When a neighborhood becomes “trendy” or “hot,” it is easy to forget how much work and money was involved to get there. West Village is on the east side just past the bridge to Belle Isle and neighbors the more well-known Indian Village.
Although the area has weathered the ups and downs of Detroit a bit better than others thanks to a stalwart and resilient community, there’s an additional resurgence happening here based upon that foundation the long-standing community kept in place. It’s a neighborhood with a character all its owns and ties to Detroit’s past that’s worth a look.
According to an in-depth Crain’s Business article detailing West Village’s 2014 revival, Villages Community Development Corp. spent $2.83 million rehabbing five properties in the neighborhood. The Detroit Lions made a six-figure investment for Hatch Detroit to beautify Agnes St. with artistic iron store signage, LED gas lamps that still have that old-fashioned feel, and sleek bike racks that look more at home in a modern art museum.
Here is a list of reasons I think you should take the time and explore Detroit’s West Village, which is around Van Dyke on the east side with boundaries primarily defined by Kercheval, Parker, and East Jefferson.
1. Eclectic Architecture
I might not be able to tell the difference between Queen Anne Tudors, Mediterranean Goth or Neoclassical Mansard Roofs (none of those terms are real, by the way), but it is easy to see that West Village houses are full of character. There is such a dense congregation of uniquely individual historic houses that walking down the tree-lined streets can feel overwhelming because you want to take in every detail.
2. Fascinating History
West Village got its name because it is west of Indian Village, where Detroit’s filthy rich once ate caviar whenever they wanted. Well, maybe that’s a stretch, but it is one of Detroit’s nicest neighborhoods.
Some pretty interesting people used to call West Village home, like Edwin C. Denby, the corrupt Secretary of the Navy in the 1920s, who returned to Detroit after leaving Washington D.C. in disgrace after the Teacup Dome Scandal. He played football for the University of Michigan Wolverines in 1896, a time where instead of jerseys, player uniforms were bulky and itchy-looking turtleneck sweaters.
3. Agnes Street
This is how you conquer Agnes Street. Start by browsing the vinyl records at Paramita Sound around the corner on Van Dyke. It’s an old house turned record store, with a hidden listening room in the back that recalls the best days of college. Then get a tarot reading from Nefertiti at Tarot and Tea. It doesn’t matter if you leave with clarity or just more confusion, it’s still a great story to tell your friends.
Afterwards, finish reading that hardcover at The Red Hook, which has a giant colorful pheasant painted on the ceiling. Their rosemary shortbread sold three for $1 is delicious. For adventurous eating, go to Detroit Vegan Soul, where stuff like Catfish Tofu and smoked coconut bacon exists.
End the crawl at Craft Work with a cool craft cocktail and their refined Pan Seared Alaskan Halibut, which will never be as good as the chef’s if you made it yourself.
4. Parker Street
Parker Street is a far enough walk from Agnes Street to be considered exercise, but close enough that if you drive your car there, that’s just lazy. The two must-visits are Parker St. Market and Sister Pie. Parker St. Market is a high-end bodega that will transform into a produce shop once its next door expansion is complete. This food snob’s paradise stocks a lot of high-end food you can only find in Michigan.
And in Parker St.’s other corner is Sister Pie, the 2014 winner of Hatch Detroit’s $50,000 prize for entrepreneurs who want to transform their dream into a brick and mortar store. Their open professional kitchen allows you to watch the bakers create Salted Maple Pie, the dish you must try because it is so damn good. The sweet maple filling was inspired by head baker Lisa Ludwinski’s experience in New York City creating Momfuku Milk Bar’s Crack Pie, which is a chess pie, and Four & Twenty Blackbirds Salty Honey Pie.
West Village has a serenely calm demeanor found in the way its regal signage hangs from the lamp posts, the way a played football is casually left in the grass, and the way a frizzy urban garden might be waiting for you just around the street corner. During a typical day, it, along with neighborhood Indian Village, is a place where walking isn’t the transportation, but the destination itself and its common to see people out and about with their kids, dogs and more.
From a bigger picture perspective, the great location means it is a short drive from Belle Isle, downtown Detroit, Eastern Market and and the Rivertown-Warehouse district where nightlife and the riverfront blend. So when you get a chance, check out one of Detroit’s up-and-coming places.