Detroit’s nightlife has always been a thriving and bustling scene. Dating back to the bars and clubs of Black Bottom, Detroit’s nightlife has continued to evolve until stay-at-home orders put a halt on the scene. Now, clubs and bars are slowly rebuilding; one party at a time.
Much of Detroit’s African American party scene began in the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods. In these spaces, Black men and women were free to dance to music created by Black artists in establishments owned by Black businessmen. Hastings Street and St. Antoine was home to multiple clubs and other growing businesses. Seen as the Las Vegas of Detroit, popular hangouts like the Horseshoe Bar and Club Harlem laid a blueprint for what Detroit’s nightlife would become.
Demolished in the 1950’s, both Black Bottom and Paradise Valley were lost to redevelopment and the construction of I-375. Though it’s foundation took a hit, the city’s nightlife would recover and continue to reinvent itself to fit the changing times.
As COVID-19 swept the nation and the world, safe distancing measures were put into place to ward off the silent predator. The landscape of social leisure activities had been greatly impacted by the pandemic . The city’s night life had become all but non-existent in the wake of the pandemic. Now, turning the tide, the businesses that prosper during overnight hours are slowly regaining momentum; recovering from a year of stillness.
Appointed as the city’s first ever 24-Hour Economy Ambassador by Mayor Mike Duggan in 2018, Adrian Tonon has assumed the position as the city’s “nightlife czar.” Leading the city’s initiatives in nightlife, music and arts, the position helps to bleed all aspects of nightlife, including entertainment and employment. From the bustling bars of downtown Detroit to the safety of overnight workers, the position helps to keep Detroit’s after hours establishments growing, inclusive and accessible for every sort of late nighter.
“It’s the economy between 7pm and 7am and the mission is to create an equitable, safe, healthy and thriving night time economy,” says Tonon. “Detroit has always been known for having music and nightlife and a creative economy. Now, we’re trying to create an environment where we make sure we attract and maintain venues and attract creatives like DJ’s.”
Economically, Detroit finds its fortune in the automotive industry. However, Detroit’s nightlife has also contributed to the city’s economy. Despite Detroit’s largely African American population, its music and nightlife are a diverse collection of workers, entrepreneurs, and club hoppers.
“Before the pandemic, Detroit’s nightlife was bold, sporadic, and fit the majority of options needed for our Motown and Motor city. We had events for the EDM, House and Techno lovers; Hip Hop and urban lovers; and we even had alternative, jazz and blues spots that screamed culture. What I love about my city is that we have low key spots, for the high key individuals,” says DJ Rue, a local disk jockey and entrepreneur.
Businesses that operate outside of normal business hours such as hospitals, public transit, bars and restaurants, are an essential part to what keeps the city’s economics moving. Helping to source jobs, the night life extends past the club scene and right into the hearts of several overnight workers.
“It’s not just about music and the creative’s artworld; if you want to see a true 24-hour, go to Henry Ford Hospital when a doctor or janitor gets out at five or six in the morning, is there a restaurant or dry cleaners, a grocery store to go to. It’s a job creator, it’s a business creator, it’s an entrepreneur creator. We have an economy, I would say after the pandemic, young Detroit came out and supported Detroit and the businesses,” says Tonon.
Detroit’s DJ’s are a vital component to the city’s entertainment industry. Choosing to pivot through the crisis, the city’s millennials and generation Z populations banned together to help Detroit’s economy remain 24-hours. Though overnight businesses took a heavy loss in 2020, it also provided an opportunity to learn and shift.
“Affected, but in a good way! It’s interesting what quarantining can bring out of someone. I see our Detroit promoters becoming more creative, going against the grain and trying different sources of fun to bring a ‘be safe, but let’s party’ type vibe back into the city,” says DJ Rue.
While the pandemic did cause a shift in everyday life, it also allowed time for a slower way of life. Able to fully explore the city, many residents were able to learn new things about Detroit, while discovering the tremendous growth of the city.
“One of the major changes I do see unfolding, is the lack of information pertaining to our nightlife. I have learned about so many things in our city by simply just driving around, and sightseeing. Yes; as a DJ I know the restaurant and bar owners, the top Promoters, etc. But nothing beats seeing your own city grow right before your own eyes,” says DJ Rue.
On the rebound, Detroit’s nightlife, much like the city as a whole, is not easily defeated. Post-pandemic club cultureis finding its new groove and creating a new layer to the city’s after hours culture.
“We are currently recovering with new bar spots in our Downtown area, restaurants with live music and DJ’s, festivals and concerts being brought to the city, pop up’s at some of our newer boutiques and salons. Along with some great concert series at music events at the DIA Detroit,” says DJ Rue.