If you’re a hockey fan, you’ve probably heard that the Red Wings are playing their final season at Joe Louis Arena, their home since 1979. While the building has never been known as a model of luxury, it’s well-worth a trip to say goodbye. There aren’t many games left, so if you haven’t already bought tickets to one, here’s a list that is sure to convince you to pay The Joe a visit before you miss out forever.
1. You’re a hockey fan.
Many of the game’s greatest players from the last four decades have played here. This is the ice Steve Yzerman called home for his entire career. Nicklas Lidstrom. Pavel Datsyuk. The list goes on and on. The Wings have spent most of their tenure at the Joe in the upper echelon of the league, and the Joe’s history shows it.
2. The banners.
There are a lot of them. I’ve been to NHL games in Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Buffalo, and Ottawa over the last few years and I find their lack of banners disorienting. Especially St. Louis. They’ve been in the league since 1967 and at one point had a 25-year playoff streak, yet don’t have a single Stanley Cup to show for it. (For reference, the Wings won four Cups just in their Joe-based years.) In contrast to the Blues’ naked rafters, the Joe is covered with so many banners for retired numbers, Stanley Cups, conference championships, Presidents’ trophies, and division championships that it’s almost impossible to photograph them all.
3. The history.
The Wings broke their 42-year Cup drought on this ice. This is where Nick Lidstrom scored his first hat trick at the ripe old age of 40. Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe took the ice together here. Sergei Fedorov scored five goals in one game here (it was the first game after I received his jersey as a Christmas gift and I may or may not have been convinced that that caused his success). This was the site of the unforgettable Fight Night that fans still smile about to this day. Steve Yzerman scored his iconic Game 7 goal to finish off the Blues (This is really not a Blues-bashing post, I swear.) The 2002 team with its collection of future Hall of Famers skated the Stanley Cup around this ice. These things may mean nothing to you if reason #1 doesn’t apply to you, but I assure you that they’re a big deal.
4. You’re a thrill-seeker.
Adventurous visitors will get to try their luck on the Joe’s iconic outdoor staircases. If you’ve ever wanted to try navigating very narrow, steep stairs that are frequently covered in ice with a few thousand people who’ve been drinking beer, you only have a few chances left. I’ve always been baffled by this architectural choice, especially given Detroit’s climate for most of the hockey season. Why not just make the staircases indoors? Or less steep? The world may never know. Don’t worry – if you’re handicapped or have difficulty with stairs, there’s a ground-level entrance with an elevator that you can use to enter the arena.
5. They finally fixed the bathroom situation.
It only took them about 35 years after the building opened to figure out how to alleviate the notoriously horrendous bathroom lines. (Seriously, just a few years ago, making it from your seat to the women’s bathroom and back during an intermission was a rare feat worth celebrating with a beer. Except that there was no way you were going to find time to fit a concession stand visit in too before puckdrop.) The Joe’s problem is that it only has one concourse level – the upper and lower bowls empty into the same area with limited food and bathroom space. A few years ago, someone got the fantastic idea to go vertical and two enormous restrooms were installed above the concourse. Now you can breeze up a flight of stairs, and while I can’t speak for the men’s rooms, the women’s ones are an endless sea of stalls in which I’ve never waited even one second. For some reason, people still wait in line for the older original bathrooms, but the savvy visitor can easily save themselves a 10-minute wait by just walking a couple sections over to find the upstairs bathrooms.
6. You want to hang out with the best fans in hockey.
This is a science-backed, totally unbiased fact. Probably. The Wings faithful have long been one of the most enthusiastic crowds in the NHL. Hockey is a big deal here and an entire generation of fans has grown up knowing nothing but excellence (seriously, two of my adult siblings have never seen the team miss the playoffs). Even through the struggles of the last couple of years – sadly, that playoff streak doesn’t seem likely to continue – the Joe has remained packed with slightly disheartened, but still diehard fans.
7. You want to marvel at its vintage charm.
Check out that old-fashioned scoreboard. It’s so…un-digital. The smaller scoreboards are even more old-school – only one color! Seriously though, one of my favorite aspects of the Joe is it’s lack of flashing LED screens everywhere. I really don’t like the modern buildings with LED rings encircling the whole building with bright lights and ads. I’m probably in the minority, but I find them distracting and a little annoying. The Joe pre-dates all of that sleek stuff so you can focus more on the game than the flashing lights.
8. You like good views.
The Joe was built for hockey fans. My dad was recently mourning how close to the action the upper bowl was at the old Olympia building (the Wings’ home before the Joe), but since that ceased to exist before I was born, I have no frame of reference for that. I can say, that after visiting four other NHL buildings (and sitting in the upper bowl in all of them – I’m not rich, ok?), the Joe offers fans the best views from up above. I’m a fan of the upper corner seats because they give the best angles, but those views have been somewhat hampered by the safety nets that were installed several years ago. My ideal seats would be in the lower bowl near center ice, about 8-10 rows back so you have a good view of the whole action, but if someone wanted to toss some front row tickets my way, I wouldn’t complain one bit.
9.You want to know how not to build a hockey arena.
I love the Joe. I really do. But, um, it has a lot of flaws. (See item #5 above.) For starters, the builders forgot to include a press box and had to install it later by removing seats. Whoops. Despite the fact that it occupies prime riverfront space, it was designed as a concrete bunker with no windows. I’ve long joked that I’d choose to ride out a nuclear apocalypse in the Joe’s musty confines on the theory that it’s probably the most well-insulated place in Detroit.
The suites are also way up in the rafters. I’m pretty sure that if I were a few inches taller, I’d be able to touch the banners from one of them. I secretly kind of like this because it means that seats I can afford are closer to the action, but I recognize that it’s not a great selling point.
It’s also thoroughly aggravating to get to. It’s super close to a couple downtown freeways…and yet it’s also totally cut off from the rest of downtown. On my most recent trip, we parked at a meter on the street and then had to backtrack a few blocks to cross an entrance ramp to The Lodge, and then climb a winding ramp that circles through a tower that most casual observers would probably assume was a nuclear missile silo, and then walk through a tube that takes you over the highway before finally emerging onto the second level of the entrance area – but hey, you don’t have to navigate the stairs that way. Good luck driving up to it if you’ve never found the place before. I’d visited a dozen times before I made an ill-fated attempt to drop a friend off at the box office one day and had to actually try to navigate up to the building. It’s truly an icon of poor urban planning.
10. You don’t like corporate sponsors.
When the Joe closes, there will only be one NHL building left without a corporate sponsored name. I know that’s the way things are these days, but I’ll honestly miss it. I love saying “The Joe.” It’s classic. I’m at peace with the decision to name the new building Little Caesars Arena because at least it’s a Detroit business and owned by the same family, but in a world of silly names like Jobing.com Arena (now the Gila Rivers Arena, which isn’t much better) and PPG Paints Arena, the Joe always stood out as special.
What to do before the game
Detroit has really been rebounding over the last few years and sometimes it seems like there’s a new restaurant opening every week. There aren’t many places by the Joe (see point #9), but many of the bars and restaurants around town have game shuttles.
Hockeytown Cafe is sort of the official Wings restaurant as it’s owned by the team owners. It’s a pretty classic bar and grill type place, and it offers shuttles to and from the Joe. You can get yourself pumped for the game while dining in a multi-story restaurant decked out with team memorabilia. And if the weather warms up toward the end of the season, you might even get to visit the roof deck. You’ll also likely be able to catch a glimpse of the Wings’ future home, as it’s being built just up the road.
Cheli’s Chili Bar
Located close to the Hockeytown Cafe, Cheli’s Chili is owned by former Wings defenseman Chris Chelios. It’s also a great place to hang out before Tigers games if you don’t quite make it to Detroit in time to visit The Joe.
You really can’t go wrong in the Greektown area. The casino has a variety of restaurants, although I’ve never personally sampled anything but their rooftop bar. Pizzapapalis makes some delicious Chicago-style deep dish pizza, though you’ll have to order early if you want to eat before the game. New Parthenon and The Golden Fleece both offer some delicious Greek food. Greektown is also home to the new Detroit home of Wahlburgers, in addition to a variety of trendy chain restaurants. The best part of Greektown is that you can park in the casino garage and hop the People Mover, Detroit’s one-way monorail system around downtown, over to The Joe for only $1.50 round trip.
So have I convinced you to come pay your respects to The Joe before it’s demolished? Did I miss a good pre-game hangout spot? I have tickets to a couple more home games this season, so I’ll have a chance to check them out.