by Nicole Rupersburg
Like so many other Detroit neighborhoods, Eastern Market has been experiencing monumental growth. The Market District, which dates to 1891, has seen a slew of new restaurants, bars and retail openings and an influx of art galleries and artist studios; and renovation plans to significantly increase residential units are in the works. The market itself has been undergoing a string of enhancements, too, including the recently completed three-year, $8.5 million renovation of Shed 5 that now includes a commercial kitchen for food entrepreneurs. And that’s the super-quick summary of it all.
With all the hubbub and positive chatter our nation’s largest historic public market district has been getting lately, Visit Detroit figured it was time to outline the goings-on going on in our venerable Eastern Market.
Eastern Market has expanded in recent years to include not just the hugely popular Saturday market but also Tuesday and Sunday markets.
On Saturdays, you’ll find a vast assortment of produce, flower and plant vendors, as well as an ever-growing number of local food producers and entrepreneurs that Eastern Market works diligently to include and promote. Saturdays are certainly the most vibrant days, when up to 45,000 people from all over southeastern Michigan and beyond stop by for a day at the market. Ribbers barbecue over massive grills set all along Russell Street in front of Bert’s Marketplace, a soul food and jazz bar, and the sounds of their Saturday afternoon outdoor karaoke carries throughout the streets.
The Sunday street markets are focused on arts and home goods vendors, featuring local artists, designers and crafters. Peruse hand-built furniture, paintings, hand-knit scarves, jewelry, silk-screened T-shirts, soaps and lotions, and much more, along with food truck vendors and live entertainment.
For those who enjoy the market as an experience but also want something less crowded, Tuesdays might be the market day for you. This scaled-down market day still offers produce, baked goods and meats as well as free Zumba and yoga classes and cooking demonstrations. You’ll have much more space to browse and get to know the vendors. It’s a more intimate experience.
Eastern Market is more than 100 years old, and some of the retailers have been around nearly that long.
Rocky Peanut Co. is a longtime favorite of children and adults alike, offering bulk nuts, dried fruits, candies, teas, coffees and other goods. Germack Pistachio Co., which moved in 2012 from its original Eastern Market building on Russell Street that dates to 1924, has expanded beyond pistachios to get in the coffee roasting game with a roastery and cafe in its new space down the street. DeVries & Co., previously known as R. Hirt, has been around since 1887 and is still known for its stellar specialty meat and cheese counters and its selection of gourmet and locally made grocery items. The Gratiot Central Market, aka the “Gratiot meat mall,” dates to 1915 and has every kind of fish, meat and poultry you can imagine.
Everything old is new again, and in Eastern Market, even if the business itself hasn’t been around for more than 100 years, it pays homage to that history in its own way. Detroit Mercantile is part vintage store, part art gallery and part museum, with a collection of new and vintage “made in the USA” items and Detroit-centric gifts. Signal-Return and Salt & Cedar are both old-fashioned letterpress studios. Check them out for unique handmade prints, workshops, dinners and special events.
Not everything here is quite so old-timey, though. Aptemal Clothing’s Division Street Boutique, known for its now-iconic “Detroit Hustles Harder” shirts and hats in bold neon colors, is also based here, as is the newer and soon-to-be iconic DETROIT VS EVERYBODY clothing line.
Pets are welcome at 3 Dogs 1 Cat, an urban pet shop for your four-legged friends, and the people that love them. The store offers trendy, stylish and quality merchandise such as Detroit Manufacturing collars and leashes.
After what has felt like an eternity of anticipation, Supino Pizzeria owner Dave Mancini has opened the adjoining La Rondinella, a rustic Italian eatery serving grass-fed beef and handmade pastas with an excellent selection of wine and Italian spirits. But if you’re looking for something more quick and casual, don’t miss the place that started it all, Supino Pizzeria. Grab the slice of the day to go, or order up a Smoky or Bismarck to enjoy in the cozy — and crowded — location.
On the other side of Supino Pizzeria from La Rondinella is Russell Street Deli, another hugely popular destination known for having long lines out the door every weekend. Everything is made from scratch, and they source from local growers and purveyors as much as possible. Try the house-cooked Sy Ginsberg corned beef, a legendary Detroit delicacy.
Zeff’s Coney Island, Louie’s Ham & Corned Beef and Farmers Restaurant will all scratch your breakfast and lunch itch, with heaping platters of corned beef hash topped with fried eggs to get your day started off right.
Roma Cafe has been open since 1890 and looks almost the same as it did when it was a favored hangout of Detroit’s notorious Purple Gang. The food is heavy old-world American Italian, and it is truly an experience.
Cutter’s Bar and Grill serves one of the best hamburgers in the city, and don’t miss out on the magic of the stuffed burger with the molten cheese inside. For delicious hand-tossed pizzas on chewy house-made dough with a side of Bumpy cake, stop by Milano Bakery, dating to 1958. For a cool, creamy summertime treat, get a scoop of Hudsonville ice cream from Mootown Ice Cream & Dessert Shoppe. And should you find yourself in need of late-night eats, hit up the recently opened Stache International for unique items such as the gyro corn dog.
Despite being historically a daytime destination, Eastern Market has a burgeoning nightlife scene, thanks to a growing number of residents and the presence of new art galleries and their nighttime music events and exhibit openings.
Vivio’s Food & Spirits is still the place to be for bloody marys on Saturdays before hitting the market and Sundays before a Detroit Lions game. It is also open until 8 p.m. most days for a bucket of mussels and dinner bloodys.
Detroit City Distillery creates small-batch artisanal whiskey, gin and vodka using locally sourced ingredients, and mixes up craft cocktails with its own spirits inside a stylish tasting room. Stop in for $5 cups of punch and $6 happy-hour cocktails.
Thomas Magee’s Sporting House Whiskey Bar is an unfussy neighborhood bar with a solid selection of craft beers and whiskeys and all the Detroit games on TV, without the oft-obnoxious “sports bar” feeling.
Bert’s Marketplace isn’t just a place for ribs and karaoke on Saturday afternoons; by night it’s a barbecue and soul food restaurant and one of Detroit’s premier destinations for live jazz and blues.
The rumor mill has it that plans for the first brewery in Eastern Market in decades are brewing, but in the meantime, beer fans take note: the annual Michigan Brewers Guild Detroit Fall Beer Festival is held on market grounds every October (21-22) just before Halloween. Last year’s festival brought in 675 beers from 83 breweries.
Saturday year-round, 6 a.m.-4 p.m.
Sunday June through October, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Tuesday June through October, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
The Sunday following Mother’s Day is Flower Day at Eastern Market (May 15), and this is the market’s busiest weekend of the year. Upwards of 200,000 people from all over the state and region flock to Eastern Market for this annual ushering in of spring, when 15 acres of space is covered with every possible variety of flowers, trees and shrubs, including jasmine, daisies, lilac bushes, succulents and dozens of roses.
Be sure to stop at Shed 5. It just reopened last year after a three-year, $8.5 million renovation. And marketgoers tell us they love it. For one thing, it has heated cement floors — and let’s face it, early spring mornings in Michigan can be on the chilly side. The shed’s other standout is the fully equipped community kitchen. It’s our very own food incubator/rentable test kitchen for wanna-be chefs and restaurateurs. Watch them saute, bake and broil, and then hopefully be one of the first to taste the what’s-coming-next to Detroit’s hot food scene.
In the last few years, Eastern Market has become a hotbed for Detroit’s thriving art scene. The Market District is now the home of internationally renowned galleries, studios and large-scale art events. Inner State Gallery has cemented itself as the premier contemporary art gallery in Detroit, having gained international fame over the years through its time-released, limited-edition-art e-commerce store 1xRUN. The store has spearheaded multiple major public mural projects in the city, and partners on street art events with other galleries in Los Angeles, Hawaii and Japan. Inner State is the home base for 1xRUN operations as well as a gallery space where respected local and international artists show in solo and group exhibitions.
An undertaking led by Inner State Gallery, Murals in the Market, invited 45 renowned local and international artists to do large-scale murals throughout the Market District.
For a map of the murals to create your own public art tour, visit muralsinthemarket.com.
The Red Bull House of Art (above) is an arts incubator project that serves as part gallery, part curator, part artist residency in which different “cycles” of artists are brought in for three-month residencies that culminate in a group exhibition. Open Saturdays 10 a.m.-3 p.m. or by appointment.
Trinosophes is equal parts excellent coffee shop serving pour-overs from Detroit’s best roasters and excellent cafe serving from-scratch fare (including vegan options and a must-try brunch). It’s also an art gallery and performance space. Most recently, it became the newest home of the popular independent record store, Peoples Records.
Held in conjunction with the Detroit Design Festival every September (22-24), Eastern Market After Dark (Sept. 22) is the best way to explore this creative hub, as all of the galleries, studios, retailers and workshops fling open their doors and invite the public in for a rare behind-the-scenes look during this market-wide evening festival.
At 24 acres, the size of Eastern Market can be a little intimidating, especially if you’re unfamiliar with it. The easiest way around that is to sign up for a guided tour. Let knowledgeable locals be your guide to all the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the market, with tours that focus on the market’s history with the Underground Railroad, brewing and bootlegging; walking tours with plenty of food samples; and biking tours that explore Detroit’s growing urban agriculture industry.
Parking is free throughout Eastern Market, including in the Eastern Market Parking Garage on Riopelle Street (except on tailgating Sundays). There is also the large south parking lot near Russell Street and the Fisher Freeway Service Drive.
Detroit Lions fans are loyal to the core, and every home game day you’ll find them tailgating in Eastern Market. Tailgating is open to all, however you will need to purchase a permit. More details are available at easternmarket.com/explore/tailgating.
For more information on Eastern Market’s rich history, a directory of vendors (with links to their websites) and downloadable maps of the district and surrounding area, visit easternmarket.com.
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