Corktown is Detroit’s oldest neighborhood and is just west of the Downtown Detroit commercial district. It is largely residential with a growing number of commercial properties along Michigan Avenue. The district’s boundaries include I-75 to the north, the Lodge Freeway to the east, Bagley and Porter streets to the south, and Rosa Parks Boulevard (12th Street) to the west. The neighborhood was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and is also designated as a City of Detroit Historic District.
Corktown boasts Victorian-era row houses, beautifully restored with vibrant colors and careful gardens. The neighborhood is a tight-knit community, and the surrounding entertainment district is great for music and bar hopping.
The Workers Row House on Sixth Street between Porter and Labrosse is one of the oldest residences in the city. Built in the 1840s was restored by the Greater Corktown Development Corp. and houses an interactive museum and community center. The project received a Cool Cities designation from the state.
Corktown is home to students and professors at the nearby Wayne State University and College for Creative Studies, historic home buffs who revel in the area’s Victorian wonders, and other urban professionals who like hanging out in an increasingly lively neighborhood.
Corktown was founded by Detroit’s Irish immigrant population in the 1830s. Initially, the homes were detached or row houses built in the Federal style. By the 1890s an increasing number of the Irish population moved to other locations in Detroit and a second ethnic community grew up as immigrants from Malta made Corktown their home. In the 1920s the Latino population began arriving from Mexico and the Southwest United States to work in Detroit’s auto plants.
Corktowners certainly don’t hurt for places to eat or drink. Try the creative soups at Mudgie’s Deli, the internationally famous pulled pork from Slow’s Bar B Q or a mouth-watering burger at Nemo’s Bar and Grill. Up late? Head over to LJ’s Lounge for some dive bar karaoke or the Lager House to check out local music up-close and personal.
Originally an Irish-settled neighborhood, Corktown today is home to an increasingly diverse and eclectic group. The historical homes attract design-minded individuals and historians alike. Both students and professors at the nearby Wayne State University and College for Creative Studies call Corktown home, alongside a variety of artists, musicians, and other urban professionals.
Dining and Shopping
Corktown is charming, clean and offers lots to do in little space. Part of the attraction, of course, is the area’s walkability, as voted by the Metro Times community. Walk to one of the city’s quaint restaurants: a café called Le Petit Zinc, French slang for a local bar. The bars would have zinc countertops, and each person passing though for a meal would leave their mark on the soft metal.
You can also find Mudgies, a Deli in the heart of one of the historic neighborhoods. If you’re looking for barbeque, try Slow’s. One of the neighborhood’s most popular restaurants, it’s been featured in a dizzying number of publications both local and national (including the Today Show). For burgers, brews, or bar food, try Nemos or PJ’s Lager House. Balie Coreigh’s is a great choice for more traditional Irish pub fare.
For breakfast on Sunday check out the Steak Hut on West Lafayette, a Corktown institution. You can get the best breakfast $3 can buy, accompanied by music from the Detroit folk duo, $2 Breakfast.
Try some of the emerging food entrepreneur’s goods too: the Detroit Institute of Bagels, sausage-makers, jam-purveyors and more.
Corktown holds the biggest book store in the state. Located in what was once a glove factory, John K. King’s Books holds over 1 million rare and used books in the warehouse.
Shopping is good in Corktown. Check out Rachel’s Place. It specializes in vintage clothing from Detroit department stores like Hudson’s, Winkleman’s, Jacobson’s and Himelhoch’s. The majority of the store’s stock was made in the U.S.A., with other clothing produced in Italy and Spain. Shoes, purses, old advertisements, furniture and home goods round out the collection.
If you’re a vinylophile Hello Records on Bagley is for you. There’s even a hip new coffee bar, Astro Coffee, so you don’t have to bring your own.
Development and Sustainability
Corktown has attracted a huge number of new businesses. One of the hottest areas in Detroit for new businesses is the Michigan Avenue stretch. Sugar House, a cocktail bar, is slated to open, right next to O’Connor Realty. O’Connor is one of the spearheads of Detroit’s construction and redevelopment, both commercial and residential.
Urban farming has a huge presence in these neighborhoods as well. You can find Brother Nature’s fresh produce at the local restaurants and farmer’s markets all over the city. Next to it, you’ll find the Friends of Spauling Court raising funds to restore the medieval-looking court to its prior glory.
Corktown also boasts the only youth hostel in the city. Emily Doerr and Ashley Woods opened the Detroit Hostel in the spring of 2011 with 14 bunk beds and a queen size for couples. Brother Nature and Soup at Spaulding are neighbors and Rachel’s Place, the Lager House, and Slow’s are all within walking distance.
Culture and Entertainment
Corktown’s culturally cool at night. With new restaurants and clubs, this area has become a destination for people seeking a night out in the city. Some of the most popular joints include Slow’s Bar BQ, Nemos for burgers and beer, and the Balie Coreigh for upscale Irish fare.
Corktown is one of the city’s premiere districts for live music. PJ’s Lager House is hailed by some as the best place in Detroit to see up-and-coming bands, though national acts pass through its doors too. For more traditional music, be sure to visit Nancy Whiskeys or the Gaelic League. You can find dance parties at the Corktown Tavern or The Works, who hosts some of the most popular DJ’s around.
Art is also big in Corktown. 5E Gallery, Gallery 555, Zeitgeist host regular openings and special events. You can also find Matrix Theater Company in South Corktown.
As you might guess, St. Patrick’s Day in Corktown is a Detroit must. The annual parade on Michigan Avenue is the Sunday before the holiday. You can catch candy and beads tossed from floats.
The first Saturday in June is the annual Home and Garden tour. Stroll through the lush landscapes around the Victorian-era homes. For more info go to www.corktowndetroit.org.
The annual Tour de Troit bike ride is the fourth Saturday in September. The 35-mile trek starts at the old train station and runs through Southwest Detroit, Midtown, Jefferson East, Downtown and back. Check www.corktowndetroit.org for more information.