There aren’t many cities that have an entire genre of music named after them, but Detroit isn’t your average city. It’s a music lover’s paradise, where the era-defining “Motown sound” is just the tip of the iceberg.
Home to Death, Alice Cooper, MC5, and The White Stripes, the Motor City has long been at the forefront of rock and roll. Catch the next wave of Detroit rockers at the Outer Limits Lounge in Hamtramck. Grab a cold beer at the bar and take in its ’70s-style fieldstone exterior, neon sign, wooden walls, and cluttered kitsch decor. It’s easy to imagine a young (and probably shirtless) Iggy Pop strutting through the door and taking the mic. Luckily, that underground, avant-garde spirit lives on. The bar also serves as a recording studio for the Outer Limits label.
While a stop at the iconic Motown Museum (a.k.a., Hitsville, U.S.A) is a must on any jaunt through Detroit’s music history, it’s currently undergoing a $50 million expansion, scheduled for completion next summer. When it reopens, the museum will have a performance hall, working recording studio, and interactive exhibits, in addition to the photos, flashy costumes, memorabilia, and studio tours that have attracted millions of visitors since its inception in 1985.
Don’t want to wait that long to explore Detroit’s music scene? There’s still plenty to see (and hear). If you want to check out a more recent Detroit music icon, head to Third Man Records. The store—which sits in an industrial brick building in the trendy Cass Corridor—was founded by local music legend and one-man sound factory, Jack White (there is also a Third Man Records in White’s adopted home of Nashville). The store sells records released on the Third Man label, including reissues of landmark albums from beloved Detroit musicians. Vinyl lovers, and lovers of the label in particular, will want to tour the production facility housed on the premises, where you can see a record pressing in action.
No music excursion to “the D” is complete without a trip to Baker’s Keyboard Lounge. This small, intimate jazz club on the northwest side of the city was founded in 1934 and claims to be the world’s oldest continuously operating jazz club. Whether or not that’s true, you can certainly feel jazz history coursing through the cramped space. Many of the greats have performed here, including Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, and John Coltrane. (A young, unknown lounge singer named Barbra Streisand took the mic at Baker’s in 1961.) Not content to rest on its laurels, Baker’s features nightly performances from some of today’s top names in jazz. In addition to music and drinks, Baker’s also serves up a delicious soul food meal.
To scope out another legendary Detroit music venue, head downtown to Saint Andrew’s Hall. Built in 1907, this two-story building originally served as the headquarters of the Saint Andrew’s Scottish Society of Detroit. Now, this historic spot brings in national acts representing nearly every genre of music. Like Baker’s, Saint Andrew’s is no stranger to history-making performances: Eminem famously gave a career-making performance here when he was just starting out in the Detroit hip-hop scene. Pro tip: For a less crowded, VIP experience, purchase seats in the upstairs Society Room. This comfy lounge features 100-year-old-stained glass windows, couches, and upholstered chairs as well as an exclusive bar, good sight lines of the stage, and (perhaps best of all) private restrooms.
For a truly off-the-beaten-path exploration of contemporary sound, check out Exhibit 3000, the world’s only techno museum. There’s no sign for the museum, which occupies a nondescript former UAW hall north of Wayne State University. But that sort of in-the-know cool is exactly what you would expect for a museum devoted to underground electronic music. Offering tours by appointment only, Exhibit 3000 features vintage techno equipment, classic techno albums, and a library of publications about the genre. It’s a fun opportunity to expand your musical horizon in an offbeat way.
WHERE TO STAY
The refurbished neoclassical Detroit Foundation Hotel (250 W. Larned St., 313-800-5500, detroitfoundationhotel.com) once served as the Detroit Fire Department’s headquarters. Now, it’s a sleek boutique hotel with 100 rooms. If that’s not your speed, try the Atheneum Suite Hotel in Greektown (1000 Brush St., 313-962-2323. Its marble columns and Grecian decor make it an elegant place to lay your head after filling it with some amazing tunes.
Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, 20510 Livernois Ave., Detroit, (313) 345-6300
Exhibit 3000, 3000 E. Grand Blvd., Detroit, open by appointment only.
The Motown Museum, 2648 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit, (313) 875-2264
Outer Limits Lounge, 5507 Caniff St., Hamtramck, Michigan, (313) 826-0456
Third Man Records, 441 W. Canfield St., Detroit, (313) 209-5205
Saint Andrew’s Hall, 431 E. Congress St., Detroit, (313) 961-8961