Electronic, Motown, Rap, and everything in between – if there’s one thing Detroit does well it’s music! We may not market ourselves well, but Detroit was and continues to be a home for musical innovation, with far reaching influences around the world. Today I’m sharing seven of my tried and true places where I’m guaranteed a good night of the best live performances the city has to offer.
This art deco gem is an institution within the city, known equally for its elegant atmosphere and great jazz. Designed by Albert Khan with wood-paneled, barrel-vaulted ceilings, a mahogany bar, and mirrored walls – it feels like walking onto the set of Midnight in Paris. There’s music here every night; mostly jazz, sometimes blues, and every once in a while The Moth Story Hour shows up for a packed-out-the-door crowd.There are a few candlelit tables near the stage, which you’ll almost certainly have to reserve in advance. The food here is neither inexpensive nor overpriced, and the drinks are of the prohibition-era variety. When you go, promise me you’ll order The Last Word, Detroit’s own signature cocktail.
El Club is my favourite place to go dancing. They’ve got an outdoor space on warmer nights as well as an indoor stage and separate bar area. Pizza is catered fresh from Pepe Z’s, and a couple of food trucks usually line up on the street outside. You’ll find everything here – techno, rap, folk, and even comedy. Both crowd and the artists here tend to be younger and more experimental, but that’s about the only consistent theme. El Club is located in Mexicantown on Vernor Highway.
Located on Gratiot near Eastern Market, Trinosophes is an ever changing gallery with a library and vinyl records store that acts as a cafe with pop-up chefs during the day and an events space at night. It sounds crazy, but they pull it off effortlessly. Trinosophes hosts artists that they consider interesting, whether it be chamber music, old school funk, or experimental pop.
Part of the same retro building complex, Majestic is the large venue upstairs and the Magic Stick is the baby brother downstairs for smaller gigs. Both are awesome, and made great by the fact that you can also wander to the adjacent Garden Bowl for a game between sets. At the main bar downstairs, Sgt. Pepperoni’s Pizzeria & Deli also caters pretty good food late into the evening, with patio seating on warmer days. It’s a winning combination, evidenced by the fact that they’ve been doing it for more than 100 years right on the same bustling corner of Woodward Avenue.
The Kresge Court is located inside of the Detroit Institute of Arts, and is probably one of the most spectacular venues in the city. Originally opened as a replica of a medieval Italian open-air courtyard, the roof has since been fitted with a glass ceiling, meaning that even the coldest day can be sun-drenched. Every Friday and Saturday evening it plays host to local musicians at no charge. The best way to enjoy it is to get there super early to nab one of coveted tables, order a charcuterie board and a glass of wine, and just relax for the evening.
The Belt doesn’t host live music often, but when they do it’s a party like nothing else. Most people know The Belt as ‘the graffiti alley by Z Lot’, but that’s really selling the place short. It’s a communal space full of murals by high-profile street artists and seamless borders between Library Street Collective, The Skip, Standby, and street food vendors. Fairy lights twinkle overhead, skyscrapers loom in the distance, and the crowd spills into every nook and cranny. I check their Facebook page often and bookmark their events as soon as they’re announced to be sure that I never miss one.
I love Marge’s because of its contradictions. It’s small, neighbourhood dive bar devoted to the Red Wings that plays host to some of the city’s finest jazz every first and third Thursday of the month. Though not technically located in Detroit, you can gaze out on it on the other side of Mack from the front window. Here, the bartender is king – he knows everyone and gives everyone shit, but will always walk you out to your car when it’s dark out.
If there’s somewhere irresistible I’ve missed, let me know in the comments below!