Cliff Bell's - Detroit, MI

Cassius played jazz but nobody would pay him to play. In all the world he possessed only a nearly broken white piano jammed into a rat hole apartment on Tuxedo St. and 3rd Ave with a creaky bed and a weak stove that only held one pot.

            One day a bent, sagging man came knocking on Cassius’ door and said Cassius needed to pay or he wouldn’t have heat and Cassius said he didn’t have enough money for rent and heat both so the man slumped away and Cassius didn’t have any more heat.

            On a particularly cold morning Cassius’ Ma-Ma came by as she always did and Cassius said, “Brrrr! It’s cold! This is no good! This is so bad!”

            And his Ma-Ma said, “Cassius, you might be right.”

            Cassius had to get warm somehow so he banged away on his nearly broken white piano to keep his body moving. In fact, Cassius played so much that he got better than anybody had ever seen. He started getting booked on all the main stages of Detroit and he got all sorts of famous and made all sorts of money then spent all his money on a big fine house and left his nearly broken white piano behind.

            So Cassius’ Ma-Ma came by the new house as she always did and Cassius said, “Look at this house! This is grand! This is so great”

            And his Ma-Ma said, “Cassius, you might be right.”

            Not a month later when Cassius was away on tour — crossing the country playing howling shows from Miami to L.A. — some mean folks broke into Cassius’ big fine house and stole everything he had.

Cassius’ Ma-Ma came by as she always did and found Cassius’ sitting amongst the emptiness of his living room and Cassius said, “everything is gone! This is no good. This is so bad.”

            And his Ma-Ma said, “Cassius, you might be right.”

            The next day, the insurance lady showed up to confirm the damages and she was sharp and beautiful and kind — not like any of the groupies Cassius had met on tour — and he knew that she was the one. So, with a little flirty talk and some dinners filled with passionate conversation and laughter they found out that they really were meant for each other and she became Cassius’ girlfriend then his wife and after not too long they had two little boys scampering around their house.

            So Cassius’ Ma-Ma came by as she always did and Cassius said, “What a lovely family I’ve got. This is grand! This is so great”

            And his Ma-Ma said, “Cassius, you might be right.”

            As it goes, one evening Cassius woke up in his basement recording studio to choking plumes of smoke. He sprinted upstairs to a living room filled with a roaring veil of fire and tried to get upstairs to where his family was sleeping but he passed out on the way. Cassius woke up in a howling ambulance where people with gray faces told him it had been an electrical fire and his family was gone. Cassius spent the next week in the hospital trying not to cry and failing.

            So Cassius’ Ma-Ma sat by his hospital bed as she always did and Cassius said, “I’m lost. What a tragedy. This is no good. This is so bad.”

            And his Ma-Ma said, “Cassius, you might be right.”

            After a respectful mourning period Cassius tried to get back to playing concerts but it was never the same and the people stopped listening and the money dried up. Ten years later, in all the world Cassius possessed only a nearly-broken white piano jammed into a rat hole apartment on Tuxedo St. and 3rd Ave with a creaky bed and a weak stove that only held one pot. It was amidst a frosted November dusk with his breath puffing over the keys that Cassius finally allowed himself to truly let go of his departed family. The thoughts were so brittle and crushing and sweet that something shocked back into him, a part of his soul he didn't even know he'd lost. As sobs shook his sides the heartbreaking melody sprung into his mind and the words tore out of him with all the hurt dripping off and he wrote the most beautiful song in the world. The next morning Cassius took his one song to an old recording friend still in the business and that man said it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever heard and it turned out everyone else in the whole world thought so too.

            So Cassius went by the home where his Ma-Ma lived as he always did and his Ma-Ma said, “Cassius, I heard that song of yours on the radio. It’s the most beautiful music that’s ever been written. This is grand! This is so good!”

            And Cassius said, “Ma-Ma, you might be right.”




3.7 Stars

With solid takes on New American cuisine, this is a heck of a nightspot. And though the food is tasty, it’s certainly not the main attraction.


Music to Your Wallet’s Ears

While the décor and drinks are classy, the prices are reasonable as heck. Hit it up at happy hour? You’re looking at $3 drafts, $.50 (yes, fifty cent) PBRs, and half-off cocktails. Dinner gets a little more real, moving up into the ~$20-plus range, but the food fits the bill.


Swank Jazzy 1930s Perfection

You will feel transported to a Detroit that was in its prime. When Jazz was on the radio and cars were leaving the factories in droves. This is the real reason to visit Cliff Bell’s. The music acts, accompanied by the impeccable décor, make you feel like a metropolitan boss. Plus, the monthly Moth night is so packed they don’t even sell tickets any more, you just have to find a seat. Fantastic.



White shirts. Vests. Doin’ it.



Cliff Bell’s is what everyone wishes downtown Detroit still was. Sure, there are a lot of other notable places downtown, but this is most likely one of the coolest. If you’re in Detroit and want a feel of something essentially “Detroit” this is your spot.


Lafayette Coney Island - Detroit, MI

            A man could wander into Lafayette Coney Island and think, “ugh.” He could order a Coney Dog or two and find himself underwhelmed by the traditional bun, uninteresting frank and the brown chili that drapes it. Hell, he could stick his nose under every last beige, steel, and seafoam green inch of the place and find nothing of note. Indeed, a man could do such a thing. But let us all hope we are not that man.


Picture C/O Foodspotting

            They say Detroit is dying.

            And not a clean, dignified death. A death that sips – not gulps – its life away. The city like a family member so far gone to disease that its residents are forced to love it through memories while trying not to hate what it has become.

            But that is not true.

            The people who lament its death don’t understand that a city cannot die. That death is reserved for us alone. That a city lives in the minds of the people and not in the buildings themselves. That no matter how much it crumbles, no matter how abandoned its skyscrapers or overgrown its lots, that the real city – the Detroit that’s visible only to those who love it – is still as vibrant as El Dorado.

            A man could look at Detroit and think, “so sad. A failed city.”

            Lafayette Coney Island is not a place for such a man. Detroit is not a place for such a man.


            In Lafayette Coney Island’s unwieldy name, in its dingy bathroom, in its frill-less food preparation, in its yellowed tile and aging ownership, there is something essentially human. A need to cling to tradition and to the past.  An “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality applied to a situation that probably broke long ago.

            But if it were you, would it be any different?

Picture C/O

Circa 2010.


            How difficult must it be to own a landmark in a former metropolis? To see the city you loved change, and that for the worse? To see the very landscape around you weather an economic upheaval that has blown, war-like, through building and home alike? And ask yourself: what sort of man sees change like that – destructive, malicious change – and thinks, “well I should change too.” 

            Our perception, historians and physicists agree, defines reality. If we see a ball as green, it is a green ball. The ball has no say in the matter. If our perception told us the ball was red, not green, we would say the ball is red. The ball couldn’t speak up and protest its intrinsic “green-ness”. If we see it as green, it is green. If we see it as red, it is red. Which means, as our perception changes, so do the very objects we perceive. Allow me to explain.

            Lafayette Coney Island was born in a time when fast food was a blessing. Plates piled shoulder-high, the cooks slathered Coney dogs with signature chili and mustard, sprankled them with onions and slung ‘em down the counter to laborers and families alike. In 1914, or thereabouts, nobody thought of carbs or gluten or processed foods or ambience or poly-unsaturated fats.


Picture C/O Automobilemag


            Lafayette Coney Island contained clean plates and fresh food for minimal price. What more needed to be sold? The perception of the place was that it was wholesome, traditional and cheap. And that was the reality of the place.

            And while nothing has changed at Lafayette Coney Island, everything else has. And so reality has changed with it.

            What was perceived as “fast service” is now “low quality.” What was perceived as “diner ambience” seems haphazard and cramped. What was perceived as a “Traditional Coney Dog” is now a once-in-a-blue moon sodium-fest that any halfway health-conscious American will eat with a pang of involuntary guilt. All this could seem sad. But it’s not sad, it simply is.


Picture C/O Roadfood 

            People still love their Coney Dogs, despite what they now represent. People still love the ambience despite its hard-nosed adherence to the past. People still love the name, despite the fact that nobody outside of Michigan even knows what a Coney Island is.

            As our perception changes, so does reality itself. Whether we decide to like the resulting reality is up to us.

            And really, what is not to love about that dog. A warm bun surrounding a sizzling, all-American frank. The key ingredient, of course, being the chili that blankets the whole deal. Lafayette’s brand of chili being more meat than veg, and providing a low-level heat whose piquancy is supported and accentuated by the mustard and onions. It is not an ambitious combination, but then again, most great things rarely are. It is the height of simplicity, a taste spectrum distilled into 5-6, equal bites. It practically eats itself.


Picture C/O Theeatenpath

            They say Detroit is dying.

            But they can’t realize that death is simply another form of change. Certainly, Detroit may be crushed by a debt that has forced people out like mice from a burning barn. But that’s simply one version of Detroit.

            Did you know Henry Ford started two, failed motor companies?

            The first, the Detroit Automobile Company: went under after two years. The second, The Henry Ford Company, he quit after only a year. His third, the Ford Motor Company, you know that one.

            Could this Detroit be a first try?  A city from whose ashes a stronger Detroit will spring? Or is it a failed, last chance, forced into the same breath as Pompeii and Ephesus? Regardless of what Detroit is now, we know that time will bring change.

            And when the city changes – because there’s no way it can’t – will it be a single person who takes it upon themselves to mold the future Detroit, like Henry Ford did for cars and America itself? Or will the people leave Detroit, spreading like spores and germinating facets of Detroit in cities across America? Or will the people of Michigan simply weather the worst economic storm ever to make landfall in an American city, and, once it’s over, shrug it off like only a Michigander could?

            History repeats itself. It is a platitude and therefore, like all the oldest clichés, it is deeply true. Detroit rose from nothing and perhaps will sink back into that selfsame dirt. But it will not disappear. It was and therefore it can never not have been. And at some point, be it tomorrow, the day after or in a time none of us will ever see, I believe it will return. It will return thanks to song and story and dreams embedded, dormant, in the minds of people who could not forget.

            They say Detroit is dying.

            But they are not Detroit!


            And in that future, Lafayette Coney Island will stand unmoved, an anchor to the past. Uncompromising in its fare, its attitude, and its very existence in a city where existence is a privilege rather than a right.

            A man could wander into Lafayette Coney Island and see just another outdated diner, trapped in the pitiable midst of an expiring giant. But I am not that man. And neither are you.



3.0 Stars

Coney. Dogs. If you like ‘em, 5 stars. If you don’t like ‘em, 1.


Out of Pocket

After a night out, you can find yourself paying for an entire meal what you just paid for a single drink.



Formica, steel and tile. It was built to last and last it has.



You get your dogs fast and with flair. Somehow, the spectacle of a man with like 8 platefuls of processed meat piled up to his shoulder never gets old.



A landmark that shows its age in the best possible ways. Uncompromising. Unpretentious. Unmissable.