It has been long enough since I first laid eyes on Detroit that I forget what, exactly, I came expecting. Though, from the sound of people's voices when you propose that they visit, I am reminded that, like them, I wasn't expecting much.
"Where would I stay there," a friend asked last night. (In a hotel, silly, I thought to myself.)
Good question, though. Happily, one that is easier to answer as time goes by.
There remains a paucity of options considering the size of the region, true. Also, some hotels that people think are good are actually kind of bad (Ritz-Carlton, The Townsend), particularly when you are proposing them to someone who has traveled more than a little.
4 great Detroit hotels to book now:
1) Inn at Ferry Street -- Marvelous historic conversion (pictured above) spread out along a beautiful Midtown block, steps from many of the things that you want visitors to see. Request one of the seven rooms in the cozy John R. Carriage House. Rates are a little high (usually above $150), but for a first visit to Detroit, the Inn sets just the right tone.
2) Westin Book Cadillac -- Not open yet, but it will be soon. Not soon enough. After an extensive site inspection, my verdict is that while the rooms are Westin, the experience will be all Detroit, in a good way. Really, the only choice for business downtown, once it opens. Rates will fluctuate, but $150 is a good bet for now. UPDATE 10/08: Open. Rates usually over $200, except for very slow periods. Well worth the money - an incredible transformation. Staff are superb, and not just by Detroit standards.
3) MGM Grand -- A stunning property, with rooms to match. Expect little from the staff and you'll be very happy (they're nice, but awfully inexperienced). The highlight, beyond the two Michael Mina restaurants, is the remarkable, Tony Chi-designed spa / fitness center / pool area. Put the biggest skeptics here -- though note that the hotel regularly charges $299 and up/night.
4) Caesars Windsor -- Rather than put people who find the city off-putting out in some far-flung suburb, steer them here. The original tower -- now nicely renovated and called the Forum Tower -- is best, for full-on river and skyline views. The restaurants are tragic, but the staff is professional and the atmosphere relaxed. Perfect for the more skittish Detroit visitor. Midweek rates from the low $100's. Weekends and events, not so much.
UPDATE 1/3/09: The opening of the Doubletree Fort Shelby makes for five great centrally located hotels in Detroit. A remarkable transformation.
Also, I want to put in another plug for the Forum Tower at Caesars Windsor. (See above.) Recently saw one of the river-facing Junior Suites, which offer an incredible workspace/desk in front of panoramic window with full-on Detroit skyline views. Ignore the Augustus Tower, for sure - no way is it worth the extra money -- all you get are inferior views and higher ceilings.
In fact, I think it's worth staying at Caesars over the MGM -- you can get a Junior Suite in the Forum Tower and pay the tunnel toll and still have spent half of what you would pay at the MGM, which is worth the $$ only if you intend to really take advantage of the amenities, which are superb, but may as well not exist if you don't have the time to use them.