Detroit Travel: A Bike Tour of Corktown and Mexicantown
My Detroit discoveries were coming to an end, slowly but surely, and I had already seen so many interesting places on my whirlwind tour over the past four days. Just before I was ready to cross the border into Windsor again, I had one more adventure on my schedule: a bike tour through southwest Detroit to cover Corktown and Mexicantown.
After a hearty breakfast at the Inn on Ferry Street, I took their free shuttle downtown to Rivard Plaza, right off the Detroit Riverwalk. At 10 am I met Kelly Kavanaugh, co-owner of Wheelhouse Detroit, the first bike rental facility in downtown Detroit in more than 30 years. Wheelhouse also provides bike service and repair and offers a variety of tours of different Detroit neighborhoods.
Wheelhouse Detroit was founded by friends Kelli Kavanaugh and Karen Gage, two young women who have been active in Detroit’s urban planning and nonprofit scene for years. Equipped with advice from other entrepreneurs, seed funding from the city’s microcredit program, and their own savings, they embarked on their entrepreneurial adventure and purchased 30 bikes including comfortable cruisers, city mountain bikes, children’s bikes, trailers, and even a tandem.
Its bikes are made by Kona, a philanthropically-minded manufacturer that donates bikes to non-profit organizations in Africa. Along with others I have known over the past four days, Kelli and Karen are an example of a new generation of Detroit entrepreneurs who combine their love of the city with hard work and entrepreneurial creativity.
On a bright but fairly cool and windy October day, Kelli and I headed west along the Detroit Riverwalk and quickly passed the General Motor Renaissance Center and Hart Plaza, Detroit’s civic center. The Detroit International Riverfront covers an area that stretches from the Ambassador Bridge to Belle Isle and encompasses numerous parks, restaurants, retail stores, skyscrapers, and residential areas along the Detroit River. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised in recent years to revitalize this vast area.
The Detroit Riverwalk is a multipurpose recreational trail that stretches 5.5 miles (almost 9 km) along the banks of the Detroit River and provides separate lanes for pedestrians and cyclists or inline skaters. Wheelhouse Detroit sits inside Rivard Plaza, an outdoor space featuring the Cullen family carousel, an inlaid granite map of the Detroit River, fountains and gardens. Rivard Plaza opened in June 2007 and also features the Riverwalk Cafe.
Pedaling west along the Riverwalk, Kelli began to tell me about her adventure and her passion for cycling in Detroit. As the city is quite dispersed and much of the traffic is concentrated on the characteristic sunken highways of the city, the city center is surprisingly free of traffic congestion and is suitable for cyclists. In my last four days in Detroit I didn’t find any traffic jams downtown, a surprising experience when you come from a congested place like Toronto.
While pedaling against the wind, we passed several of Detroit’s most iconic locations: Cobo Arena, Cobo Convention Center, and Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings. Leaving downtown behind, we headed southwest to Detroit.
The first neighborhood to welcome us was Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, named for the Irish immigrants from County Cork who settled here. Homes in this area date back to 1834 and feature beautifully restored Victorian homes, many of them painted in bright colors. Corktown also has plenty of great hangouts and restaurants, including the trendy Zeitgeist Gallery, a bar called Nemo’s that was voted the third perfect sports bar in the US by Sports Illustrated, and LJ’s, a trendy karaoke spot also like a wide range of other restaurants.
We wound our way through this pleasant neighborhood and crossed a railroad bridge that provided a perfect view of one of Detroit’s most impressive architectural structures – Michigan Central Depot, also called Michigan Central Station. Although now abandoned and in poor condition, Michigan Central Station is a railroad station that was built in 1913 for the Michigan Central Railroad. Its main Beaux-Arts train station is flanked by an 18-story office tower, a monumental building whose outline dominates the southwest Detroit skyline. Due to its sheer size and magnificent architectural details, Michigan Central Depot remains one of Detroit’s most impressive buildings, despite its dismal current state.
Passing the railroad bridge we arrive in Mexicantown, a vibrant neighborhood that has seen significant economic growth in recent years. Kelly showed me the Michigan International Welcome Center, a new commercial development in the vicinity of the Ambassador Bridge. 85 companies will welcome visitors to The Mercado, serving both locals and foreigners with a wide variety of products.
Further west, we pass a long strip of Mexican restaurants that include popular spots like Mexican Village, El Zócalo, Evie’s Tamales, Lupita’s, and Xochimilco. A walk through this neighborhood revealed an extensive collection of late Victorian houses with large trees. The main streets in the area are Bagley Street and Vernor Street, flanked by numerous shop windows and restaurants.
Away from the main thoroughfares and tucked away in the neighborhood is St. Anne De Detroit Catholic Church, the eighth church in this location whose cornerstone was laid in 1886. The church was originally founded on July 26, 1701, two days later. by Antoine Mothe de la. Cadillac (the founder of Detroit) and his French settlers arrived. Today it is the second oldest continuously operating Roman Catholic parish in the United States. Today, the congregation includes many Hispanic parishioners who gather to worship in this impressive neo-Gothic structure.
One stop on our bike tour included the Yorba Hotel, which inspired the hit single by Detroit garage rock band “The White Stripes.” Today this old hotel offers protected housing. We started biking back to the main road and past Clark Park, a large public park on the southwestern side of Detroit. Cycling back east in Vernor we saw another strip of Mexican-owned businesses.
On the way back, we made a stop in front of Michigan Central Station, where Kelly explained that this is the starting point for the annual “Tour de Troit” event, a 40-mile bike tour of Detroit that has drawn enthusiasts. cycling since 2001. Both Kelli and her business partner Karen have been actively involved in helping to organize this popular cycling event. Attendance increased from 650 participants in 2007 to 1,100 participants in 2008. Kelly explained that cycling is definitely taking off in Detroit. The Tour de Troit event also raises funds for dedicated bike trails.
Now we turn onto Michigan Avenue, one of the main avenues in Detroit. Stopping regularly we take a look at various bars, cafes and galleries that populate this stretch of the road. One of our last stops was at the Old Tiger Stadium, the former home of the Detroit Tigers baseball team. The stadium originally opened in 1912 and was sadly partially demolished in 2008. A group of dedicated local citizens is fighting to keep the remaining parts of the stadium intact.
Our tour concluded with a stroll through the downtown Detroit business district and ended at the Wheelhouse location in Rivard Plaza. Since I’m an avid cycling enthusiast myself, exploring Detroit on two wheels was a real highlight of my five-day stay in this city. Biking is simply the best way to discover a city, allowing you to traverse large terrain at manageable speeds while getting much-needed exercise. Being able to easily stop anywhere is a huge bonus for an avid travel photographer like me.
Now completely revitalized, I thanked Kelli for introducing me to a completely different side of Detroit and set off for lunch in the open-air open space across from the Wintergarden at the Renaissance Center. The “RenCen”, the international headquarters of General Motors, consists of seven skyscrapers centered around the 73-story central tower that houses the Detroit Marriott Hotel. This structure has also been the tallest building in Michigan since 1977.
At the top of the hotel is Coach Insignia, an elegant restaurant with the most fabulous views of the city. In 2003, GM renovated the entire complex at a cost of $ 500 million, adding the five-story Wintergarden, a light-flooded, glass-enclosed atrium that overlooks the Detroit River. I had my lunch, went outside, and enjoyed the fall sunshine and the magnificent view of the river to Windsor as I reflected on my five action-packed days in Detroit.
Shortly thereafter I called the Inn’s shuttle on Ferry Street and minutes later they rushed me away. I made one last stop in Greektown, one of Detroit’s most popular entertainment districts. Most of the houses along Monroe Street date back to Victorian times and today feature restaurants and cafes on the main level. The Greektown Casino is one of the main attractions in the area.
This exciting morning had concluded my visit to Detroit. I picked up my suitcase, got in my car, and took the Detroit-Windsor tunnel back to Canada. On the way back to Toronto, I reflected on how exciting and fascinating Detroit had been. During these last few days I was able to see so many different facets of Detroit, and I had the opportunity to meet several people who are truly passionate about their city. It’s always great to get to know a city from a connoisseur’s perspective.
He had had a great time in Detroit and had seen so much in the past five days that he had never expected. And I realized that there were many more places that I could not see.
Well, I guess I’ll have to save something for next time …