Detroit’s City Winery music venue aims for 2025 opening

Lee DeVito
5 Min Read

Michigan’s first City Winery location is still headed to Corktown, the live music chain’s founder and CEO Michael Dorf tells Metro Times — but he says inflation and high interest rates have delayed the project.

“If I had — and this is a technical financing term — a shitload of money, I would start faster,” he says with a laugh. “But I don’t.”

Budgets are tight for many these days, even a national live music company that has, as Dorf describes, “become the largest independent music chain in the country, which is kind of cool.”

He adds, “But we’re still an entrepreneurial, independent company, without deep pockets.”

Originally from Milwaukee, Dorf founded New York City’s Knitting Factory nightclub in 1986 at 23 years old. In 2008 he followed that up with the first City Winery in Manhattan, explaining that he picked a generic-sounding name with the idea of creating something that could also work in other markets. The chain opened a second location in Chicago in 2012, followed by Nashville in 2014, and Atlanta in 2015. Now, there are 13 City Winery locations with more on the way; Dorf says he’s also looking into expanding to Toronto and Columbus.

The chain has found a niche in creating intimate concert experiences that seat around 300 attendees at cocktail tables, with a focus on booking singer-songwriters. “We’re being very consistent and deliberate with the size of our spaces,” Dorf says, adding he is not trying to compete with the much larger venues operated by live entertainment juggernauts Live Nation and AEG. “They go from about 1,000-capacity venues to the biggest arenas and stadiums, and then they have everything in between,” Dorf says. “So 300 really is a number that I like, because it’s below their radar.”

The dinner-and-a-show model is good for working people, he says, who might not have time to eat before or after a concert.

“At eight o’clock, you can have a great meal and the whole food and beverage and entertainment experience in one in one setting,” he says. “That is a real value for people.”

The model also allows one artist to do multi-night runs instead of having to scramble to the next city. It all creates a better experience for both the artists and their fans, Dorf says.

“We’re creating a luxury concert experience where hospitality is really important,” he says. “We serve wine and cocktails in real glassware, not plastic cups. We’re just creating a better time for everybody.”

And yes, Dorf is well aware of the risks of mixing live music and glassware.

“We break a lot of glasses, disproportionate to our size of restaurants,” he says, adding, “Unlike most places, we can measure the success musically based on how much broken glass we have.”

In 2022, Crain’s Detroit Business reported that City Winery purchased a property south of Michigan Central Station for an estimated $2.343 million. Dorf says the planned Detroit location will be new construction, with no obstructed views of the stage.

A new rendering Dorf shared with Metro Times shows a stunning rooftop view of Michigan Central Station, which Ford Motor Co. has recently rehabbed for its new offices after the hulking ruin sat abandoned for decades since the last train departed in 1988.

“You’re going to have the most beautiful shot of the old train station, which, to me, is maybe the single most iconic gesture or symbol of the rebirth of Detroit,” Dorf says.

He adds, “I love the property we bought and love the opportunity there. I’m excited about the market. I think it’s going to be a fantastic fit for City Winery and what we offer.”

More information on the company is available at citywinery.com.