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The Local's Lowdown on Detroit

Meghan McEwen of Designtripper lives the dream in Detroit, where she runs the impossibly cool and special hotel Honor & Folly. She took us on a tour of her favorite hometown spots.
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A good night out at Tashmoo Biergarten. Photo: Courtesy of Tashmoo Biergarten.

Our lifelong dream involves living in a cool city and running a charming little inn. Fathom contributor Meghan McEwen, of Designtripper (one of Fathom's 24 Best Travel Blogs and Websites), lives that dream in Detroit, where she runs the impossibly cool and special hotel Honor & Folly. She took us on a tour of her favorite hometown spots.

Local coffee shop/breakfast spot: Astro Coffee for the flat white, boiled egg and ricotta sandwich, coconut bread, and daily salads made with veggies from neighborhood urban farms Brother Nature and ACRE.

Left: Garden in the Anna Whitcomb Conservatory, Right: Rowland Cafe. Photo: Meghan McEwen

Where you go when you need inspiration: Belle Isle, a beautiful 982-acre island with an abandoned zoo, the Eero Saarinen-designed Flynn Pavilion, the fantastic 100-plus-year-old Anna Whitcomb Conservatory with a Bloomsbury-worthy hedge garden (which is my very favorite place in all of Detroit — especially to have a picnic), and miles and miles of nature.

Best place for an afternoon coffee: Go to the Rowland Cafe in the Guardian Building, if only to look at the amazing Aztec-inspired ceiling made of brightly colored Rookwood pottery and Pewabic tile.

Best spot for people-watching: Cafe D'Mongos. It's an amazing old speakeasy that the owner reopened a few years ago after decades of being shuttered -- and they didn't change a thing. Candlesticks are melted into spiral wax sculptures on the mantle; paintings in gilded frames are still covered with plastic wrap; a few of the plush, high-backed chairs have clear plastic slipcovers. Old instruments decorate the walls. The lampshades have fringe. You can sit at the bar next to a mailman or a jazz musician in a three-piece suit and a fedora, and there might be a Casio keyboard performance or a yodeling solo. You never know what to expect.

Your office is located: At home.

You wish your office was located: In a tiny writing shack in the country.



Interior scenes from Honor & Folly, the charming inn that Meghan runs. Photos: Meghan McEwen

Your preferred mode of travel around the city: My lovely silvery blue bike, usually with a trailer or kid seat on the back.

The route for your favorite city joy ride? I love biking along the riverfront with my kiddos. We stop to run through the fountain, eat ice cream, and ride the carousel, then veer off at the Dequindre Cut, a well-designed, abandoned, rail-to-trail path with preserved graffiti along the cement corridor walls.

Where do you go when you want to be in the middle of it all? Tashmoo Biergarten, a pop-up beer garden in a vacant lot, or Bert's, a dive-y BBQ joint that sets up an alfresco drinking patio, and Motown karaoke on Saturdays at Eastern Market.

Where do you go when you need an escape? The Anna Whitcomb Conservatory at Belle Isle.

Most underrated thing in your city: Art. There is art everywhere in Detroit: galleries, warehouses, empty storefronts, backyards. It's on the sides of buildings, erected in empty lots, and painted on abandoned houses. A starter list: Public Pool, Popp's Packing, CAID, G.R. N'Namdi, and the Heidelberg Project.

Michigan Central Station. Photo: Meghan McEwen

Most overrated thing in your city: The ruins. Some of them are strikingly, hauntingly beautiful. I still sometimes gasp standing in front of the old, abandoned Beaux Arts train station designed by the same architects as Grand Central. But they don't define the city. For a while, newspapers and magazines would run stories of abandoned, falling-down houses, and they would fail to mention that it's only one home in an otherwise fully functioning neighborhood filled with lovely, occupied homes. Parts of Detroit are in rough shape, undeniably, but there's another story here, too.

Favorite local shops: There are a bunch of fantastic shops — City Bird, Nest, Rachel's Place, Salt & Cedar, Hello Records, Milieu (which just opened a Detroit location), Nora, and Hugh — but the one place that is a must-visit, Detroit-only experience is John K. King Used & Rare Books. I can lose an entire day thumbing through the vast selection of rare used books stacked floor to ceiling, spread across four sprawling floors.

You dream about your meal at: St. Cece's Pub. It's a wacky, English-style public house with a roaring fireplace and the most unassuming and delicious farm-to-table menu by chef Adam, who lives on an urban farm.

Favorite local institution: The Detroit Institute of Arts Museum. I never get tired of the stunning Diego Riviera murals. My boys love the armor.

The best thing about your neighborhood, Corktown, are the historic candy-colored Victorian houses. There's something so romantic about riding my bike across the small bumpy stretch of original cobblestone street.

Best book or movie based in your fair city: 8 Mile.

Best way to pass an evening: My husband, my two young sons, and a Supino pizza.

No trip to Detroit is complete without a Saturday at Eastern Market — a beautifully restored six-block public market with independent vendors and purveyors, farmers, butchers, bakers, jam makers, spice mongers, and anything else you can think of. Make sure to duck back into the warren of warehouses to check out the two new print shops: Salt & Cedar and Signal-Return.

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