On exhibit now at the Detroit Historical Museum is a feature called Out on the Town: Drinking and Dining in Detroit Since 1920. It’s recommended for at least three reasons:
- You’re looking for a little nostalgia;
- You’d like to build your list of drinking and dining establishments to visit; or
- You want to visit a great museum focused on the history of an amazing city.
Of course, there are a million other reasons to visit as well. My point: This is a unique exhibit about a specific, yet widely appealing, aspect of Detroit’s cultural history. It will be available for around another year, and admission to the museum is free through 2014.
So what’s so interesting about the exhibit, specifically? The artifacts are fun, of course. For those who opt to take it all in slowly,perhaps one of the most engrossing aspects are the anecdotes—the lore—regarding the people behind the places which are part of Detroit’s history.
One of my favorite stories (perhaps because this sounds like it’s straight out of my family’s play book…) involves the Ivanhoe Café. Reportedly, in 1961, a patron told the bartender to tell his wife that he was at the “Polish Yacht Club” (PYC), not at the bar. The joke caught on. Fellow regulars occasionally donned nautical attire and elected the club’s “commodore”. According to their website, the group is “dedicated to clear sailing for good deeds” and still today participates in fundraisers for local organizations.
Also appealing, especially to those intrigued by Detroit’s history: According to one part of the exhibit, “A number of establishments claim to be the ‘oldest in Detroit'”? Contenders include:
- Bronx Bar, a well-loved dive bar, was established post-Prohibition. While perhaps not the oldest bar in Detroit, it’s reputed to have a great burger and one of the best juke boxes in town (and that’s saying something).
- Dakota Inn Rathskeller, established in 1933, is a destination for German food and architecture—plus, some fantastic events.
- Foran’s Grand Trunk Pub built in 1911 as a lavish, three-story ticketing office for the Grand Trunk Railroad, was converted in 1935 to a bar and has been operating as a pub ever since. Great local beer selection!
- Jacoby’s has been a Detroit staple since 1904 (the space has been operating as a pub since 1902). Going to a Tiger’s game? This is a great spot for a drink and a bite.
- Kovacs Bar, located in the Southwest Detroit Delray neighborhood, opened in 1936. The space, however, has served as a hotel and saloon since 1896. A new crossing from Detroit to Windsor is forthcoming, which will specifically impact Delray. The exhibit indicates that Kovacs’ “future is uncertain.”
- The Old Miami, founded in the years following Prohibition, is currently known as a venue for new music.
- Roma Café in Eastern Market is known by many to be Detroit’s oldest continuously operating restaurant, founded in the late 1880s.
- The Two Way Inn is known as Detroit’s oldest continuously operating bar, established in the 1870s by Civil War veteran Colonel Philetus Norris. Interested in a ghost story? The bar is rumored to remain under the observance of Colonel Norris…
- The Stonehouse Bar, founded in the 1860s, is also touted by some as Detroit’s oldest continuously operating bar. However, since there is no record of what occurred in the space during Prohibition, there isn’t a way to (dis)prove this statement. Today, the Stonehouse is an independent biker bar.
For the record, here’s the list of the other establishments which are featured in the exhibit and still in operation in the D:
- Abick’s Bar
- Anchor Bar
- Baker’s Keyboard Lounge
- Cadieux Café
- Cliff Bell’s
- Ivanhoe Café
- Joe Muer Seafood
- London Chop House
- The Roostertail
What about you? What’s your list of favorite Detroit drinking and/or dining establishments?