Detroit: A City on the Rise: Corktown

A view of the Corktown sign

BY CHRIS ZADOROZNY, Staff Writer

When you think of areas in Detroit, the two that automatically come to mind are Downtown and Midtown.  Corktown is one that is not brought up as much anymore.  It is on the edge of Downtown and Mexican town.  Its borders are Interstate 75 to the north, the Lodge freeway to the east (M-10), Bagley and Porter Streets to the south and Rosa Parks Boulevard (12th Street) to the west.  Although Rosa Parks Blvd. may have the western border, some still include the Michigan Central Station and other sections a part of Corktown.

Corktown was first settled in the mid-1800s by Irish farmers who were at the time going through the Irish Potato Famine.  They moved here, mostly from the County Cork, hence the name, “Corktown.”  Over half of the residents by 1850 were of Irish descent.  Many would serve in the Civil War and as the 20th Century approached, Germans began to move into the area.  The district used to be larger, but with the completion of the Lodge freeway and I-75, the district became smaller.  Most of Corktown is residential, but the area along Michigan Avenue is mostly commercial.

The area that is on the rise is the commercial area along Michigan Avenue.  There are already many businesses along the strip that have been there for a while and are thriving, such as PJ’s Lager House, Nemo’s Bar, Hoots on the Avenue, the Corktown Tavern, and the Detroit Athletic Company.
                                                                                                                                                                              There are buildings in Corktown that have been sitting for a long time, but now are finding new life.  Slows BBQ has revitalized an area that at one point was super busy, thanks to the Michigan Central Station (MCS).  Slows BBQ opened in 2005 and has since won many awards, ranking as one of the top BBQ joints in Michigan.  It sits right across the street from the MCS and the block that it sits on has helped the buildings take new life.

The building that currently houses Slows BBQ was too small as so much business was coming through, that it moved next door, taking over a former Real Estate Agency building. O’Conner Real Estate moved two doors down next to Astro Coffee and LJ’s Lounge. O’Connor has been around for more than 40 years, and decided to invest in Detroit recently. Astro Coffee just opened up this past summer and LJ’s Lounge opened within the past year.

Slows BBQ on Michigan Avenue in Corktown

One building on the same block is a former Pawn Shop, next to The Sugar House. It has been empty awhile, but is looking at redevelopment and a new use.  As first reported by Curbed Detroit, the former pawn shop was bought by several businessmen, Phil Cooley (owner of Slows BBQ), Toby Barlow (author and local celebrity), Ryan Cooley (Phil’s brother), Meghan Cooley (Ryan’s husband), and Brian Boyle (co-founder of Model D Media).

The plan is to turn the former pawn shop into a restaurant.  It has not been said yet what type of restaurant it will be.  Above the brand new addition to Slows BBQ, a brand new Bed and Breakfast is almost ready to go and it will be called Honor + Folly.  It is so popular that it’s already booked.

Directly across the street from the Slows BBQ block is a former coffee shop, called Mercury Coffee Shop.  The former sign still hangs there, and up until recently had paper covering the inside of the windows, which allowed no viewing into the building.  It’s pretty normal to have windows boarded up in abandoned buildings in Detroit, but this was different.  It looked as if something was going on, and it’s true, the building was being renovated.  It may not be like the Broderick Tower, but it’s being turned into another restaurant.  It will be called the Mercury Burger Bar and will open in less than two weeks.  David Steinke and Dennis Fulton are the owners. Mercury Burger Bar will also serve breakfast.

Another former pawn shop, a bit farther down towards the Downtown area, was just recently bought by Joe Mifsud and his partner Bryan Brincat. It is directly next to Nemo’s Bar. The plan is to turn it into an Italian restaurant to be ready by sometime in the next year.

These are just a few of the renovations currently going on in the Corktown area.  Michigan Central Station is a whole different beast, which we will feature in next week’s article.  The revitalization of the Corktown area is giving Detroit something to be proud of.  Although it still has a long way to go, Corktown can be something it never was, a safe neighborhood with a vital restaurant scene and businesses galore.  To check out more information on the Corktown neighborhood, go to Detroit.curbed.com

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