These Detroit bars have kept us coming back for generations

Drinking in the history

The last 10 years have been an exciting time for drinking. The whole scene has been in flux, bombarded with trends, with stylish, hip bartenders slinging an increasingly kicked-up menu of cocktails, beers, and more. Mead has made a strong, local comeback. Wine bars like Motor City Wine have set a new standard for oenophiles. And every season brings another round of exciting events celebrating our drinking scene here in Detroit. (See our listings of what's coming up on P. 39 if you haven't.)

There's so much more, and we've covered that too: the growth of craft beer, the rise of distilleries, the "tasting rooms" where fashion-forward potations lean into the past for their inspiration. It has been a wild ride.

That's why we wanted to switch gears a bit for this year's drinking-themed issue and zero in on something we might just take for granted: the bar's more humble role in the neighborhood. Call these places what you will: dives, shot-and-a-beer bars, old-man bars, holes-in-the-wall. Anybody who has been crowded off the expressway onto a local thoroughfare knows we still have our old-school taverns.

But not all cities do. In fact, more gentrified cities are already mourning their old-fashioned watering holes, or declaring the last stand of the boilermaker bar. Meanwhile, we not only still have them, they're gracefully becoming hip in their own way.

We believe they deserve a closer look. And we're not alone: Several bus tours already ferry guests from even wealthy Oakland County to some of Detroit's most historic taverns. We've noticed an uptick in interest in those long-surviving, long-suffering establishments, such as the 2-Way Inn, Detroit's oldest bar (1876), and Carbon A.C. in Carbon Works, run by the unstoppable Charlene Kaslowski.

Why are these places important? For one thing, we seem to do feel happier when we share a pint or two with and the news of the day with others. This year, Oxford University published a study that found that people who are regulars at the small neighborhood pub are "significantly" happier, have more friends, feel greater satisfaction in life, and are less likely to drink to excess. Which shows that local bars do have a civilizing effect.

In fact we were especially interested in those places where the locals are still a fixture, and where people still walk to the bar: that neighborhood place where you'd go to acquaint yourself with people who live there.

So we came up with a list of bars in neighborhoods. And we set off to the west side, the east side, Southwest Detroit and the old Cass Corridor, searching for the heart of a Saturday night. What we found included a pub that predated the local church, a bar where you can dock your boat and drink, a slightly updated Hamtramck pub run by a hip young couple, a Downriver watering hole with top-notch service, and a plain-spoken matriarch of a bar owner everybody calls "Mama Jo." And we found family, community, and fellowship, again and again. Here's hoping you do too.


MT staff

Cas Bar
Marshall's Bar
Frank's Cafe
Bumbo's Bar
Abick's Bar
Jumbo's Bar
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