much. But it feels appropriate when talking about this bar. It’s not trying to be chic or flashy or “relevant.” It’s just real.
Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood has helped lead the city’s recent renaissance. But long before its location became hip, Nemo’s was serving up good burgers and stiff drinks to fans in town for a Tigers or Red Wings game. The neighborhood has evolved, but Nemo’s hasn’t. It’s still one of the best places in Detroit to grab some food and drink before a game.
This Cass Corridor dive is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. If you’re looking for craft cocktails, look elsewhere. But there are nights—or states of drunkenness—when you just want a beer, some music, and a place that oozes “don’t give a sh*t” cool. This is that place.