Corktown, tacos, and 'Hoffa's Hideout'

Oct 26, 2016 at 3:04 pm
James Riddle Hoffa himself, photographed long before the Cali-style tacos from Detroit that made his name famous. - World Telegram & Sun photo by John Bottega, made available by Wikipedia Creative Commons
World Telegram & Sun photo by John Bottega, made available by Wikipedia Creative Commons
James Riddle Hoffa himself, photographed long before the Cali-style tacos from Detroit that made his name famous.

When changes in a neighborhood start to heat up, you can expect longtime residents to at least look askance at the new developments. It's predictable: New players enter a market and start pushing their own novel ideas, and those who've been there for the duration raise their eyebrows in disbelief. 

Such was the case, a zillion years ago back in 2005, when Slows Bar-B-Q opened its doors. These days, it's a fixture that nobody questions. It has demonstrated it has staying power.

That's been the case with about a dozen other businesses along a stretch of Michigan Avenue from the Lodge to Rosa Parks. They outlasted their skeptics, showing that, yes, there really is a market for vegan poutine, artisanal bagels, and craft charcuterie. 

So when the owners of Bobcat Bonnie's announced they were going to take Casey's Pub and turn it into a dive bar that served tacos, you heard the usual harrumphs from local cynics. "Why would people get tacos in Corktown," they grumbled, "when the best, cheapest, most authentic tacos are a hop down the avenue?"

Of course, many of these critics probably subscribe to a brand of hyper-locality that would normally embrace a local business offering something just down the block that they'd normally have to drive to. Perhaps there's just a bit of cultural inertia at play here, as in, "We've always driven to Senor Lopez for tacos!"

But it seems that the new establishment will be offering something much different from the al pastors our Mexicantown restaurants specialize in. "Cali-style" tacos are a different animal entirely, and they may well hit their mark, proving the skeptics wrong again. 

But if doubters grumbled about the taco tune-up, today it seems all hell is breaking loose again with some friends on social media, with the announcement that the new joint will be called "Hoffa's Hideout."

It just goes to show you how image and marketing reign supreme these days. You can take an Irish bar in a traditionally Irish neighborhood and make it over to sell tacos, and there will be quiet muttering. But name it for Jimmy Hoffa and watch those visceral emotional reactions swell into crescendo!

Personally, I don't think it's worth getting angry about. It raised a chuckle out of me. As in, we're naming bars for labor figures now? How about George Meany's Federation of Flavor? Or John L. Lewis' Mineshaft Club? Or is that all that crazy, considering the way labor honchos of a half-century ago sealed many a deal at bars on the avenue?

Yes, to have a taco bar named for a labor organizer whose main connection to Latin America seems to be that he was born in Brazil, Ind., is odd, yes. But not a deal-killer, necessarily.

And, yes, I'm aware of the apparent incongruity of naming a guy who is widely believed to have been kidnapped, killed, and buried in an undisclosed location having a bar named for him as if he were hiding voluntarily. It's a fine semantic point, but I grant it to you.

Giving it the tag line "A place to disappear" is sort of tasteless, but I don't mind tastelessness all that much. My friends and I once joked about opening a bar in Dallas called "Zapruder's" where you can order a magic shot that will knock two drinkers off their stools, and where the bathrooms are "back and to the left." Tasteless, I can deal with.

Really, it's just that it's a silly name. It's such a silly name that when people first mentioned it, I thought I was being had. It's the kind of name somebody from out of town, who knew little about Detroit, would give to a bar. Almost nobody ever thinks about Jimmy Hoffa here anymore. Our recent history is just too turbulent to consider him much these days, except during those sporadic attempts to dig up his remains around town.

At the very least, that name is reminds us of one of those first few ideas at a brainstorming session, an idea that's better cast aside after generating a few laughs to loosen people up for that better idea that surely will come.

But, hey: Won't the market prove this venture right or wrong? If the owners are willing to take a chance on something crazy, it's their right. And it may well turn out that they have the last laugh. Roll your eyes all you like, but, in my opinion, there are more important things to be angry about. Give these Hoffa's Hideout people a chance to make their case for a Teamster-themed taco dive.

As Jimmy himself once said: “I may have many faults, but being wrong ain't one of them.”