The Best Bars in Detroit Right Now
There has never been a better time to drink in Detroit. After a flurry of openings that really kicked into high gear around 2013, the past two years have been the most fruitful yet. That means we've got more dive bars, tiki bars, cocktails bars, and just plain bars than you should reasonably have access to. So to help you through so many spots vying for your attention, we've rounded up the ones that are definitely worth your time and money. Here are the best bars in Detroit right now.
A frothy confection of a cocktail bar
Between Lady of the House in Corktown and the concepts she has launched inside the Siren Hotel, Chef Kate Williams has been the primary steward of Instagrammability in Detroit. Each of her restaurants and bars presents as an elegant, frothy confection that you consume with your eyes as much as your mouth, so it is only fitting that the prettiest and girliest of all is Candy Bar. This cocktail lounge is lined in Jayne Mansfield-pink and oxblood velvets, chrome, and marble, with a dramatic chandelier as the bar's centerpiece and a massive vintage disco ball in the corner. This is 1920s Hollywood glam meets 2020s Instagram influencer, and it is gorgeous and brilliant, and also the cocktails are outstanding.
A mid-century throwback bar with drinks to match
If you've been paying any attention at all, like in your daily life just existing in Detroit, then you know that Detroit has somewhat of an obsession with mid-century modern. This can be said of a lot of places and people, but really especially Detroit. The new Hammer & Nail lounge in Midtown, located on the ground floor of the recently renovated mid-century building now known as "The Plaza," serves drinks that pay homage to mid-century Mad Men cocktail culture. These are not the craft cocktails of today with house-made tinctures and exotic, unpronounceable liqueurs; these toe the line of what was once reviled in cocktail culture as "bad taste," but now that cocktail culture is cool with kitsch, such neon-colored fruity drinks adorned with unnaturally red maraschino cherries may just be due for their moment.
Cocktails with scents and sensibility
Located in the garden level of a historic Victorian mansion in Midtown, Castalia is an intimate, "experimental" cocktail bar where the cocktails are inspired by Sfumato's natural fragrances and served as a pairing with the scents themselves.
A thoughtful space in a historic building
This handsome neighborhood bar, located in a neighborhood that sorely lacked a neighborhood bar, is located inside a building that dates back to 1890. The interior design honors the building's history while also updating it with what can probably be best described as contemporary Art Deco. It's a thoughtfully designed, gorgeous space (especially the private lounge), with equally gorgeous, inventive cocktails. It's a bit of a hidden gem -- in part because it is actually sort of hidden -- but get this place on your radar.
This aptly named spot is a dive bar that aims higher
The High Dive bills itself as a "cocktail parlour," with a "u," and that seems fair: The interior is tinged with boudoir drama, with lots of stained glass, chandeliers, and detailed woodwork; but ultimately this is a dressed-up version of a divey Hamtramck music venue with legit craft cocktails that all cost $6-9 all the time.
A brewery specializing in Belgian styles near Belle Isle
It is decidedly not summer anymore, which is a shame, because the beers at Brewery Faisan will pair best with warm weather and sunshine, especially after spending a day at Belle Isle. But there's never a bad time for Belgian-style beer, and this new entrant to Detroit's brewing scene -- and, look, for a city of this size with so many empty buildings and so much vacant land, there really should be more breweries here than there currently are -- is an exciting new addition. Also, it's HUGE, so seats should always be easy to find, which is a significant advantage.
A first-rate neo dive bar that celebrates second place
Second Best is what happens when the guys from Grey Ghost open their own version of a dive bar, and it is good. While the name was born from the business partners' increasing "always a bridesmaid" feelings, Second Best is first-rate as a trendy dive with fancified bar snacks (Italian beef and fried cheese sticks, but done really well) and a drink menu that makes you wonder if Long Islands and Zima are going to make a tongue-in-cheek comeback at third-wave hipster cocktail bars until you realize of course they are. While the name and concept intentionally resisted the whole idea of "best of this or that" listicles, it has more than earned its place on this one. You're welcome.
A Polynesian paradise on Detroit's East Side
Much like everywhere else in the world, metro Detroit is having a tiki moment. And, much like everywhere else in the world, it started several years ago not long after the start of the craft cocktail revival, but it took a bit longer to spread to neighborhoods outside of the hipper 'hoods. But now enthusiasts can find dedicated tiki bars in the unlikeliest of places, like Lost River Tiki in Detroit's far-flung Morningside neighborhood, also home to one of Detroit's best happy hours.
The new Detroit baseline for a neighborhood bar
Located next door to the hot new Mexican restaurant and cocktail bar Peso, Bagley Central is a no-fuss neighborhood bar with quality cocktails at cheap prices (that get even cheaper during happy hour) and house-made jerky and bar snacks. Nowadays in Detroit, every bar is a cocktail bar.
The public is welcome at this historic members club
The stunning Detroit Club has undergone a massive renovation that has included a brand-new restaurant called the Grille Room as well as a cocktail lounge, the Library. The opulent wood-paneled space pays homage to Detroit's history -- really, doesn't everything? -- with a menu of classic and modern cocktails and interesting wines by the glass. Some of the drinks are playfully presented, but as far as your 'Gram is concerned, the focus is really the 20-foot crystal chandelier.
Hamtramck gets fancy
This cozy community arts space is also Hamtramck's most upscale cocktail bar, serving up expertly-crafted cocktails that all cost around just $10, and go even cheaper on happy hour. Serious question: Why does anyone hang out anywhere other than Hamtramck nowadays?
MORE: Here's your exhaustive guide to eating and drinking in Hamtramck
The only brewery in Detroit's foodie haven
Eastern Market should be lousy with breweries. For some reason (Detroit real estate prices, the high cost of renovating dilapidated old buildings, terrible landlords, difficulties in licensing and permitting, yadda yadda Detroit), Eastern Market is not lousy with breweries. Thankfully, Eastern Market Brewing Co. exists now, so Saturday shoppers have somewhere to quench their thirst for locally brewed craft beer, particularly some very fun sours and (NE(D))IPAs.
One cocktail bar to rule them all
This last decade has brought about profound changes to the food and beverage scene in the city, and it arguably all began... well, with Slows, but as far as the craft cocktail and better bar movement is concerned, with Sugar House. Sugar House made national headlines from pretty much the minute it opened in 2011, at once representing the dawn of a "new" Detroit (problematic descriptor or not, you all know exactly what that means) as well as the national awakening of a craft cocktail movement no longer relegated to the coasts. It has been memorialized in countless food, drink, and travel publications as (one of) the best bar(s) in Detroit/Michigan/United States/(probably) world, and continues its dominance to this day. This is a bucket list cocktail bar of national prominence, and its influence on Detroit's exceptional cocktail culture is impossible to overstate, or even fully grasp.
Your friendly neighborhood nano-brewery
When Batch Brewing opened in 2015, it certainly wasn't the only brewery in the city, but it was the first that was really a product of the national craft beer renaissance that had been brewing (HA!) for the previous two decades. While Grand Rapids was earning top accolades as "Beer City USA," Detroit was sorely lagging behind (in many ways, compared to other cities of its size, it still kind of is). Batch opened as Detroit's first "nano" brewery, but it was also the first Detroit brewery that looked and felt like the other breweries sprouting up like weeds everywhere else -- interesting and experimental beers and a beer-first mentality; a strong presence as popular local gathering place; distinctly 2010s design by way of white subway tile, reclaimed wood communal seating, exposed ductwork, and Edison bulbs. It also helps that they brew hands-down fantastic beers, too.
A dive bar that is so much more than the sum of its parts
The Detroit of 2020 is overflowing with hip, trendy, thoughtful, innovative, designer-y bars that could easily hold their own against just about anything in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, LA, et.al. But what once made Detroit bars TRULY great -- great in a way that was once only understood by the dirtbags and scum punks and wannabe urbanites who couldn't afford to live in any of the cities above who all called Detroit home -- were the truly righteous dive bars, and MAN these places were dives. They were old, and shabby (NOT in a chic way), and falling apart, and you were just as likely to share the bar with old war vets who may or may not have been homeless as well as you were other like-minded young folks who chose Detroit because of all its battle scars and not despite them, who chose to see the beauty in the weirdness and emptiness and rundown ugliness. The Old Miami is a remnant of that era, known for its living-room-style seating with beat-up-old couches as well as the massive back yard with a fire pit. It's a hot spot for live local music covering a range of genres, and while it isn't quite as charmingly decrepit or secretly special as it once was when the rest of the world had left Detroit for dead, it is emblematic of "old" and "new" Detroit colliding in a way that has created something altogether different and good.
Nationally renowned spot for the eponymous green liqueur
Chartreuse isn't named for the color of its walls, though they are indeed quite green. This Midtown restaurant -- and yes, we're breaking our own rules by including it here, but for good reason -- is named for the once-extremely-esoteric herbal liqueur made by monks in the French Alps from a close-guarded secret recipe of 130 herbs. The craft cocktail movement re-popularized this boutique spirit, and Chartreuse, the restaurant, is one of the top-selling establishments in the country for sales of the green (and yellow!) liqueur. They've also got a stash of extremely rare bottles of the stuff, which you should ask nicely about.
Hip, Spanish-style wine bar with a full bottle shop
This Spanish-influenced wine shop stocks over 500 different wines, highlighting small-batch producers from all the major wine regions throughout the world, with a special emphasis on sustainable, organic, and biodynamic winemaking practices. The Royce is also an excellent place to drink wine, with an interesting selection of wines available by the glass or in flights as well as cheeses, charcuterie, and other wine-friendly accompaniments for snacking.
The entry point to Hamtramck dive bar culture
There are dozens of beloved dive bars in Hamtramck, but Whiskey in the Jar might just be the most beloved of all. This is the non-Hamtramckian's beginner bar; an entry point to Hamtramck's robust dive bar scene, where first-timers are greeted with a shot of Jerzy and there's a steady stream of Hamtramck tourists (especially during "holidays" like Paczki Day and their annual Tracksuit party), but mostly it's all locals and regulars who know each other.
Inventive, high-priced cocktails worth splurging on
If you thought Detroit wasn't the kind of place that could sustain an $80 pour of vintage British navy rum, then you clearly haven’t been to Bad Luck Bar. Detroit's closest proximity to the more experiential cocktail bars like The Aviary in Chicago, Bad Luck Bar doesn't serve the kind of drinks you swig and forget; these are imbibable (and Instagrammable) works of art.
Tiki-ish-ness in an art-filled alley
The Skip -- sister bar to the more upscale cocktail bar and restaurant Standby—is not overtly a tiki bar, but it definitely admires them, with decorative flourishes reminiscent of other popular tiki bars and tropical-minded drinks. But it's also just a no-frills, colorful neighborhood hangout bar, located in the art-lined Belt Alley, which features works by the likes of Shepard Fairey and Tristan Eaton, among others. The Skip also serves a selection of frozen cocktails that includes a frozen Irish coffee inspired by the one made famous by the Erin Rose in New Orleans, popular with discerning drinkers all over the world. It's a great spot year-round, but it sure is extra-special in the summertime when the garage doors are open to the alley.
All things gin, and other things too, but mostly gin
While Americans have been busy guzzling (and ruining) bourbon, the rest of the world has juniper fever. While the enthusiasm for gin has been slightly tepid in the American market compared to others, it is REALLY only a matter of time. And Detroit City Distillery already has a jump on the trend, crafting small-batch gin releases in addition to their excellent portfolio gins. They utilize hyper-local ingredients, like white pine and blue spruce from the co-founder's own farm, and also collaborate with some of the area's top bartenders and chefs on their small batch releases. Visit their tasting room -- in a historic old Detroit building, natch -- to sample their latest limited edition and experimental releases, and grab a few bottles to take home.
Detroit 2.0's first, and still funkiest, wine bar
Motor City Wine is known just as much for their live jazz and funk music and DJ dance parties as for their fun and funky wine selection. It's also a bottle shop in addition to being a wine bar and entertainment venue, and you can purchase ANY bottle from their selection and enjoy it immediately for a small ($10) corkage fee. You can also just order wine by the glass or check out one of their monthly wine tastings where you'll sample 15 different wines accompanied by cheese, charcuterie, and antipasti.
Fine diving in a former brothel
At various points during the Two Way Inn's long, long life (going back to 1876), it has been a hotel, a general store, a dance hall, a jail, a brothel, and a speakeasy. It has served liquor continuously since 1876 (see: speakeasy). And now it is a friendly, family-owned establishment for which "dive" is a misnomer; its biggest claim to "diveyness" is an old building and cheap booze, when really this is just another classic neighborhood establishment where people -- the community, if you will -- gather. Enjoy some home-cooked food, Michigan craft beers, and house-infused Bloody Marys on Sundays. It is, as the bar prefers to say, a "fine dive." Note: You have to be buzzed in through the front door!
Dive tiki in Southwest Detroit
There is something inherently fun and unfussy about a tiki bar, and also something that demands it not try to be fancy like its cocktail bar counterparts. Mutiny Tiki Bar leans into its decided un-fanciness, embracing the building's thoroughly dive bar roots and dressing it up with just enough Polynesian flair to make it recognizably tiki without sacrificing its dive bar cred. This is just what you want a tiki bar to be, and the drinks certainly have craft cocktail pedigree.
Drink while you shop
This beloved beer store in Midtown is also a multi-tap beer bar that heavily emphasizes Michigan brews. Not only is this one of the best beer stores in Detroit (it is also one of the only beer stores in Detroit, but the statement still stands), it's also one of the best places to grab a pint and hang out with other like-minded beer folk.
Taking you from coffee to cocktails
Great Lakes was the first spot to introduce Detroit to the idea of a third-wave coffeehouse existing simultaneously with a craft cocktail and beer bar, and remains one of the best places in the city to post up with your Macbook and take your day from house-roasted coffee in the morning to nerdy beers and coffee-infused craft cocktails for afternoon happy hour. In the evening, stop in for a glass of Pétillant Naturel wine before heading to a show at the Max M. Fisher Music Center.
Where you go for whisky
The Whisky Parlor, located on the second floor above the Grand Trunk Pub, has hands-down the best whisky selection in Detroit. They've got a strong showing of American, Canadian, and Irish whiskeys, as well as select top-ranked whiskeys from around the world, but MAN if you're looking for bourbon or Scotch -- especially Scotch -- you absolutely need to check this place out.
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