Where to Grab a Drink Along The Waterfront in Metro Detroit

You don’t have to go far to enjoy lakeside (or riverside) drinking.
Located on a canal in Jefferson Chalmers, Coriander Kitchen & Farm is a perfect place for a summertime drink. // Photograph by Alejandro Uglade, Featherstone

The recipe for a perfect waterfront beverage is elusive, but there are some common ingredients. Take a sunny summer afternoon or evening, add a lazy breeze and a killer view of glittering waves, and mix in some friends and an ice-cold drink, and you’re on the right track.

For some, that perfect summer drink is a frosty can of Short’s Brewing Co.’s Soft Parade. Maybe it’s a creamy, frozen hummer, created in 1968 at Detroit’s own Bayview Yacht Club by bartender Jerome Adams. Often, it’s as simple as a plastic cup loaded up with ice and a generous pour of vodka with whatever juice is on hand: the quintessential “boat drink.”

The Detroit River may be pretty far from Key West, but there are plenty of waterfront spots where you can catch the island vibe or enjoy some yacht rock inspiration. From St. Clair Shores’ Nautical Mile to Waterford’s massive deck bars and from Harsens Island’s classic watering hole Browns to Detroit’s celebrated Sindbad’s, Joe Muer, and the Roostertail, the shores of southeast Michigan boast a tremendous variety of spots for a drink by the water.

Fine-Dining Drinking

Some of metro Detroit’s best restaurants and bars are riverfront staples. Generations of Detroiters have closed business deals and celebrated special occasions at Joe Muer restaurants in Detroit.

The GM Renaissance Center location opened in 2011, and the impeccable bartenders there have created a menu that pairs perfectly with a view across the river. The Windsor Skyline cocktail features the bright, crisp flavors of vodka, Campari, and lime with a bold and invigorating dash of habanero bitters.

Waterford has its own twist on fine riverfront drinking, with a quaint downtown and several spots where you can savor a crisp Michigan Riesling or a glass of bubbles.

The Waterfront Restaurant & Lounge, formerly Pier 500, pivoted in 2016 to a more casual but still refined experience, with views of a scenic bend in the river. Just down the road, longtime favorite Portofino offers Wednesday lunch, Thursday evening, and Sunday brunch cruises on a yacht. There’s no better time or place for a Bellini than on board a yacht, waving to folks on the shores of Grosse Ile.

Casual Weekend Drinks

Coriander Kitchen & Farm’s drinks feature farm-grown herbs and mint, plus local honey. // Photograph by Alejandro Ugalde, Featherstone

For a more relaxed vibe and to catch a different perspective on the ever-changing river, visit the relatively new but instantly beloved Coriander Kitchen & Farm, which boasts canalside drinks made with fresh ingredients sourced from right on-site.

This Cocktail Helps Bees features bourbon infused with farm-grown herbs as well as honey from Detroit bees. A solid roster of nonalcoholic cocktails with farm-grown mint, herbs, and other ingredients makes Coriander a great option for early enjoyment.

Boat Drinks and Yacht Rock

Ever since Magnum, P.I., lifted his pineapple cocktail and donned his Detroit Tigers hat, Detroit’s had a love affair with boat drinks.

What makes a boat drink? Any combination of rum, vodka, gin, or other spirits plus plenty of ice-cold fresh juice, ideally served with a tiny umbrella.

For the ideal group outing, set sail in a private, floating tiki hut from Aloha Tiki Tours. From downtown Detroit, St. Clair Shores, or Wyandotte, groups of up to 12 can bring a cooler full of mixings and whip up some summer drinks. If shaking cocktails on a bobbing boat makes your stomach churn, though, there’s nothing wrong with filling a cooler with a Lagerhaus No. 5 Kölsch and some margarita Goses from Eastern Market Brewing Co.

For the landlubbers who’d prefer not to mix churning waves and chugging drinks, yacht rock reigns supreme at St. Clair Shores’ Nautical Mile. Spots like WaterMark Bar and Grille, Mike’s on the Water, and Zef’s Dockside Bar and Kitchen can make margaritas by the boatload for the hordes of boaters docking in from Lake St. Clair for a quick drink. Sipping a spiced rum and Coke while listening to some Steely Dan or Seals and Crofts — somehow, the experience is both uniquely Michigan and universally nautical.

No matter where it’s enjoyed, the perfect waterfront drink has a few common elements. Says Coriander co-owner and chef Alison Heeres, “A perfect waterfront summer cocktail is one that is fresh, light, and fun to look at as well as drink. Infusing herbs into a summer cocktail is perfect to elevate and brighten drinks made with gin, vodka, and tequila. But the most important thing is having the right people on the patio with you.”

This story is from the August 2023 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.