Hamtramck vs. Dubai: Money can’t buy you culture

Saturday night, I enjoyed a fantastic dinner at Polish Village Cafe in Hamtramck with my boo.  We walked down the narrow stairs to the basement where the restaurant was located; at 9:30pm it was still packed with diners, and we had to wait for a table at the bar.  It was well worth the wait; we both had enormous Polish dinners that we could not finish, with our combined bill just south of $14.  It was superb, and if you have not yet enjoyed a meal at Polish Village, you’d better hie on over at the next opportunity.

Earlier that day, I’d read Vanity Fair’s very interesting little profile of the Persian Gulf city of Dubai, which has a reputation as Party Central but, according to author A. A. Gill, is actually kind of a soulless hellhole with no real culture of its own, just lots and lots of oil money.

It got me thinking that, in a way, Detroit is like the opposite of Dubai… these days it has no money at all, only history and culture.  It’s highly polarizing, and it has lived, like Charlie Sheen, and often in spite of its own elected leaders, for more than half of its modern existence (beginning with Ford’s Model T) by the motto that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Hamtramck’s government, even more so than Detroit’s, is teetering on financial catastrophe.  Yet Hamtramck is one of my favourite places in Michigan, if not the Midwest.  It’s by far the most densely populated municipality in the state, with none of the prairie emptiness you see in adjacent parts of Detroit and Highland Park.  Its population is still largely immigrant a century after its initial boom, but instead of Polish it is mostly Bangladeshi.  There are tons of specialty groceries catering to those immigrants, charming little bungalows (surprisingly few of them abandoned), walkable streets, the aforementioned plethora of excellent and inexpensive restaurants, and even a gay bar.   Can you tell I have a bit of a crush?

In short, Hamtramck may not have money, but it darn well has culture.   If you’ve never been, set aside a few hours next time you are in the Detroit area and prepare to fall in love.

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