Heading north from Detroit on Woodward, Royal Oak is one of the first suburbs you’ll encounter after you cross 8 Mile Road. It’s the only suburb in the Detroit area where you’ll find green hair, unusual pierced body parts, and whips and chains in the window at a boutique called Noir Leather (124 W. 4th St., 248/541-3979, www.noirleather.com, 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Fri.–Sat., noon–7 p.m. Sun.). Nowhere else in Michigan will you find a store sign that reads “Absolutely no return on bondage items for sanitary reasons.”
Royal Oak was a sleepy (some said dying) suburb in the 1970s, known only by its nickname—Royal Joke—and as the site of the respected 125-acre Detroit Zoo (8450 W. 10 Mile Rd., 248/541-5717, www.detroitzoo.org, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Apr.–Memorial Day and Labor Day–Oct., 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. in summer, $11 adults, $7 children 2–12). The zoo, long a popular city attraction, is home to more than 1,300 animals, including the Wildlife Interpretive Gallery, site of a popular hummingbird/butterfly garden, and the Arctic Ring of Fire, which features Arctic species.
In the mid-1980s, the city’s gay population was concentrated in Royal Oak, filling the two main commercial streets with vintage clothing and record shops, antique emporiums, and funky coffeehouses. While a few of the original boutiques remain, others have been replaced by high-rent glitzy home furnishings shops and restaurants that now characterize much of the area.
Despite this, Royal Oak is still a lively place, where the streets are filled with a pleasing variety of families and punks, gays and straights. Main Street and Washington Avenue, the two main drags, are great spots for window-shopping and people-watching. And it seems as if a new eatery opens almost every day here, giving it one of the best and most extensive restaurant scenes in metro Detroit.
Worthwhile stops include the sinful Gayle’s Chocolates (417 S. Washington, 248/398-0001, www.gayleschocolates.com, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Tues., 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Wed.–Sat., noon–5 p.m. Sun.), the first in the city to offer cappuccino and espresso (now found on just about every corner). Another feature is the popular juice bar (try the carrot-apple-ginger), but Gayle’s heart remains in the chocolate-making facility located upstairs, which churns out some of the best truffles in the country.
Also worth a peek are Lotus Imports (419 S. Washington, www.lotusimportco.com, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily), which stocks ethnic jewelry, clothing, and accessories from all over the world; Vertu (514 S. Washington Ave., 248/545-6050, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Sat.), known for its 20th-century designs, including furniture by Eames, Nelson, and Herman Miller from the 1930–50s; Dos Manos (210 W. 6th St., 800/572-4957, www.dosmanos.com, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily), for Latin American handicrafts; and Chosen Books (120 W. 4th St., www.chosenbooks.net, 9 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Sat., noon–6 p.m. Sun.), metro Detroit’s only gay bookstore.
When it’s time to eat, you’ll be hard-pressed to choose. In the mood for seafood? Tom’s Oyster Bar (318 S. Main St., 248/541-1186, www.tomsoysterbar.com, noon–midnight Sun.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–1 a.m. Fri., noon–1 a.m. Sat., $7–30) is a branch of the popular East Side eatery that has the area’s most extensive selection of—surprise!—oysters, as well as always innovative fresh seafood.
BD’s Mongolian Barbecue 430 S. Main St., 248/398-7755, www.gomongo.com, 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–11:30 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Sun., $7–12) lets you watch as chefs whip up your stir-fry creation on a huge, central grill. It’s been so popular, it’s opened outposts in other metro Detroit suburbs.
by Laura Martone from Moon Michigan, 3rd Edition, © Avalon Travel