How Detroit's Oldest Buildings Became the City's Coolest Spots to Visit

If nothing else, Detroit is a city of ingenuity.

Art from Tyree Guyton's 'The Heidelberg Project'

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You may have read headlines about Detroit's resurgence as the center of new American cool. There's certainly truth to that, but Motor City has never forgotten its history.

Whereas other rust belt cities tore down their classic buildings to make room for parking garages, Detroit left its standing. Although much of its historic architecture fell to ruin in the late 20th century, the bones of the buildings remained.

Artists and forward-thinkers moved into the beautiful, dilapidated spaces and fixed them up. Detroiters petitioned to revitalize their old buildings. Little by little, the city put itself back on the map — and it's nowhere near finished.

Heidelberg Street Project

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The first publicized restoration efforts involved the Heidelberg Project. Headed by artist Tyree Guyton, the project aimed to revitalize a neglected area of eastern Detroit by repainting buildings in bright polka-dotted colors and attaching found objects to the structure. The project has been ongoing for over 30 years and currently provides guided tours and meeting spaces. If you've got time, drop by Second Best Bar to pay homage. The neighborhood bar used to be the Heidelberg Project's former offices.

Hidelberg Project

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Down the road from Second Best Bar, the elegant dining room of Wright & Company feels almost like a library you would expect to find in an old-school mansion. The space has previously been used as a music shop selling instruments, a jeweler, and luxury lofts. Now, it serves a host of fancy cocktails and small-plate meals, perfect for a high-class evening that feels like it's from another time.

The new-aged way to take a business trip to Detroit is to sleep in a former office building. The glamorous lobby of the Aloft Detroit at The David Whitney is a historic look back on Detroit's days gone by. As you walk to your room, which was once somebody's office, you'll notice small details like water fountains, mail chutes, and old elevator call buttons up and down the hallways.

Library Street Collective, The Belt, Detroit
Courtesy of The Belt

In its golden age, Detroit learned to make do with small spaces, including alleyways. One of the most successful transformations has been an old alley known as The Belt. The alley has transformed into one of the city's trendiest spaces for public art, bringing in installations and murals from internationally-recognized artists curated by the uber-cool Detroit art gallery Library Street Collective.

Be sure to come thirsty — bars abound throughout The Belt. Make a stop at basement club, Deluxx Fluxx, for the hippest parties, concerts, and dance nights in Detroit. The space itself is worth a visit alone as it's an immersive art installation from art duo Faile.

Detroit - Eastern Market

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Detroit's Eastern Market has gone through many iterations in its 125 years. But its current evolution is arguably the most fun. The market started off as a space for hay and wood sales and, by the end of World War II, became a wholesale food spot. Now, it's got some of Detroit's most interesting retail spaces for cheese, vintage clothing, and even pierogi.

Mosaic Ceiling Above the Banking Hall in the Guardian Building
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Stop by the Guardian Building to view an example of Detroit's finest architecture. The landmark skyscraper has a stunning Art Deco interior that causes visitors to stop dead in their tracks, look upwards, and give the ceiling a slack-jawed gawk. Completed in 1929, the downtown landmark has had various tenants over the years, including the U.S. Army during World War II. The building only opened to the public in 2003. Today, you can wander through the lobby and into one of the Guardian Building's new shops, grab a coffee, and pick up some classic Detroit memorabilia to bring home.

Whatever your reason for visiting Detroit, UNESCO's first official "City of Design" in America, you have to take a moment to appreciate the city's commitment to honoring its past while staying fresh and new.

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