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A Look at Milwaukee Junction and the North End

A Varied Past and Wide Open Future


Tucked in amongst Henry Ford Health System, College for Creative Studies, Tech Town and the old Ford Piquette Plant is an industrial neighborhood widely known for its rich history in auto manufacturing, and now a foodie and retail haven.

But this North End/Milwaukee Junction community can be associated with so much more than just cars. In the 1890’s, it was known for the wooden horse carriages designed and built there. It is situated at the Railroad Junction of the Grand Trunk Western Railroad’s founded in 1928. It is the birthplace of Techno Music. It is Smokey Robinson’s backyard along with Aretha Franklin’s – the two grew up as neighbors.

A host of additional world-renowned musicians such as Etta James, George Clinton, James Brown, and The Temptations frequented the stages of bars and nightclubs there in the 50s and 60s.

Today, it is home to many artists, makers, musicians, and entrepreneurs. It’s a destination for great food and drinks. It houses unique and varied retail shops as well as the world’s only Techno Museum – Exhibit 3000. These eclectic and at times contrasting nuances make it feel at once like a blank slate where anything could happen, and a community with deep roots.

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“This is a place with a rich history, and a lot is happening under the surface,” says Ashley Davidson, co-owner of Kiesling, and the Milwaukee Caffé. “It’s the type of place where, as a creative, you can still exist and experiment and see your vision realized. I think that’s one of the coolest things about it.”

Davidson relocated to Detroit from New York and opened Kiesling in 2018. She says, “In the 1980s one of the things that drew many to New York’s SoHo neighborhood was the post-industrial real estate that offered space to try creative things with lower risk. That’s the feeling in Milwaukee Junction today. There is grit and opportunity and creativity here.”

Davidson is happy with the patronage Kiesling has established to date, saying the local clientele is genuine, artistic, and incredibly interesting. In 2020 Davidson and her partner renovated the space to also house a quaint neighborhood favorite, the Milwaukee Caffé. In 2022 Kiesling was named by Detroit Metro Times as the Best Bar for Classic Cocktails. In 2023, Kiesling was nominated one of the top 30 cocktail bars in the USA by Tales of the Cocktail.

A few blocks away sits Oak & Reel, owned by Jared Gadbaw, who captained the two-Michelin Star restaurant Marea in New York City for several years before returning in 2019 to his native Detroit to open the contemporary Italian restaurant.

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“Having been in the concrete jungle in New York for 15 years I had dreamed of seeing grass and trees and being part of a community,” Gadbaw said. “Corktown, Downtown and Midtown are all pretty established and the North End seems more opportunistic. It has an uncharted territory feel to it that I think the younger generation craves. I wanted to be part of that growth and development.”

Vault of Midnight – which also has locations in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids – moved from its downtown Detroit location to Milwaukee Junction in 2021 and co-owner Curtis Sullivan says the area was chosen because “the building and the energy was something we just kept coming back to.” Sullivan describes the area as having great art, great eats, great coffee, and cool architecture. He says, “It’s hip and feels like things are happening here.”

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A little further south is Coup D’etat, owned by Angela Wisniewski. She chose her location for the aesthetics of the actual space, and in hopes of new development in the area. “I fell in love with the building, which was designed by Albert Kahn,” she said. “My clients appreciate the architecture, and also the cultural attractions within walking distance of my boutique.”

Cornelius Harris, Label Manager at Underground Resistance (which shares a building with Exhibit 3000) calls the area a cultural center with a powerful musical history.

Regarding the plusses the North End offers businesses, most of these entrepreneurs agree that being just off the beaten path has merits.

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Gadbaw says, “Milwaukee Junction is where city meets neighborhood. Rent is manageable and there are still spaces available, but at the same time, you have big developments like the Henry Ford Hospital Expansion, the Piquette Flats, the Fisher Body Plant development, the Detroit Pistons Training Center, and more. It has great potential.”

People can get in and out easily, there’s ample parking and many businesses are popping up,” said Sullivan.

Wisniewski weighs in saying, “Being on the outskirts of downtown means it’s a little more peaceful with a neighborhood feel.”

With proximity to the Q Line, the Lodge, I-75, and I-94 it’s nothing if not accessible.

In closing, Davidson shares, “If you don’t know this neighborhood, you should come and check out some of the unique and charming spots. Talk to the person sitting next to you and you will surely find out something interesting. It’s a special place that’s unique and authentic.”


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