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Travel Diary: Detroit

There is something uneasy about Detroit. It is a feeling that has attached itself to the crumbling brick and glassless windows. It has attached itself to the abandoned, in place of all those who have deserted it.

You can travel to Midtown and attempt to lose the uneasiness while enjoying the Lamb Ragu at Selden Standard, but on the way back to your hotel it will peek at you from behind the fire hydrants and clutch at the threads of your jeans.

The decline of Detroit was a chain reaction; a melting pot of job loss, violent riots and bankruptcy that has overflown and coated the streets with its traumatic residue. Yet, rising up from between the cracks of this coating is a phoenix who eats organic produce and wears pre-ripped jeans.

You can find this phoenix in Corktown, the oldest neighbourhood in Detroit, at Astro Coffee. There’s a blackboard wall that has been decorated with vibrant chalk flowers, and an array of handmade pastries. You can also try and lose the uneasiness here.

The phoenix must be aware of it because they have made every effort to cover it up with smart black paint and trimmed plant pots, but you can still feel it lingering outside.

On the same block as Astro is Slows Bar Bq, a new destination restaurant from 2005, and Gold Cash Gold, a former pawn shop that now serves cocktails and Mushroom Pansotti.

However, sandwiched between these new developments, immune from the phoenix’s influence, is LJ’s Lounge. You choose LJ’s because Gold Cash’s beer is almost as expensive as in the bars in New York, and the sign promises dancing.

There isn’t any dancing but the pool is free and the juke box plays five songs for a dollar. At LJ’s they don’t like Astro or Gold Cash. Sometimes Slows can drive in customers waiting for a table, but all the rest is “hipster trash” according to the barmaid.   

Somewhere between your third drink and your fourth game of pool a fight breaks out. It is a typical battle of machismo, one that makes you grip your pool cue a little harder than necessary, but most of the tension is diluted by Carly Simon playing on the juke box. Still, it’s time to leave.

Sundown is the eeriest time to walk in Detroit. The uneasiness follows you all the way home. Most of the homes you walk past are occupied, but occasionally a building will show you its bare interior between boards, or you’ll think a room is lit only to discover that the fading daylight is just pouring through a gash in the brickwork; the phoenix hasn’t reached here yet.

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