The excitement of the holidays are over, there are at least three cold, grey months in Detroit before the release of the spring, and you know you need to get out of the house for your mental health and to keep from snapping at your partner, but staring into the void from the business end of a bar just isn’t working anymore. The art shows this weekend are all derivative, you’ve seen your favorite band for the umpteenth time, and you and your partner just need SOMETHING DIFFERENT.
Sound familiar? I’m not a teetotaler, but I rarely drink any longer and I find myself looking for social fun that doesn’t revolve around drinking. Here are a few date-night ideas in and around Detroit that don’t require it— however, many of them do require an open mind. You might have to get out of your comfort zone a bit, but the highs can be better, and more rewarding, than any substance you might ingest.
ROLLER SKATING AT NORTHLAND ROLLER RINK
Roller Skating is a Detroit tradition, particularly in the black community. Detroit’s real slow roll has always been at the roller rink, and it’s never gone out of style. It’s a great way to get some exercise and get those endorphins going while having a good sober time out with friends. Northland Roller Rink is the undisputed king of the rinks that look like they came straight out of the ’70s, and they hold adult skates Fridays and Saturdays starting at 10:30.PM. Other good options in the metro area include Royal Skate Land and Rollercade.
And don’t forget about roller derby! There’s one match a month in the early months of the year and they’re held in the Masonic Temple, which is cool to go see on its own. $10 presale.
FOLK DANCING AT THE INTERNATIONAL FOLK DANCE CLUB OF DETROIT
OK, hear me out. Yeah, dancing is easier with alcohol and you’re probably going to be the youngest person at the dance by like two decades. But these dancers know their stuff, they are (in my experience) incredibly friendly, and are so, so excited to teach you the dances of their mostly Eastern European cultures that they’re trying to keep alive. If you have Eastern European ancestry and want to learn more about it, if you just want some time with some lovely surrogate grandmothers that can get down, or you just godda dance and the bar is too sudsy, this is the place. $7 every Friday at 8:30 upstairs at the PLAV post 10 in Hamtramck.
Another great local dance is the contra dance held every first, second and third Saturday in the Pittsfield Grange. Contra dancing is a distinctly American old-world dancing style that is like a square dance but way, way faster. Check it out for yourself— these are heavenly.
IMPROVE COMEDY AT PLANET ANT
Planet Ant in Hamtramck is legendary. Keenan Michael Key of Key and Peele got his start here, there are improvisers that call this place home who are measuring their experience in decades, and it’s legitimately, side-splittingly, ugly-crying next to your date funny. They hold all kinds of events during the week, including original plays and improv classes, but the improvisation shows on Mondays are classic. On the right evening, straight-up nothing is funnier. It’s like laughter therapy. $5 at 8 PM every Monday.
THE ARCADE AT MARVIN’S MARVELOUS MECHANICAL MUSEUM
Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills is more than just an arcade. It’s a legit small museum holding all kinds of mechanical history, from bizarre wooden art-piece dioramas that come to life with the drop of a quarter, to Dance Dance Revolution, to all kinds of weird circus and outsider kitch. It’s a bit of a drive from the center city, but well worth it.
Another classic metro Detroit arcade is Pinball Pete’s in Ann Arbor (and you can get some excellent bubble tea close by if you’re into that sort of thing.) There’s also been a spate of arcade bars showing up in Detroit, which are good options if you’re with folks who want to drink but you want something to do rather than stare into a glass of Diet Coke. Ready Player One and Offworld Arcade are within walking distance from one another Downtown.
THE DETROIT SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
The symphony is one of the most profound metaphors for what we can become when we all work together in the same direction to create something beautiful. The unamplified music is rapturous (I’ve seen it bring grown men to tears with my own eyes), you can get dressed to the nines and impress your date or your long-term-lover, although you don’t have to. The DSO is one of the best symphonies in the entire United States, right here in Detroit. Take advantage of it.
Tickets are less expensive than you may think, and there are all kinds of discounts. Pro tip: Sit in the balcony. The tickets are cheaper, but the sound gets better as you move towards the rear of the Max Fisher Music Center. Have a fancy dinner or cocktails at The Whitney beforehand and feel like an old-timey lumber baron.
MARTIAL ARTS AT DETROIT KUNG FU ACADEMY
While I like to run on the treadmill at Planet Fitness (8 Mile, $10 a month) at 7:30 pm during the weekdays so I can absolutely demolish my partner at Jeopardy while we exercise, there are a lot of great places in the metro area to sweat while learning something new and growing some self-confidence. Detroit Kung Fu Academy is a great place to learn some sweet moves with a partner and they hold a variety of classes from beginner to experienced.
I’ve also heard very good things about 313 Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu and I’ve trained at Coopers Gym for years, although they’re very hardcore and busy training world champs.
THE PLANETARIUM AT WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY
The planetarium! Still just as good and cool as when you were a kid. Cuddle up in the dark with your date and wonder about the vastness of the universe. Wayne State holds shows almost every Friday night, but this one takes a little planning, as you need to get tickets in advance because they sell out fast just about every weekend. Did we mention that it’s free?
The Michigan Science Center, a great place for a daytime date, also has a planetarium and shows generally run during the day. Flint has a sweet planetarium too, right next door to a great art museum and other cultural attractions.
SWEETS AT SHATILA IN DEARBORN
Shatila Bakery in Dearborn is one of Detroit’s cultural gems. They’ve made cakes for presidents, have been around for 40 years, and are one of the distinct prides of the Arab community in Dearborn. From homemade ice cream to dozens of varieties of balaclava to the most impressively decorated single slices of cake you’ve ever seen, you can’t do better than Shatila. They even have a cool waterfall inside, and it’s one of those places like Belle Isle where everyone is just so happy to be there it’s almost universally friendly.
Astoria Pastry shop in Greektown is also excellent (though I wish they’d bring back the chocolate-dipped Oreos) and you can go wander around the truly bizarre circus-world of Greektown Casino while eating your delicacies.
Have fun out there non-drinkers, and be safe!