The following is a “comic book” rendition of Duly’s Place in Detroit’s Mexicantown. The intent isn’t 100% accuracy, but to capture the spirit of this cozy joint that has fed so many in times of need. The drunk, the lame, the infirm, the downtrodden and well-trodden – Duly’s doors are truly open to all. Night or day, rain or shine, if you’ve got 80 cents, Duly’s has a pot of coffee waiting for you.
Many a cold Detroiter has hung on his or her jacket on Duly’s coat hangers, saddled up to a stool, and ordered a coney. And it’s always the same – a hot dog topped first with chili, and then mustard, and then onions.
Why change what works?
Duly’s Place has been open since the ’20s, and there ain’t much to it. Just a long bar, a couple of tables, and a cramped kitchen – if you’d call it that – crammed inside an old brick building on Vernor. But that’s all you need, really.
The surrounding neighborhood, down a few houses, overflows with pride, potted plants and statues of the Virgin Mary.
“Because I’m here.”
The cook cracks a smile.
“What can I get’cha?”
Does Duly’s serve the best coney, like some say? Honestly, I don’t know. To tell you the truth, that’s like asking what McDonald’s serves the best hamburger. I’m convinced a great coney is half the product, half the atmosphere. For all we know, some generic Coney Island out in the suburbs is cooking up the best tasting coney in the world. The whole entire world. But we’d never believe it.
The cook at Red Hots Coney Island, another classic spot from the early days, swears that his coneys taste better because he puts the mustard on the bottom of the bun. That way you taste the chili first. No, you don’t get that pretty yellow strip on top, but he doesn’t give a flyin’ fuck about that.
I think he’s crazy.
“Over there, by the cheese.”
“Is he new or somethin’?” another customer asks.
“No, he’s been working here like 10 years, and I’ve been working here for like 20, 25 years.
“Well, actually, I left for a couple years. But now I’m back. I can’t escape this fuckin’ place.”
The crowd at Duly’s is about as diverse as it gets. Mexicans, Albanians, blacks, whites, old, young, crazy or almost there – everyone eats at Duly’s. The coneys, the tradition, huddles the unfed masses together, cheek by jowl, shoulder to shoulder.
Seems as much as things change, everything stays the same.
Everything, in this case, is a lot more than what’s on the plate.