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Highbrow Meets Lowbrow at the MGM Grand Detroit

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Photo by Michelle and Chris Gerard

How do you know a hotel is opulent? Certainly not by finding a woman smoking, eating a hotdog, and drinking a Bud Light at a slot machine at 8:00 a.m. on a Monday. Which was just one small part of a jumble of experiences I had on a recent Sunday night stay on the 16th floor of the MGM Grand Casino Hotel in Detroit. (Full disclosure: the generous PR team comped me for the night). And while the hotel does stand a little apart from (or to the side of) the casino, one really can't visit the complex overnight without ending up in a windowless maze of slots, blackjack, and booze at some point. And yet, with a super modern spa (and perhaps the city's most luxurious pool) and two Wolfgang Puck restaurants, the complex isn't all lowbrow either. Trying to judge Detroit tourism by looking at the MGM Complex, one must guess that there's really no good psychological profile of the Detroit tourist. This complex tries to be a little of everything to everyone: spa seeker, pool partier, sports watcher, poker player, indoor smoker, business travler, wedding guest, buffet eater, fine diner, clubber, drunk clubber, even drunker/smoking/gambling drunk clubber... would they be better off committing to just one theme? I'm not going to tell them how to make their money. The experience was confusing with moments of fun and frustration, but mostly good. Which is pretty much how I feel about spending any given day in any part of Detroit.

Located at the nexus of Corktown, Downtown, the MGM Grand Detroit manages not to belong to either neighborhood, while creating a self contained world of 24 hour tourism tucked into the armpit of 1-75 and the Lodge freeway.

First off, the awesome parts:

1.That is one totally gorgeous indoor pool deck. The photos pretty much speak for themselves.

[Photos by Michelle and Chris Gerard]

The pool deck is the sort of place you never, ever want to leave, but unfortunately it is not open 24 hours. It is however, rentable for parties if you make special arrangements. No word yet on what they'd charge me to pitch a tent and live there.

2. This was my first awesome room discovery.

[The regular Champagne finds the mini Champagne to be ADORBS in the minibar of this 16th floor room]

3. But my second awesome room discovery was even better.

TV in the bathroom! Visible from both the toilet stall and the shower! The shower's two different shower heads were also a nice touch to rather large bathroom. It was decently swanky in there, and Law and Order was on.

4. You may not have to be a hotel guest to take advantage of the casino amenities, but I can't not tell you there's a completely free flowing soda fountain on the gambling floor. Because maybe you are in the hotel and you wake up in need of a 3 AM Doctor Pepper. The Doctor is in! (Don't tell Bloomberg).

And now for some gripes.

1. The architects really messed up when they put the two Wolfgang Puck restaurants in a corner of the complex that can only be accessed by going through the casino. I'm not a big fan of the competing Motor City Casino either, but that complex was smart enough to give the big splashy restaurant windows (with a pretty great upper lever view) and an entrance that allows you to avoid the casino. What's worse is that in MGM's Wolfgang Puck Cucina, there are big glass walls that force you to watch the casino. Wolfgang Puck Steak got away with a little more privacy, though the previous decor (when the place was Bourbon Steak) was far more appealing.

[View of Casino from restaurant table]

2. The smoking indoors, while limited to just the casino floor, is pretty aggressive. I'm backed up on this from various hotel reviews. This would not be so bothersome if complaint number 1 was not such a problem.

3. The suites on the top two penthouse floors are luxurious in the sense that they are about a billion square feet. But the furnishings and decor aren't inspiring. Granted, that's probably not what you came to Detroit seeking, but it's always a little sad to see the best views next to what feels like a late '90s board room color palette. Better yet, turn off the lights and party. This thing has three beds, but the capacity for 40-50 to pass out on the floor. Just like your prom after party! (Which should not be funded by your Councilman mentor)

[Photos by Michelle and Chris Gerard]

One nice thing about being in a Casino Hotel, is that it is certainly never totally desolate. Got insomnia? Someone else does too, and they'll save you a seat at the slots. Or you can just watch TV on the pot with your mini champagne. Like I said, all kinds are accepted here. And certainly don't feel like you have to dress up.

When I woke up on Monday morning at the MGM Grand, I had the option of taking advantage of free coffee in the lobby, or making my way to Starbucks. I came downstairs unprepared for the treck to the latter destination and was stopped at the entrance to the casino (because, yes, you even have to go through it for a coffee shop). The guard needed to see ID (must be 18 21 or older to gamble [in Detroit] casinos!) and I had left mine upstairs. I tried to explain that I just wanted coffee, not gambling or boozing, but there are no exceptions. So back up I went to the 16th floor to secure the proper ID. And then back down to the first floor.

I presented my ID to the friendly guard, who looked it over, smiled, handed it back, and said cheerily "Good Luck!" Good luck starting my week at a Starbucks? What did he know about the Frappuccinos(TM) here that I didn't? I bet the guy checking IDs at 8 a.m. on a Monday has seen a lot.

On my way to the other side of the building, I found that gal with a hot dog, Bud Light, and lit cig either starting or ending her day at the slots. I was tempted to make some comparison between her and the city itself (is it fading, or JUST waking up? who can tell anymore?) but I had not had enough coffee, and certainly not enough good luck. The Starbucks was windowless so I took my coffee back upstairs to watch TV.