Corktown: Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, sits just west of Downtown Detroit and boasts some of the city’s best entertainment.
The first Irish settlers in Detroit hailed from County Cork, Ireland, giving this little neighborhood its name. Some of its bars still hold proud to their Irish history and every Saint Patrick’s Day flocks of people flood the streets of Corktown to watch the parade while drinking drink Guinness, Smithwicks, and whiskey. Other bars, restaurants and cafes have taken on their own identity.
Here are a few of my favorite places to eat, drink, and experience in Corktown, Detroit!
For The Foodie
Brooklyn Street Local $$
There is no shortage of great places to eat breakfast in the city of Detroit, but Brooklyn Street Local is my absolute favorite. They have a great selection with options for almost everyone. There are two things I recommend you order here. To start, an order of fresh scones – whatever flavor they have that day. They come with lemon curd and strawberry jam to spread and are just amazing. Afterwards I suggest splitting an order of the poutine with vegan mushroom gravy with your companion for the day (I’m not a vegan, it’s just really great mushroom gravy).
In all honesty I could eat a whole order myself, but in an attempt to be a normal, functioning adult I split them. Their food is top notch with portion sizes that aren’t out of control nor that leave you needing more. Their coffee and espresso drinks are on par, if not better, than what is offered at other cafes in the city. Plan to wait a bit for a table but definitely make this a stop if you are heading to Detroit!
Detroit Institute of Bagels $$
Do you love fresh bagels? Do you love breakfast sandwiches? Then this place is for you. These aren’t your typical bagel sandwiches either. We are talking ingredients like smoked salmon, sautéed kale, chorizo, scallion cream cheese, avocado salsa, roasted red and golden beets, and goat cheese. Pick your bagel, decide if you want it toasted and voila! If you’re not in the mood for a sandwich, they have plenty of different flavored cream cheeses to go with all their bagels.
Green Dot Stables $
The following information may shock you, but I am going to ask you to bear with me. If you tell anyone you are heading near Corktown and ask for food suggestions, they are going to tell you to go to Green Dot Stables. Here is why – everything on the menu is $2 or $3. I mean everything. You order as many different sliders as you think you can eat, maybe some fries (come on, definitely some fries), and a soup or salad (if that’s your jam). You keep the menu and can order more sliders if the five you just finished aren’t going to cut it. They have more than 20 different sliders to choose from, five different fries, a few salad and soup options and desserts. If you were looking for the best bang for your buck – you found it. Did I mention all the beers are under $5 and cocktails under $8? Yeah, check it out.
Mercury Bar $
Burgers, dogs, fries, and tots. What’s not to love? Mercury Bar has been serving bomb ass food on the corner of Michigan and 14th since 2012. Cleverly named and fair priced, their food draws crowds most nights of the week. Vegetarian? Not a problem. They’ve got a portabella cap burger as well as a black bean burger named after Detroit’s own Eastern Market. They’ve also got a selection of sandwiches, salads, fries, and tater tots (personally, I go for the buffalo tots). Don’t forget to add an ice cream shake!
Slow’s BBQ $$$
I am not going to sit here and tell you that Detroit has the best BBQ in the country. We all know the south holds that title and I am not about to appropriate some BBQ, but Slow’s is a good place to go in Corktown for dinner. They smoke all their own meats and like any good BBQ joint have some tasty sauces for all your dipping and slathering pleasures. All the staples are covered: ribs, mac ‘n’ cheese, baked beans, corn bread, slaw, etc., plus some awesome sandwiches to choose from. You will leave here full and happy. You will most likely have to wait for a table, but can pop in to Sugar House next door for a cocktail while you wait!
Mudgie’s Deli $$
Let’s be real – every city has a good deli. And they are all good, because sandwiches. But Mudgie’s Deli is truly something special. They opened their doors in 2008 to a very small space and a very big menu. People quickly took notice and Mudgie’s has since steadily been one of the busiest restaurants in Corktown. The small building did not stop people from waiting an insane amount of time in a very cramped space for a table – the sandwiches are that good.
They are creative without being too weird and big enough that you will probably take some home. Did I mention how good the pickles are? Their sandwich menu is sorted by protein types (vegetarian and vegan included). You can also build your own, but I suggest choosing one from the menu. I’ve tried to build my own and it’s never as good as the ones they create. Leave it to the professionals.
My personal favorites are the Kenna and the Brooklyn, but if you want to get a little weird you can try the Sho Nuff: roast turkey breast, cherrywood smoked bacon, strawberry cream cheese, spinach and strawberry preserves on toasted multigrain bread served warm (I know I said they aren’t weird, but this one is seriously delicious). Mudgie’s has recently expanded and has more seating so you won’t have to wait as long when you inevitably come here for a weird (I mean amazing) sandwich!
For the Drinker In All of Us
Two James Spirits $$
Two James is proud to call themselves the first distillery in the city of Detroit since prohibition. Floral, smoky, sweet, sour – Two James has cocktails to tickle anyone’s pallet. The menu is seasonal and always changing, but their spirits never falter and can give any big-name company a run for their money. Two James does not have their own kitchen, but they often host pop-up restaurants. Check social media for who might be serving up food when you go!
Now, if you happen to go on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, I highly recommend signing up for the distillery tour. It’s $15 to jump in on a regular tour or $25 for a private tour and is an absolute steal at this price. They walk you through the distillery explaining the history, process and the back story behind each of their spirits. Then you get to taste almost every spirit they distill. You walk out of the tour feeling pretty good and with a lot of new information (if you remember it all).
Batch Brewing $
Batch Brewing is one of the newer breweries in the city of Detroit, but it is quickly becoming a powerhouse in the Corktown Neighborhood. They have a wide range of beer selections and brew everything in house. The beer menu ranges from lowest ABV – a 3.8% Kölsch named “The Audacity”, to highest – a whopping 11% “Five Pound Box of Money” spiced/herbed beer to make it easy for people (like me) to sort by how drunk they want to end up.
They’ve got lagers, sours, IPAs, stouts, and porters. You name it, they probably have it, and it’s probably better than that Bud you’re drinking. Their kitchen serves up awesome food and they have a shelf of board games up for grabs. It’s communal seating so hop on in and make some new friends after you finish that game of Monopoly and cut ties with the friends you came with.
PJ’s Lager House $
If you’re looking for a rock ‘n’ roll bar without hard drugs and wet floors, then PJ’s should be your next stop. They have an awesome staff including PJ himself, who is there almost every day. This bar has a decent selection of beer, live shows every weekend, a record store, and one hell of a kitchen. You may even catch a glimpse of a White Stripe or another local, Allison Lewis, in the audience. Hit PJ’s up if you love music and like being the one telling stories about how you heard them first.
Motor City Wine $$
Music, wine, and more. Once a chill and super lowkey joint on Woodward, Motor City Wine offered tastings and snacks like cured meats, cheeses and olives. It still does, but now sits on Michigan Ave and offers even more. Come here not only for the wine but for live music happening throughout the week, including DJs spinning great and sometimes off beat records. Motor City Wine boasts an impressive wine selection (one of the finest in the city), and the atmosphere of a place you want to chill with friends.
To See & To Shop
John K King Books
I love books. I love books more than most things on this earth so if someone told me I could wander through four stories of piles upon piles and shelves upon shelves of used books I would cry a few tears of joy. And that is exactly what you can do at John K King Books. Seriously, this place is so big they hand you a map when you walk in the door. You will get lost. The Rare Book Room hosts over 25,000 items including first editions, bindings, maps, and more. Voted #2 bookstore IN THE WORLD by Business Insider in 2014, John K King Books truly is a gem of Detroit. Even if you aren’t a big reader, it’s a great place to look around and see what you can find.
This one might not be for everyone, but if you like browsing through record stores to try and snag one you’ve been looking for, then Hello Records is a great place to go. They’ve got a fairly small, but on point selection, and the staff is crazy knowledgeable about what they have in stock and how frequently artists come and go. This is especially true when it comes to Motown classics and local artists (think Aretha and J Dilla).
Michigan Central Station
Although you can’t step inside, this massive piece of Detroit architecture is something you’ll want to see while you’re in Corktown. Once a thriving train station in the early 1900’s, Michigan Central Station has been abandoned since the late 1980’s. This beautiful Beaux-Arts Classical building was designed by the same firm who designed Grand Central Station in New York City and Michigan Central is often thought of as its sister station.
Although this is the case, you may not be able to tell as Michigan Central sat desolate for decades lying exposed to squatters, vandals, thieves, and inclement weather. A few decades of abandon hasn’t hurt the heart and soul of this building. If anything, it’s caused Detroiters to take it on as a symbol of our city. Definitely take second to marvel at Michigan Central while you’re at Slow’s, Mercury Bar, or Two James!
Detroit neighborhoods are full of so much hustle and bustle it can be hard to keep track of where to go and what to do. If you find yourself in the city of Detroit – don’t miss out on all that Corktown has to offer!