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Summer Road Trip: 36 Hours in Detroit 

click to enlarge Murals in the Market.

Photo by Ix Run

Murals in the Market.

It might sound crazy, but it is possible: You really can go on a vacation to Detroit. After decades of being a symbol of Rust Belt decline and a national punchline, Detroit is finally enjoying a new status as a "Comeback City," energized at least in part by Quicken Loans' corporate headquarters, relocated downtown within the past decade. (Thanks, @cavsdan!) But the truth is, Detroit has always exuded a certain kind of cool — it just took the rest of the world a while to catch on.

You can see it in the groundbreaking music that was birthed here, from Motown and multiple waves of rock 'n' roll, to techno, hip-hop and beyond. The city has long been fertile ground for other art forms as well, boasting killer art galleries and head-turning works by street artists. In recent years, Detroit has become a hotbed for fine dining, with a culinary scene that rivals what you'll find in any other city.

Look, your Detroit vacation isn't going to be easy. It's known as the Motor City for a reason, so you will need a car, and you will need to be prepared to drive — a lot. Crime is still a problem, and many of the shiniest new developments have been confined to the city's downtown. That said, there are plenty of ways to experience Detroit in 36 hours — and plenty of reasons to come back for more. Here are just a few of them.

Friday Evening

For overnight accommodations, one safe bet is MotorCity Casino Hotel (2901 Grand River Ave.; 866-782-9622; motorcitycasino.com), for reasons practical (with its unique "retro future" architecture and flashing LED light show, you can't miss it), convenient (the casino boasts a variety of gaming and dining options, and the hotel has a spa), and hip (catch the reference on Drake's latest record, Scary Hours). Hit the slots before you hit the hay — you have a big day ahead of you.

Saturday

Start off your day at the Clique (1326 East Jefferson Ave.; 313-259-0922), a cozy mid-century modern diner that harks back to the city's 20th century heyday. The fare here is hearty and no-frills, and ample enough to fortify you for a day of exploring. (Plus, it's one of the few spots downtown with a parking lot.)

Next, head to Eastern Market (easternmarket.org), the city's historic open-air farmers market held each Saturday. No, you're not here to buy vegetables: The district offers not just a feast for your stomach, but a feast for the eyes as well. In recent years, the market buildings have been re-decorated with colorful, large-scale murals from street artists both local and international. The district is also one of the few pedestrian-friendly parts of the city, so feel free to park the car and walk around. While you're here, stop by Detroit vs Everybody (2501 Russell St.; 313-502-5840; vseverybody.com) for a T-shirt sporting the city's latest rallying cry — the hippest souvenir to prove yes, you vacationed in Detroit.

For more outdoor art, head to the Heidelberg Project (3600 Heidelberg St.; 313-458-8414; heidelberg.org), a massive outdoor art installation that could only be made in Detroit. The project is the brainchild of artist Tyree Guyton, who started making bold assemblages out of junk and found objects (and even entire abandoned houses) to cope with the disinvestment of his childhood neighborhood in the late '80s. After numerous battles with the city, and inspiring endless "art or eyesore" debates among locals, it's become a tourist destination in its own right. (We guarantee you will meet people from at least three different countries on any given day.) In recent years, Guyton has been downsizing the project's footprint in favor of a more permanent and centralized location, but there's still plenty to see: an "ark" made out of stuffed animals piled into a boat, car hoods emblazoned with grinning faces, and polka dots painted everywhere.

For lunch, you can't go wrong in Detroit's Mexicantown neighborhood, which features a strip of American-friendly Mexican eateries. Favorites include Los Galanes (3362 Bagley Ave.; 313-554-4444; losgalanesdetroit.com); Taqueria Lupitas (3443 Bagley Ave.; 313-843-1105), a smaller cash-only joint; or, a bit off the path, Mexican Village Restaurant (2600 Bagley Ave.; 313-237-0333; mexicanvillagefood.com). While you're in the neighborhood, take the obligatory selfie in front of the hulking nearby Michigan Central Station (2001 15th St.). Once one of the nation's most important train stations, it has since become a classic example of "ruin porn" — although that could change soon. Rumor has it Ford Motor Company is set to move in.

If you're suddenly feeling thirsty, you'll find Batch Brewing Company (1400 Porter St.; 313-338-8008; batchbrewingcompany.com) nearby, which offers about a dozen beers on tap. If you're feeling charitable, you can pick from the brewery's Feelgood Tap, which donates a portion of proceeds to a rotating charity each month.

Another must-visit for all visitors is the Motown Museum (2648 West Grand Blvd.; 313-875-2264; motownmuseum.org), aka Hitsville U.S.A. This is hallowed ground for any music fan, and the birthplace of countless hits recorded between 1959 and 1972 by the likes of the Supremes, the Temptations, the Four Tops and many other artists who bridged racial divides in the '60s and onward. Here you'll find plenty of artifacts and other memorabilia, including the legendary Studio A, which features original instruments and equipment. And there's more in store: The museum recently announced a major expansion, set for completion in 2019, which includes an additional 40,000-square-feet of space, a state-of-the-art theater, and recording studios, among other updates.

If you really want to get deep into Detroit music history, head further down Grand Boulevard to another music museum, Submerge Records' Exhibit 3000 (3000 East Grand Blvd.; submerge.com). Available to visit by appointment only, the unassuming building houses a museum of techno history, an early form of electronic music that was born in Detroit. If you're a real techno head, you can leave the store with a coveted Underground Resistance T-shirt.

Saturday evening

In keeping the musical theme, head north to check out Baker's Keyboard Lounge (20510 Livernois Ave.; 313-345-6300; theofficialbakerskeyboardlounge.com). Open since 1934, the bar is one of the oldest continuously operating jazz venues in the world, playing host to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Cab Calloway and Nat "King" Cole, among many others. On any given night you can enjoy live music from the house band over dinner (try the catfish) or while posted up at the venue's stylish art deco bar, which features a keyboard design motif.

Complete your magical musical tour at Willis Show Bar (4156 Third Ave.; 313-788-7469; willisshowbar.com), one of the latest additions to the city's nightlife. Originally opened in 1949, the bar was a favorite for jazz and blues before it was closed in 1978 as the neighborhood declined. Reopened this year, the bar pays homage to the city's musical legacy in a number of ways, from the snappy attire of the bartenders (whose jackets are modeled after those worn by the Temptations) to the entertainment, which includes live jazz, blues and soul, or DJs spinning deep cuts. The intimate space also features occasional burlesque performances. (Make sure to book a reservation online, and note the dress code is to "dress to impress.")

For a nightcap, head to the Old Miami (3930 Cass Ave.; 313-831-3830), an old-school Vietnam War veteran's bar, with a distinct "grandpa's basement" vibe, that is equally loved by the city's grizzled vets and its fresh-faced hipsters. Here you can get a nice, cheap, cleansing beer or two for just a couple of bucks each. On the wall is a handmade poster featuring cult folk musician Sixto Rodriguez. In this town, you really can't escape music.

One last thing: No Detroit experience is complete without a coney dog — a local treat that consists of a hot dog slathered in chili, mustard, and onions which also just so happens to make the perfect post-boozing snack. In Detroit, the two most famous coney island stops are American Coney Island (114 West Lafayette Blvd.; 313-961-7758; americanconeyisland.com) and Lafayette Coney Island (118 West Lafayette Blvd.; 313-964-8198) — neighbors embroiled in one of the most contested food rivalries known to man. Tip: A fork and knife is provided, but just eat it with your hands. It's messy, but it's how we do it here.

Sunday Morning

For a breakfast you'll remember long after it has left your plate, head to Rose's Fine Food (10551 East Jefferson Ave.; 313-822-2729; rosesfinefood.com), a charming neighborhood joint that specializes in local, made-from-scratch fare. (You can't go wrong with the Silverman's Special, Rose's take on a classic diner breakfast.) For a midday dessert, you can head to nearby Sister Pie (8066 Kercheval Ave.; 313-447-5550; sisterpie.com), whose menu features a rotating assortment of confections with an emphasis on local flavors — one last taste of the Motor City before you head home.

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