Young suburban dwellers starved for city legitimacy have discovered this Little Warsaw (pronounced 'ham-tram-ick') and moved back into Detroit. 'There's an energy to the streets, this quality of expectation,' says Carrie Hazel, who opened one of the area's first galleries, Primary Space, in a former meat-packing plant in June. 'Plus, it's extremely cheap.' Hamtown is a classic postmodern stew—polka and punk, pierogi and piercings.
By Michael Hodges
THE BACKSTORY Hamtramck hit the skids in the early eighties when the main Dodge plant closed, but in the past decade immi- grants—both hipster and foreigner—have been diligently performing CPR. The result is a 21st-century version of New York's punk-era East Village, where Detroit garage bands are cutting their teeth and everyone is lured by rock-bottom rents. And unlike much of Detroit, where storefronts remain barren and empty, shops here are open for business, encouraging further urban renewal.
LOCAL FAUNA In addition to club kids, serious artistes, and wannabe musicians with hair of many colors, newly arrived Yemenis, Bosnians, and Bangladeshis throng the sidewalks on Saturday evenings.
THE EPICENTER With poetry slams, open-mike nights, and a chess set in nearly constant use, Urban Break has become the magnet for Hamtramck's young and politically involved new guard. Indeed, one city council old-timer gripes that you can't even get appointed to a municipal commission unless you hang out at the coffeehouse.
SALVADOR DELI 2753 Yemans Ave.; 313/873-2700; lunch for two $16. This amusingly retro deli, named for the madcap painter, is done up in 1960's colors. The corned beef is cooked on the premises; great milk shakes, too.
URBAN BREAK COFFEEHOUSE 10020 Joseph Campau St.; 313/872-1210; brunch for two $16. Hungover poets and scruffy Bosnian intellectuals crowd the futuro-plastic seats in this coffee shop. Weekend brunch is a mob scene, with everyone swaying to the deep house and soul laid down by the resident DJ.
POLISH VILLAGE CAFÉ 2990 Yemans Ave.; 313/874-5726; dinner for two $20. When President Clinton dropped by in 1996, the Secret Service locked everyone inside for a few hours. But with dill-pickle soup to die for, no one much cared. Polish octogenarians and scenesters in ironic T-shirts bump elbows as they down their goulash.
NEW THREE STAR BARBQ 11941 Joseph Campau St.; 313/365-9494; dinner for two $20. Customers rave about the "chewy" ribs in this somewhat cheesy diner (cracked tile floors, faux Tiffany lamps), but third-generation owner John Mitrovich corrects them: "Meaty," he says. "Meaty."
DETROIT THREADS 10022 Joseph Campau St.; 313/872-1777. The Hamtown rag shop is rich in seventies schlockwear and clothing lines such as the saucily acronymed "Detroit Industrial Clothing Kartel."
POLISH ART CENTER 9539 Joseph Campau St.; 313/874-2242. Less a gallery than a polyglot general store; both Emeril and Martha have raved about the imported dried Borowiki mushrooms. Matrons in babushkas come for the crucifixes. Cool cats with attitude treasure the kitsch. And someone, somewhere, will love the Polish Kama Sutra.
RECORD GRAVEYARD 11303 Joseph Campau St.; 313/365-8096. A monument to fallen technology—vinyl only, please—that draws a reverential following. Collectors browse through the 50,000 LP's like acolytes anticipating the Resurrection.
SMALL'S 10339 Conant St.; 313/873-1117. A neighborhood dive, a little on the noir side, had a big dream: rock-and-roll magnificence. So last fall the owners bricked in the patio, ponied up for a deafening sound system, and started booking national and local bands like Detroit's noisy punk favorites the Gore Gore Girls and the Riots. Wildly popular, and well on its way to becoming a shrine to anti-pop music.
MEPHISTO'S 2764 Florian St.; 313/875-3626. This great-looking space devoted to devilish pleasures opened in June. The college crowd sweats up the dance floor while professional swells lounge with the pink flamingos in the backyard tiki bar.
THE ATTIC 11667 Joseph Campau St.; 313/365-4194. Nightly blues and jazz performances pull music fans into Hamtramck's well-worn tavern, where nobody much cares if you spill your beer.
PRIMARY SPACE GALLERY 2750 Yemans Ave.; 313/870-9470. Spanking new and luminous, this onetime meatpacking plant is hung with post-Pop canvases ranging from political satires to soulful send-ups of Japanese manga (comic books).
HAMTRAMCK DISNEYLAND 12087 Klinger St., in alley behind the house; no phone. An elderly Ukrainian autoworker lovingly created Detroit's answer to L.A.'s Watts Towers. Its propellers, bicycle rims, and Mickey Mouse cutouts revolve in the breeze 25 feet above a garage; for a private tour, knock on the front door.
ON THE SCENE
Luminaries of all types troop to Hamtramck, from Claire Danes to Pope John Paul II. To hear bar owners tell it, Jack White of the Detroit-based White Stripes spends all his free time hanging out at Small's and Mephisto's.