The Detroit Red Wings are an Original 6 franchise in the NHL. Not only are they a historically significant organization, but they are also one of the most consistently great franchises in the past two decades. Their arena is simply known as the Joe, short for Joe Louis Arena. The namesake of the arena, heavyweight champ and Detroit native Joe Louis, died two years after the facility opened in 1979.
If you park along Washington Avenue, you may have the opportunity to cut through Cobo Arena, and see a great statue of Joe Louis as well as his "glove that floored Nazi Germany," the right hand glove used in a knockout of Max Schmeling for the Heavyweight Championship in 1938 at Yankee Stadium.
Today you will hear from many that believe that JLA needs to be replaced by a more modern facility. You’ll hear an opposition that feels like the classic arena needs to be protected and cherished. It is hard to read the tea leaves to see what the future may hold, but there is little doubt that a trip to Joe Louis Arena is well worth it not just for hockey fans, but for sports fans in general.
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There are actually quite a few options as you move through the crowded concourse at Joe Louis Arena. Some of the local establishments like Hockeytown Café and Cheli’s Chili Bar have a presence, and their food isn’t marked up that much more than at the actual restaurant. Buffalo Wild Wings is also on hand if you want to have some hot wings with your Wings. Little Caesars pizza is here by the slice ($4) or whole pie ($15). I like the Polish dog with cheese ($4.25) found at most of the general concession stands.
I was happy to find a Bell’s beer stand (a Michigan brewery based near Kalamazoo), where you can get a bottle for $8.50, or a 20-ounce draft for $9. There are plentiful alcohol options including stands for Molson, Leinenkugels, Guinness, and Bud Light. In most cases a 20-ounce beer will cost you $9. It is indeed expensive.
Coke products are also served in two sizes. A small is $3.75 or a large is $4.75. You can get bottles of water, but they have the annoying policy of removing and keeping the cap. I know this is ultimately a safety concern, but with no cup holders in the seats, it just makes life difficult. If you’re really prepared, you’ll bring an extra Dasani cap in your pocket.
Red banners hang throughout the arena, commemorating the many division titles, conference championships, and Presidents’ Cups in the history of the Detroit Red Wings. However, when you have 11 Stanley Cup banners, these others are really just a side note. Only the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs can claim more championships in the NHL.
Retired jerseys hang in the same row with the 11 Stanley Cup banners. The players include icons like Gordie Howe (#9), Terry Sawchuk (#1), Ted Lindsay (#7), Alex Delvecchio (#10), Sid Abel (#12), and Steve Yzerman (#19). Yzerman’s jersey banner also has a "C" on it, in deference to him being the longest serving captain on a team in the history of the NHL.
When you enter the building, you will likely be climbing a rather steep staircase to reach the entrance of Joe Louis Arena. Traffic can sometimes be slow in entering. Aim for the door on the far end, as for some reason it always seems to move the quickest. Joe Louis Arena does something slightly different than many stadiums. They scan your ticket, and then have you go through security.
If you like to bring in a camera to stadiums to document your experience as I do, then pay close attention to the camera policy at Joe Louis Arena. At a previous game they examined my camera, decided that it exceeded their 80mm lens limit, and directed me to a kiosk where they checked my camera like you would check a coat at the theatre. During my most recent visit, I went through the same examination, and they decided that it was within their guidelines. Camera policies in general drive me nuts, but it would be nice if they were at least consistently enforced. In any case, just know that your camera being taken for the game is a possibility, but you can have it back on your way out. Still, it is an inconvenience.
Once you get inside the arena, you’ll find your seat to have about average legroom, and no cupholder. The scoreboard is outdated by NHL standards, but has a video screen as well as the pertinent information that you need.
Really the highlight of any Red Wings game is the team itself. The Red Wings have made the playoffs every season since 1991, the longest streak in the history of the four major sports.
Detroit. It is a city that is foreboding to many, revitalized to some, but for the purpose of attending a Red Wings game, not so much unlike many other urban areas. There will be impoverished people you will encounter who may ask for money, and this is sometimes angst-inducing for some. Like any major urban area, you need to be aware of your surroundings, but you shouldn’t feel like you are in imminent danger as you walk to or from a game.
Many of the best places to visit before a Red Wings game are closer to Comerica Park and Ford Field. The Hockeytown Café is a hot spot, and you can plan on there being a wait for a table on almost every game day. The place is loaded with memorabilia, and really is a great place to begin to soak up atmosphere and prepare for a hockey game. If you want to include a visit, then make it your first stop and shoot for 2-3 hours before the puck drops.
A somewhat less celebrated place is Cheli’s Chili Bar, owned by former NHL great Chris Chelios. Here you will find very reasonably priced bar food, with the signature chili being your best bet. They have 12 beers on tap, and you can easily find a drink and a bite to eat for under $10 total. Burgers ($5), wings ($7.50), fries ($2), and sandwiches are your basic offerings on the menu.
Another option is to park closer to Greektown and take the Detroit People Mover (elevated train) to the game. There is a stop at Joe Louis Arena, and it is also a fun way to see the city. When I think of the Red Wings, I think of Octopus. Wings fans are famous for throwing octopi on to the ice, although the tradition is generally reserved for playoff games. Instead, you can order some to eat at New Parthenon, a Greek restaurant without pretense. A little saganaki (flaming cheese) is always a good thing too, and they do it with great panache here.
If you like to gamble, then there are several casino options and Greektown Casino is nearby. You can grab the People Mover here and take it right to the Joe.
Fans in Detroit are probably a bit spoiled. Two decades of playoff runs, including 4 Stanley Cups, can do that to a fan base. You may find more empty seats than you would think, especially during the week and against less successful teams.
There is no doubt though that the fans are passionate about their team, and you will surely hear some acute observations about the team and the game. I was also pretty impressed with the standing ovation that the fans gave mid-way through the first period of a recent visit as they recognized a military veteran. It was a goose bump moment, and wasn’t instigated by the Public Address announcer like is often the case.
Red Wings jerseys are prevalent throughout the crowd, and almost everyone there is wearing red and white. It is difficult to spot many fans of the opposing squad in the masses. Yzerman jerseys seem to be the most popular, but there is a smattering of Lidstrom, Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Howe, and Shanahan.
Everything is a bit crowded at Joe Louis Arena. It starts when you enter the arena, walk the concourse, and it is especially true when you need to use a restroom. Plan on very, very long lines, especially at each intermission. This is one building that it definitely serves you well to leave your seat a few minutes before the end of the period if you need to use the facilities. When I go to a game, I hate to miss any of the action, but believe me, if you don’t leave a bit early, then you’ll likely miss some action at the start of the next period. It’s your call.
The concourses are very crowded, and it is difficult to move about. It is a good reason to arrive to a game early so you can navigate to your seats and get something to eat or drink if you want.
I always appreciate a statue in a stadium, and Joe Louis Arena has beautiful statues dedicated to Howe, Lindsay, and Delvecchio. However, these huge statues only serve to make the crowded walkway even more crowded.
Parking is convenient. I like the lot at 645 Washington, where it costs $10, and you only have a couple of blocks to walk, including the walk through the Cobo Center to see the Joe Louis statue. Joe Louis Arena also has a parking garage, and the cost is $10-$15. If you park in Greektown, then plan on $5-$10 for parking, plus you’ll need to buy some tokens for the trip to Joe Louis Arena (75 cents each way).
Tickets are sold through TicketMaster on the official Red Wings site, a vendor I try to avoid at all costs. You will be able to find some seats starting at $47 (that’s before the lovely fees). Stadium Journey partners with ScoreBig, a ticket vendor that I personally love, and I was able to get a ticket in the upper section for $30 (face value was $50). That would be my recommendation.
If you want to sit down lower, then plan to pay at least $117 for lower level seats. Add in parking and your $9 beer and $4 pizza or Polish dog, and you can plan on $75 at minimum for a night at the Joe. This building does have its flaws, and it is expensive, but it is still worth seeing this historic building at least once.
Having the chance to sit beneath 11 Stanley Cup banners is pretty remarkable, so that is definitely worth an extra point in my book.
I’ll also award an extra point for the walk through Cobo Center, and being able to see the great Joe Louis statue and gloves on the way to his namesake arena.
In the final analysis, there are a lot of flaws with Joe Louis Arena. The history of the franchise and the building make it a worthwhile stop on your stadium bucket list, but there are far better experiences in other places in the NHL.
The NHL's most successful team over the last two decades resides in Joe Louis Arena, a drab gray structure that succeeded the classically brick Olympia Stadium in 1979.
Home of the Detroit Red Wings, designers executed a plan to build the city's first waterfront sports arena. "The Joe", as it is affectionately referred to by locals, sits on the Detroit River just a few blocks south of Detroit's dominant skyline piece, the Renaissance Center. When walking up the riverside staircase to enter a game at night, lights from across the river reflect onto the water creating a picturesque view of Windsor. The Red Wings have been the only professional sports team to utilize the Joe for nine years--two professional soccer teams and OHL franchises formerly called this plot facing Canada home.
A stark contrast from modern NHL palaces, Joe Louis Arena will never be confused with a half-billion dollar venue. Its simplicity is resounding. Concourses are expectedly lined with pictures and sculptures of Red Wings past. Stands and booths await passersby, while scorebook sellers dish product behind solid-colored podiums. Detroit's hockey cave matches former MLB parks Veterans Stadium and Three Rivers Stadium in uniqueness. Built in an era when efficiency was valued over aesthetics, the only standout features hang in the rafters above the ice.
The atmosphere around Hockeytown on a Red Wings game day is great, and the fans are arguably the best in the sport. Yeah, the arena is beginning to show its age, but this is still a very special place.
Recently attended a game at Joe Louis Arena with my son. This is a great arena that feels old and cozy. Is it the nicest place in the world? No. But it does feel like a hockey arena, and the fans are as passionate as it gets.
I also found that parking near the Greek Town Casino and taking the people mover to the arena is the way to go. Plus my 4 year old loved going on the train.
Old, run down, crowded, horrible access and worst restrooms ever. If not for the history and legacy, this would be the worst. That said, I am happy I can say I made it there to see the Wings play, history does count for a lot!
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