It is the most diverse city in the state of Michigan, a fact that Hamtramck humbly boasts. “The World in Two Square Miles,” signs in the hamlet proudly proclaim. The city was named after Jean Francois Hamtramck who was the first American commander of Fort Shelby-a key fort in The War of 1812. The fort was located in the center of what is present-day downtown Detroit.
Early in its history, Hamtramck was home to German immigrants. Then in the early 1900s, Polish immigrants moved into the area imprinting it with their heritage for most of the 20th century. To this day, Hamtramck remains synonymous with Polish culture, although the population has deeply decreased. These days, Hamtramck is made up of mostly Bangladeshi, Yemeni and Southeastern Europe immigrants. Attracted to the small, close-knit nature of the city, low taxes and multi-family unit homes.
Culturally, Hamtramck is just as diverse. During the summer months, the Banglatown Farmers Market is a big draw. There are also nearly a half-dozen festivals that take place in the small community during the year. Here are a few of the exciting things to explore in this diverse city-within-a-city.
Downtown Hamtramck: A Thrifter’s Paradise
Named after a wealthy entrepreneur, landowner, and newspaper man, Joseph Campau is the main drag of Hamtramck. Once known for unique clothing and shoe stores, the oldest stores in the neighborhood are Day’s Fashions and Your Special Day — a wedding shop. Known for their one-of-a-kind dresses, customers of the stores come from all around metro Detroit to find dresses for special occasions.
There are plenty of new-to-you places to shop too. A distinctive feature of downtown Hamtramck’s main street is the prevalence of pawn shops and thrift stores. Hamtramck Pawn is one of the largest thrift stores in the city with a huge collection of gold jewelry. But, one of the best second-hand stores to visit is The 3 Ring Traveling Apothecary and Rat Queen Vintage. The store is virtually stuffed with fun oddities and treasures like clothing, jewelry, and eccentric bric-a-brac.
The Hamtramck Historical Museum and Polish Art Center: Sharing a space on Joseph Campau these two treasures are a must-see for Hamtramck. Housed in what was the first department store in the city, the Hamtramck Historical Museum is undergoing transformation that will make it a state-of-the-art facility that will celebrate the rich history and culture of the city. The Polish Art Center is a treasure trove of Polish gifts and artifacts. With brightly colored home goods, clothing, and more, the center is a great destination for novelty items that are inspired by Poland, but can be enjoyed by anyone.
Hamtramck Disneyland: Dmytro Szylak immigrated to Hamtramck from the Ukraine in the 1950s. Szylak worked at General Motors for 30 years, but after his retirement in the mid-80s, he began constructing an assemblage structure atop two garages that he owned. The whimsical kinetic art structures would fill the air with light and music and came to be known as “Hamtramck Disneyland.” The 1,945 sq. ft installation has been the subject of two documentaries and is considered one of the top art destinations in Michigan. Hamtramck Disneyland is managed by Hatch Art: A Hamtramck Art Collective whose shared mission of education, expression and exhibition contributes to exciting art events and gallery showings throughout the city.
St. Florian Church: The church does not typically offer “tours,” but it is available to view whenever it is open and boy, is it worth the trip. Inside the historic Roman Catholic Church in Hamtramck, you’ll find incredibly high ceilings and phenomenal stained-glass windows. St. Florian is the sponsor of the St. Florian Strawberry Festival which takes place every year in May. The festival kicks off with a processional to the church, a special mass, food tastings, and most importantly, sampling of dozens of strawberry dishes.
Planet Ant: A non-profit professional theatre and performance venue, Planet Ant is known as one of metro Detroit’s best improv communities. With events practically every night of the week, Planet Ant is fun for a low price, very few events are more expensive than $5, making it one of the most accessible nights of entertainment around. Planet Ant also features tons of improv classes and is the official presenter of the Detroit Women of Comedy Festival taking place every May.
Srodek’s Campau Quality Sausage: Opened in 1981 by Walter and Marianna Srodek, this market is still family-owned. The market/restaurant in Hamtramck is one of the best known for Polish style sausage in the city. The Srodeks produce and manufacture their own meats and ship them all over the country to people who enjoy the taste of authentic Polish food. The market is fully stocked with a variety of Polish goods including pierogi, horseradish and more.
A Foodie Mecca
Once a year Hamtramck is the hottest place in the city, Paczki Day. The delicious jelly and cream stuffed doughnuts are the official treat of metro area Catholics and more. Buying paczki the day before Lent (Fat Tuesday) is a Detroit tradition. Hamtramck is the epicenter of it all. New Palace Bakery is one of the best places to grab a paczki and enjoy the revelry of the day, but get there early and expect long lines.
Nothing tastes as good with a doughnut as a hot cup of coffee. One of Hamtramck’s newest attractions is Cafe 1923 located on Holbrook. The building was a former family home and renters still reside in upper apartments. But, on the first floor, visitors are treated to a friendly staff, a variety of coffee blends and Italian sodas, as well as a truly welcoming space. Cafe 1923 has a dining area and large sitting room with a lending library that operates on the honor system.
Finally, Hamtramck is also home to Hamtramck Coney Island on Joseph Campau. As any Detroiter can tell you, not all Coney islands are created equal. This small restaurant does a brisk breakfast and lunch service with all of the standards, but they taste so much better. The restaurant has won awards and they are well-deserved. The hashbrowns are epic and their Coney dog chili is tough to beat. This diner is definitely worth being the last (or first) stop as you explore Hamtramck.
The city has deep Polish roots, so it’s only fitting that you try authentic Polish cuisine while in the city limits. Try the Polish platter at the Polish Village Cafe — it’s a feast that includes all the Polish staples.
Hamtramck is a really adorable gem of a community. Even though it is surrounded by Detroit, it has its own culture and sense of community. The city is resilient. Growth and development are popping up all along its main corridors and the housing market is some of the most stable in the city. Hamtramck is a great place to visit, and an even better place to live.
Come for the Paczki
Stay to shop, eat and view the art. In March, Hamtramck retailers and music venues team up for Eight Great Days in Hamtramck, a celebration of the city’s cultural offerings and a great way for you to get a feel for the scene. Don’t miss the Hamtramck Music Festival, it features 24 venues all over town, with more than 200 acts.
Discover more great places to visit in Detroit.
3Your Special Day, Joseph Campau Avenue, Hamtramck, MI, USA313-871-9000
10Cafe 1923, Holbrook Avenue, Hamtramck, MI, USA313-319-8766
11Hamtramck Coney Island, Joseph Campau Avenue, Hamtramck, MI, USA313-873-4569